Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Aloha, NYC Paddlers

April 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Aloha NYC paddlers

In a place filled with different cultures, it’s not surprising that New York City’s diversity includes the boating world. New York Outrigger, a paddling community based in Chelsea with Polynesian roots, contributes to the mix.

“Outrigger canoe paddling is believed to have started in Indonesia and then spread throughout Polynesia and Melanesia as population groups moved into the South Pacific,” says Brent Beck, president of New York Outrigger (NYO). “For many island communities, the outrigger canoe brought their ancestors to their home and is an integral part of their history and identity.”

Over the past several decades, outrigger canoe paddling has spread to North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Beck, president of NYO for five years, says it began in 1996 “as a nonprofit community group after our founder, Roger Meyer, experienced paddling while on a trip to Hawaii. We originally started at the 79th Street Boat Basin on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and quickly transitioned down to Chelsea to the Frying Pan, where we stayed through the generosity of owner John Krevey for almost a decade.”

Mark Scantlebury 7NYO now operates out of Pier 66 Boathouse in Hudson River Park. Beck notes that the west side of Manhattan is a very different place today than when NYO started because of the dramatic revitalization of the waterfront. That created an interesting dilemma for NYO leadership. “In contrast to our early days when Roger’s biggest challenge was drawing people to our city’s waterfront, my main focus is creating infrastructure to support the high demand of New Yorkers looking to get out on the water,” explains Beck, who is not a native New Yorker.

“Having grown up in Hawaii, I was an avid surfer, sailor, and outrigger paddler,” Beck says. “After moving to New York City in 2005, I found myself spending most weekends in Riverhead at a close high school friend’s house.”

The two friends would go surfing on weekends when the swell cooperated, but Beck was looking for a consistent water activity less dependent on conditions. Sailing required too much prep work for him, so he tried OC1s, individual kayak-style outrigger canoes. Beck and his friend invested in canoes and spent the next couple of years learning to paddle.

“Somewhere along the way I became more serious about racing and wanted to train on a more regular basis,” says Beck. “I decided to join NYO to have the option to train on weekdays. My goal was to paddle my boat and stay on the periphery of the group, but I soon became interested in forming a team for the Molokai Hoe, a 42-mile, inter-island race in Hawaii, considered the world championships of outrigger canoe paddling.” The process of recruiting an NYO team and training together for a season got Beck hooked.

NYO hosts a big paddling event annually, the Liberty Challenge, which attracts world-class outrigger athletes from around the world. In addition, the organization has spent the past five years with a strong focus on racing, consistently placing in the top three East Coast Outrigger Racing Association groups each season. Yet NYO also adheres to its community roots and goal of offering many choices for paddlers.

“We have worked to create a programming spectrum that offers an opportunity for every type of paddler,” relates Beck. “As an organization, the pendulum drifts between recreational and competitive as the composition of the group changes. Our goal is to allow individuals to tailor a paddling experience that suits their preferences.”

The current NYO community leans towards recreational paddling, with members opting to train for expedition paddles from Manhattan to Coney Island, Sandy Hook, and Nyack. Regular programs run from April through October, but “over the winter a few intrepid members will continue paddling individual boats on the Hudson,” Beck says. “It’s a fun juxtaposition to paddle these Pacific Island craft in a dry suit while dodging the Hudson ice floes.”

What about NYO appeals most to Beck? “My favorite part of New York Outrigger is the unique community of Hudson River paddlers,” he advises. “NYO is a true cross-section of the city, with bankers, lawyers, actors and teachers, and members ranging in age from 16 to 70. The opportunity to escape the city’s frenetic grind draws our members to this niche sport.”

All NYO members have in common a respect for the water and enthusiasm for outrigger paddling (the club costs around $350.00 annually, with a discount for students). With everything that draws them together, there are obstacles. “The biggest challenge of running a waterfront nonprofit in New York City is juggling the interests of our various stakeholders,” Beck says. “Balancing the needs of our members, various public entities, and sponsors is always challenging, but rewarding.”

The ability to host events besides the Liberty Challenge is also an issue, adds Beck. “As a volunteer-run nonprofit, NYO does not have the bandwidth to host additional events. However, we do hope to seed new programs in other NYC boroughs and Long Island in the coming years — these new groups will hopefully host similar events that can both create a local paddling community and engage with the growing international community of outrigger paddlers.”

NYO never paddles far away from its Polynesian roots, Beck says. “The aspects of Pacific Islands hospitality — often associated with the Hawaiian word ‘aloha’ — create a common social language of acceptance and community that crosses cultural divides and brings paddlers from around the world together.”

Learn more about New York Outrigger: http://newyorkoutrigger.org/

By Michael Griffin


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