Paddle a Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe on the Anacostia

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Matt Butcher (left) Liz Petrun Sayers (seat 1) watching the sunset

How did I miss it? All the years I’ve lived on Capitol Hill, how did I not know there was a Hawaiian outrigger canoe team at the Anacostia Boathouse on M Street SE?

Last month when I was paddling with my canoe club in Lewes, DE, a new team member sat in seat 3 of our six-person outrigger. When we got to chatting, I found out Liz Petrun Sayers was a member of the National Capitol Area Outrigger Club whose home is at the Anacostia Community Boathouse. Petrun Sayers, who is a government agency researcher and lives on the Hill, was visiting her parents in Lewes and couldn’t resist jumping into an outrigger and paddling almost nine miles with us that morning.

Her mother says Petrun Sayers is addicted to paddling. Petrun Sayers agrees. She loves the sport and said she spends about 10 hours a week paddling. She finds herself in a boat at least three days a week, maybe four.

“As someone who likes endurance sports, I also love the water,” said Petrun Sayers. “There’s so much more to paddling than the physical aspects. Working as a team is what makes it special. It doesn’t matter how hard you are working if you are not in sync with your team.”

Matt Butcher and wife Liz Pennisi paddling in the
Washington Channel

Matt Butcher, head coach for the National Capitol Area Outrigger canoeing team (NCA Outrigger), said it has about 20-30 active members. “We have a broad selection of paddlers who are all ages and have a variety of skill levels,” he said. “Paddling outriggers can be a fun family sport. We had a 13-year-old and her father with us for a while. Although we have no children’s program we welcome young adults in their 20s and 30s as well as masters in their 60s and 70s.”

NCA Outrigger was the first Hawaiian outrigger canoeing team in the DC area which now has established men’s, women’s and co-ed teams. Butcher calls DC a mecca for paddling. “It’s close to the river and close to the bay.” He said. “DC has a long history of water sports. The Washington Canoe Club on K Street in Georgetown was established in 1904. (It now also has a Hawaiian outrigger team).” Butcher notes how amazing the water is around DC. “You don’t have to paddle far to discover the egrets and heron. There are beautiful places on the water around DC.”

Liz Petrun Sayers in seat #3 paddling in front of the Navy Yard

Paddling is a great workout. It’s also a great way to release stress. If you are someone who counts steps on a phone, 10 miles in a canoe is the equivalent to doing 18,000 steps. 

“Paddling improves your fitness whatever level you are at,” said Butcher. “It’s also a low impact, non-contact sport. I’ve been paddling the majority of my life. Most people don’t get hurt.” He also said paddling is a sport that pushes you to show up. Five other team mates are counting on you to pull your weight. It’s not like a gym workout where you can say, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’” 

Paddling takes stamina and conditioning, but it doesn’t have to be overly intense. It’s a way of getting your heart working and blood flowing. It requires focus and breathing and awareness of the person in the seat in front of you and behind you. Paddlers use core muscles (back, hips, glutes), not the arms. Plus it’s a lot of fun.

Both Petrun Sayers and I got our start paddling in Hawaii. Petrun Sayers started in 2017 when a friend told her, “This is Hawaii. Don’t spend time in a gym. Why don’t you check out paddling?” Patrun Sayers was immediately hooked. 

Paddling in Hawaii was a huge social activity for me. Now when I paddle it has become more. My coach explained. “Hawaiian canoe paddling can show us a way of living outside the canoe as well as how we act while in the boat if you follow the five steps of aloha,” he said. “Aloha doesn’t just mean hello or goodbye. Consider the essence of the word by its components. Akahai means kindness; Lokahi means unity; Olu’olu means to be agreeable; Ha’aha’a means humility, and Ahonui means patience.  Act with kindness, be together and agreeable, be humble and practice patience. It’s a life lesson.” 

Author Pattie Cinelli with her coach David Schofield in the Delaware Bay.

Petrun Sayers also loves that by paddling in the Anacostia she’s become an environmental steward of her community. “I advocate for water quality and love being a part of that. Paddling is a positive way of spending your time. It’s such a gift to be able to paddle. I had no idea I’d learn about navigation, (she steered the boat in Hawaii), about the boat and the technique.”

If you are one who doesn’t like to sweat and likes to stay cool during the summer canoe paddling is the perfect exercise. Even if it is 95 degrees on the Hill, once you get on the water, the splashes and the breeze from moving in the boat so close to the water keeps you cool. 

You don’t have to want to compete in order to paddle. But if you do enjoy competition Petrun Sayers said there are races from Connecticut to Florida on the east coast as well as local races in DC. 

Slather on sunscreen and give it a try. Monday evenings is novice night at the Anacostia Boathouse. Go online to sign up (www.ncawpa.org). It’s an experience you’re not likely to forget.

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and writer who has been teaching, training and learning about the products, techniques and methods that help people get and stay fit, healthy and happy for more than 25 years. Contact her at: fitmiss44@aol.com.