This past Saturday, April 18, marked the first of many sundress-wearing, board-short tying, and aloe vera-applying spring days. Yet, despite having to peel off perspiration-stained tank tops and disguise new, unwanted tan lines, athletes from Santa Barbara area businesses absorbed all things spring at the Santa Barbara Outrigger Canoe Club’s 12th Annual Company Challenge.
This year’s competitors ranged from Softshare Inc. to gym members at Killer B Fitness. Before the race, competitors had a chance to scope out the course, which spread roughly 300 yards from Stearns Wharf to the Condor Express dock. Then each team gathered to talk strategy or stretch out tight muscles. But before anyone could hop into their assigned outrigger canoes, outrigger club members instructed each team on the history of outrigger canoeing and the best ways to cut through the water.
Although today outrigger canoes are mainly used for racing, they were once used in Polynesian culture for ceremony, warfare, and to colonize the Pacific. Because exploring the Channel Islands wasn’t listed on the itinerary for the day, participants next learned racing techniques. In order to stay in sync with one another, participants were taught to chant “Hut! Hike! Ho!” while switching the paddle from left to right. If paddling on the left, club members suggested participants lean with their left leg forward and vice versa if paddling on the right. Once each team felt comfortable inside the canoes, it was time for the racing to begin.
Participants competed in a series of preliminary heats; the top qualifiers would advance to the finals. Although competitors weren’t necessarily competing against teams in their same category, they raced against the clock to secure a spot in the final race.
Team Sofa King, Yardi Systems Inc., Softshare Inc. A, and Titan Fitness A all qualified for the coed finals. All four teams started out in close proximity when Titan Fitness pulled ahead of the pack. Sofa King remained a close competitor as they replaced “Hut! Hike! Ho!” with “So! Fa! King!” to maintain a rhythm in their canoe. Although Sofa King’s chant entertained their fans, Titan Fitness maintained their focus on the finish line in order to land their first win of the day in a final time of 2 minutes and 3 seconds.
“We’ve supported this event for four years and it’s a great way for us to bring together all of our clients,” Robb Bolton of Titan Fitness said. Bolton quickly rested before he was due back in the canoe to help the Titan men’s team.
While Bolton and his team rehydrated with a few waters and sports drinks, the women headed out into the water for their final race. The qualifiers included Killer B Fitness, Titan Fitness women, and Softshare Inc. Once the teams began paddling, they remained neck and neck until Killer B Fitness initiated their final strategy of the day.
“We talked through each previous run,” Jennifer Hamilton said. “We just kept learning from what we were doing.”
Learning from any mistakes they had made during the preliminary heats paid off when the Killer Bs edged ahead of the other competitors to take first place with a time of 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Killer B Fitness dedicated their win to trainer and owner of Killer B Fitness Bob Wilcher, who prepared the women for the race.
With Killer B Fitness celebrating their win, the men from Titan Fitness, Yardi Systems Inc., URS, and Job Aps jumped into the water for the final race of the day. When the clock began, all the teams shot out from the pier, scooping their paddles through the water in hopes of winning first place. Fans rushed to the shoreline to cheer on their friends and coworkers. And then, in what looked like a sprint through the water, Titan Fitness shoveled through the harbor to clinch first place in the men’s division.
“We took suggestions from more experienced paddlers and applied their strategy to our team,” said Carlos Sanchez of Titan Fitness. “We put the strong guys in the back, and the most coordinated in the front.” The technique Sanchez and the rest of Titan Fitness practiced proved nothing but successful when their overall time of 1 minute and 58 seconds secured Titan Fitness as the perpetual trophy winners of the day.
“It’s really exciting,” Sanchez said. “Although it was tough in the beginning, we all had fun.” A lot more fun than an office potluck, several teams expressed interest in returning to the harbor for the next annual company challenge - because sweating in a board meeting is in no way comparable to sweating out in the water.