The outrigger canoe is a special type of canoe found in many cultures of the Pacific Ocean Islands. For these people it is something sacred. Canoes and their outriggers were carved of wood in contests of speed and artistry. Today you can find paddlers almost anywhere there's water and the canoes are made of fiberglass but even so, they are still treated as sacred objects. The canoe is always treated with respect. Even the simple process of tying the outrigger to the canoe is ritualistic. The outrigger canoe must always face the ocean and when it is on the sand ready for launch, no one must ever walk between it and the water. On special days, such as just before long voyages or races, a ceremony is performed which includes placing a lei made of flowers or tea leaves on the front of the canoe. Outrigger canoes represent not only an important part many cultures, but also symbolize teamwork. If the paddlers are not in sync they will not move very fast and if they aren't careful and don't respect the ocean, they'll get dumped when the canoe hulis or flips over (although, this is actually pretty fun. To flip the canoe back over several people have to stand on the outrigger and jump off at the same time to bounce it upright).
The most common outrigger canoe seen today seats six people. The paddlers alternate the sides on which they paddle. The first seat is the seat of the leader and is responsible for setting the pace for the rest of the crew as well as helping swing the canoe around for sharp turns. The second seat must keep time with the first seat but paddles on the opposite side. This seat also calls for switching sides, which takes place every twelve to fourteen strokes. The third, fourth and fifth seats are the muscle, though if there is a weak member, that person would sit in the fifth seat. The sixth seat paddles with the rest when she can, but her main responsibility is to use her paddle as a rudder. During a turn, she will paddle at a 90 degree angle to the direction of the canoe in order to swing the back around and may call forward to the first seat to help.
To switch sides, the person in the second seat will call out on stroke twelve (in the appropriate language) "One!" On stroke thirteen, everyone joins in to yell "Two!" On stroke fourteen, everyone again yells "Three!" and then quickly adjusts their hands and swings their paddles around to the opposite side and begins paddling again with as little delay as possible.
Not quite as common but extremely popular is the single-seat outrigger canoe or "OC-1." You may also find outrigger canoes that hold dozens of people and seat more than one across. Some even have sails for long voyages. It is also fun to lash two canoes to each other rather than to outriggers for balance to create a double-hull canoe.
Outrigger canoe paddles are not the same as oars. The handles are not T-shaped, but fitted to the hand of the
paddler. The stem of the paddle is slightly bent and the blade is spooned out at the top so that it angles away from the paddler. To paddle on her right side the paddler grips the top of the paddle with her left hand and loosely holds the paddle just above the blade with her right hand so that it can freely twist within the circle of those fingers without requiring the hand to move at all. In a seated position within the canoe, the paddler twists at the waist so that the tip of the blade sits just above the surface of the water and the left arm makes a right angle at the elbow. Here is the tricky part. Instead of pulling back on the paddle, she pushes straight down. This pushes the canoe forward. When her right hand is about even with her waist, a quick flick of the wrist will turn the blade sideways without disturbing the water very much. The paddle is then brought back into position and this movement is repeated. To switch hands she slides her right hand up to the top of the handle to meet her left and the left hand down, swinging the blade around and being sure not to hit or spray the person sitting in the seat directly in front of her.
A common tradition for outrigger canoe paddlers is the moonlight paddle. On nice nights with relatively calm surf they head out to sea to paddle with just a tiki torch lashed to the canoe for light.