OCEANSIDE — The annual Becky Stuart Outrigger Race and club fundraiser Dec. 8 is perhaps one of the most easygoing competitions in the fierce sport of outrigger canoe racing.
Clubs in Southern California compete year round. Serious competitors make it a lifestyle. They practice 15 to 20 hours a week and plan their weekends around where the next competition will be held.
The three seasons for racers are winter one-man outrigger, spring six-man outrigger, and the intense summer nine-man outrigger.
The Becky Stuart Outrigger Race falls in winter and calls on one-man and two-man teams to compete.
The boat launch is off Dolphin Dock in the harbor. The easy excess to the starting line makes it inviting for novice paddlers to compete.
Once boats are launched, competition starts outside the harbor channel. Two-man teams must paddle nine miles and one-man teams paddle four miles.
At the starting line paddlers anxiously inch forward to secure the best position before the starting gun is fired.
“They all jockey for the best position,” Steve Stuart , Becky Stuart ’s husband and founding member of the Paopao Outrigger Canoe Club, said. “No one wants to be behind.”
Once racers take off there is some boat bumping and wave riding by competitors to push them ahead in the race.
Varying open water conditions make each race different. In the winter months cold temperatures and large waves can create added challenges for racers. Extreme conditions can bring 40-degree water temperatures and 5-foot waves.
“It’s a real team thing that gets those people in that outrigger,” Terry Goodman, special events supervisor for Parks and Recreation, said. “They truly have to work together. In December the ocean is really cold. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work.”
The race is a mix of focused competition and fun. Some paddlers use the opportunity to stay in shape for upcoming competitive race qualifiers. Others enjoy a chance to pair with a novice padddler and show them the ropes of racing. Parent and child teams often compete in the two-man race.
Other races held during the contest are surf ski races and stand-up paddle boarding. Some racers compete in two or more sports.
Once the races are over competitors enjoy each other’s company over bowls of home-cooked chili and baked potatoes.
“It’s very family-friendly,” Stuart said. “Everyone is having a great time and in two weeks we go at it again.”
The club tradition is for members to prepare food for all the competitors at the event.
“We cook for 250 people,” Stuart said. “Homemade chili and baked potatoes with all the fixings. It’s an ‘ohana’ atmosphere. We don’t have a lot of sponsors.”
Funds raised from the event go to the Paopao Outrigger Canoe Club and a chosen local charity.
The race is named after Becky Stuart who was one of the founding members of the Paopao Outrigger Canoe Club. She was a competitive swimmer and triathlete who began outrigger canoeing when the club was formed.
Becky Stuart battled skin cancer for two years and passed away in 1998 a few days before the first Paopao Outrigger Canoe Club race was held.
“She spent two and a half years trying to beat it,” Stuart said.
Due to her positive spirit the race was named in her honor.
Races will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 8. The best viewing spot is from the pier. Races start and finish outside the harbor channel.