August outrigger race through Laguna BeachThis weekend on Saturday, Aug. 9th, all 32 of the Southern California Outrigger Paddling Clubs begin the most strenuous part of their summer season – the 9-man relay race. It’s the annual Whitey Harrison Canoe Classic sponsored by the Dana Point Outriger Club.

This is the ONLY outrigger race all year long –  on EITHER U.S. seaboard … and possibly the world – that hugs the coastline (Dana Point/Laguna Beach) from beginning to end, making it quite a spectacle for onlookers standing on shore. Normally, this Hawaiian-style outrigger race runs within a quarter mile of the shoreline of Laguna Beach, and it’s a spectacle that stops people in their tracks.

The 9-man outrigger relay is one wild race – it’s a cacophony of 40-60 outrigger boats racing neck and neck, each with an accompanying motor boat that travels nearby for changes of personnel in and out of the boats. As the outrigger boats race forward, they’ll drop paddlers in the water, picking up incoming paddlers on the other side of the boat simultaneously. This is done while the boat remains at racing speed, which is pretty awesome to watch. (Having participated as an outrigger paddler for years, I think it’s much more fun to WATCH than participate in … catching a slippery boat by the gunnel while you’re chest deep in water can be an interesting excursion.)

The race begins in Dana Point at Doheny Beach. Women race first with the top boats hitting the southern edges of Laguna Beach at about 9:00 a.m.  They normally turn at Main Beach in Laguna Beach. The men’s race starts when the last of the women come in – usually around 11:00 – and normally goes to Seal Rock in Northern Laguna before turning around and heading out to sea in a triangular configuration to keep out of each others’ paths.

f you’re in a motor boat and wish to watch the race, exercise caution – there are more than 100 human-powered boats and motor boats in this armada with tiny human beings floating in the water between them. And no – it’s not at all funny to try to “wake” the race participants – with “Shark Week” debuting on the Discovery channel in its usual timely schedule, they have enough to think about, thank you very much.

Get out your binocs for better viewing and pull up a chair at a great location for a rare Saturday morning event!

Best Laguna Beach viewing options for this Saturday’s 2011 Outrigger Race:

The Montage’s cliffside grounds always open to the public

The Rooftop at Casa Del Camino (have a great breakfast while you’re at it)

The Deck at Pacific Edge (serving up brunch from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

The Hotel Laguna Terrace by Main Beach (food starts at 11:00 but the Terrace is open for bar guests just about any time)





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