The Outriggers of Noosa

Wendy and Des Mabbott

According to Noosa Outrigger club historian Craig Harris, it was in the year 1985 that a gentleman named Evan Gartrell, while working on Hamilton Island, first became aware of the sport of outrigging. Immediately captivated, he took up the sport and began paddling with the open men’s team, taking part in inter-island races. So engrossed was he in the sport, that at years end he travelled to Molokai to compete in this very historic, but in Australia, little known international sport of the Outrigger.

In 1987 Evan shifted to Noosa. During a visit to Main Beach in 1991, the fact that he was wearing his souvenir Molokai T- shirt, drew the attention of a lady named Zandra Brown (nee D’Amboise). The lady was from Hawaii and as a teenager had represented one of the local outrigger clubs competing at Molokai. Standing in front of the Frenzy Ice Cream Van, they began to discuss their experiences while contesting the various events: after a short time, they agreed that it would be a great thing to have an outrigger club in Noosa.

With this in mind Evan decided to investigate the possibility of forming such a club. As luck would have it, his old team captain from his days on Hamilton Island, happened to be the President of the Australian Outrigger Canoe Racing Association (A.O.C.R.A.). Evan made contact and in a gesture of good will to assist, the president offered to loan, for a period of three months, one of his own ‘’Malia’ ’canoes.

The Mooloolaba club (which was the first to be formed on the Sunshine Coast in 1990) lent a trailer: this solved the problem of transporting the canoe to regattas. Regarding the paddlers, they came from amongst friends and relatives of Zandra and Evan: and the necessary paddles, they made themselves. “’They trained” said Craig, “in mixed men and women’s teams and borrowed canoes to compete in. The sport started to take hold and soon they had enough men and women paddlers to form their own teams for competition.” The Noosa Outrigger Canoe Club was on its way.

The A.O.C.R. A. was formed in 1988. With the Noosa club being formed (in 1991) it was essential that affiliation with the governing body, be top priority: this enabled the paddlers to compete. Then in 1992 they became incorporated, thus giving official recognition to their committee.

First Point to Point race, a 42km change over event, from Mooloolaba to Noosa was organised and Hamilton Island came down to compete. On arrival, Evan was informed that they had a second hand canoe for sale for $4,OOO: he decided to buy the canoe with the agreement, that the club would reimburse him by fund -raising.

At that time one of the women paddlers was Lisa Doherty and her parents were the owners of the North Shore Beachfront Wilderness Camp. Stepping in as sponsors, they purchased the craft and Noosa had its first canoe. As they had no clubhouse, in order to protect the canoe from the weather, covers were obtained from the Hamilton Island team on an exchange bases; one carton of forex for one canoe cover.

The club continued to grow. In the following year, Sunshine Coast Developer Mal Pratt, having an interest in seeing both the sport and the club continue to developed, suggested that Evan approach Bill Freeman, the Principal of the Noosa Outlook, to discuss sponsorship. Over the phone an agreement was reached: they contributed $5000 toward the purchase of a new canoe, with the remaining amount of $1900 to be raised by the club.

This was to be the start of a major sponsorship deal. Over the following two years a further substantial amount, which enabled the Noosa club to purchase three new canoes, was made. Now some 30 years on, the Noosa Outrigger Canoe Club is going strong with 21 canoes and a membership of 170: for a relativity new sport, the future is looking good.

The first ever outrigger club in Australia was formed on the Gold Coast in 1978 and in Sydney their first was 1989; this was also the first time that an Australian championship was ever held. In 1990 there were only 11clubs in Australia, the majority of which were based in the Whitsundays: but by 1991 they had doubled to 23.At present we have 68 clubs around Australia and a membership base of 38,000

In competition, distance for events takes two forms, sprints and marathons. The sprints are in 500 to 3000mts and the marathons 5 to 30 kl: their canoes are 6 person canoes OC6, 2 person OC2, and solo OC1: the rules for these races were created by the Hawaiian Racing Club. The age categories go from juniors, 8-18, opens, then masters 30-50, senior masters, 50-60,golden masters 60-70 and platinum 70 plus. When speaking of competition, two of the biggest outrigger events of the year would be the Sydney Harbour Challenge and the National Sprint and Marathon titles held on the Sunshine Coast: both always contested by our Noosa crews.

“As you can see,” said Craig, “we cater for a wide range of people and this makes us a very proud and successful club. Our organisation nurtures respect for the heritage and Polynesian culture from which the craft originated. This we show, by performing the blessing of a new craft, prior to the launch.”

Over the years the club has grown and earned representation in all divisions of the regattas: in the process achieving excellent results racing in the OC6 and OC1 events.

The major goal for these proud athletes, coaches and families is now to obtain a block of land on which to build a clubhouse. Presently, their place of assembly is in Chaplin Park, Mill Street Noosaville. The difficulties that they endure by not having a clubhouse are insurmountable.

To form a club in a relatively unknown sport and achieve success is to say the least outstanding. When the Noosa Outrigger Canoe Club presented Evan Gartrell, foundation member, with its first ever Life Membership, his virtues were many. For his loyalty and achievements, both as an administrator and competitor, it would have been an honour well deserved. Well done to Evan Gartrell and all involved.

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