Outrigger canoe club brings popular Pacific Ocean sport to Texas waters
From origins as a boat for fishing, travel and even warfare in Polynesian islands to modern-day racing competitions in Hawaii, the outrigger canoe is native to the Pacific Ocean.
But for nearly three decades, members of a club based in the Bay Area have been paddling outrigger canoes, vessels with supporting structures called amas projecting from their sides. The Texas Outrigger Canoe Club considers itself the first group to bring a sport most popular on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to the state’s waters.
“In Hawaii, it’s kind of like football is here,” said Chris Clodfelter, a Clear Lake Shores resident who first paddled with the club in the early 2000s. “It’s a part of their P.E. program and all the schools have teams.”
The sport is less prevalent in Texas, where there are four clubs. Carleton Kruse, who founded the club and serves as its head coach, recalled a competition in New York. Members of other teams couldn’t believe a club from Texas existed, quipping that they must paddle in the desert.
“People thought we were kidding,” Kruse said.
However, besides paddling in about six competitions within the state each year, the team has traveled to Hawaii, California, Oregon, New Hampshire and Florida for races.
The team was not as established from the beginning. Kruse, who has lived in Hawaii several times throughout his life, began paddling with his father as a teenager. As an adult living in Texas, Kruse would return to the Aloha state several times a year to paddle in an outrigger canoe. Finally, his wife told Kruse to bring the sport to Texas.
The club was incorporated in 1987 and began with a couple of canoes.
“We were going out there like surfers do — go out and catch the waves,” Kruse said.
Over the years, the club gradually expanded its fleet. It owns five vessels for its roughly four dozens members to use during practices three times a week. The team usually paddles in Clear Lake and into Galveston Bay, but occasionally its more experienced members travel to Galveston to paddle in the Gulf.
Last fall, the club tried something new when it surfed a six-person canoe on the waves produced by tanker ships. While surfers have been known to ride the manufactured surf, it was the first time outrigger canoes rode the waves in Texas, members said.
“We had six people who looked like little kids leaving Disneyland after a great day,” Kruse said.
At the very least, paddling an outrigger canoe should provide a full-body workout, he said. The group sport causes people to work harder than they might in a one-person vessel. The club’s members, who range in ages from their 30s to 50s, are a mix of recreational and competitive paddlers, Kruse said.
“Basically, we paddle for fun,” he said. “We like to go and have a good workout. That’s most important to me.”