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OC1 and V1 differences explained

Wednesday 24 November 2010 | Published in Regional

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From the shore, all the single-man canoes in Saturday’s race looked similar, if not the same – but there are fundamental and decisive differences between the OC1 and the V1, which even some paddlers wouldn’t be able to explain.

Some competitors were paddling rudderless outrigger canoes, designed and used by Tahitian paddlers; others were using the ruddered OC1, designed by a Hawaiian paddler specifically for Hawaiian surf.

Local paddler Reuben Dearlove took first in the V1 category on Saturday, finishing just behind Todd Cohen who swept the race in an OC1.

Dearlove switched to V1 (Va’a Hoe) after the Pacific Mini Games last year in hopes of competing at Aito in Tahiti, not only because the paddlers there raise the bar but because from the Cooks, Tahiti is a more accessible venue than Hawai’i.

After a year of paddling V1, Dearlove tried to get in an OC1 and said he actually found it difficult to manoeuvre.

“I jumped on a ruddered canoe the other day and found it really tricky – it was good in the surf but I couldn’t feel the run of the canoe, it was like someone had the handbrake on,” he said.

The ‘handbrake’ he refers to is the OC1’s rudder; the biggest differences between a V1 and an OC1 involve the rudder and the seat.

A V1 has an ‘open cockpit’ – a paddler sits inside the canoe – and no rudder to keep it in line; the sit-on-top OC1 has a rudder, which a paddler controls with foot pedals.

“In Tahiti they wouldn’t actually say the difference is the rudder, it’s that it (the V1) has an open cockpit – in theory a va’a can have a rudder. It wouldn’t, but it could,” Dearlove said.

Dearlove said he prefers to paddle V1 because the OC1 rudder is a constant drag.

“Even with your most efficient rudder, between 5 and 7% would go into dragging that rudder, and that’s when it’s straight, let alone turning,” he said.

He said the OC1 is designed for Hawaiian waters, as it’s designed to surf.

“When you’re on a V1 you can’t take every wave – you have to be selective because some are too big and steep and you can’t stop it from swinging left and right so you take smaller waves that keep you surfing more constantly. On an OC1 you can take anything you want,” he said.

The V1 is, however, initially more difficult to steer – which is why learning to handle a V1 is excellent practice for a V6 steerer.

“On an OC1 there are periods when you can switch off – when you’re riding a wave you can stop paddling and put your paddle on your lap and there are rare moments you get to do that on a V1,” Dearlove said.

The V1 paddler is always steering, always trying to keep his or her line in the absence of a rudder.

The other downside of racing a V1 is that the canoe can take water. Dearlove said he lost precious ground when he had to stop and bail in Saturday’s race; winner Todd Cohen didn’t have to bail because he was paddling an OC1.

“That’s just another part of racing in the rudderless,” Dearlove said.

In Tahiti, paddlers use mechanical pumps to bail out water, but there are no provisions for using that kind of equipment during races in the rule books here.

The OC1 is shorter – generally between 20 and 21 feet – whereas the V1 can be up to 26 feet, which necessitates a longer power stroke. A V1 stroke, Dearlove said, is shorter and more up front.

“Up front is what works well on a six-man – that’s why the Tahitians go so well from their single to their six-man and back again,” he said.

He added that during Monday’s V6 Iron race, the New Caledonians who regularly paddle V1 meshed well with the Boiler Boyz because their stroke matched the V6 stroke local paddlers use.

“It (V1) is smoother and more rhythmical and there’s more of an understanding of what’s happening in the ocean,” he said.

He said that for Tahitian paddlers – almost all of whom paddle V1 – the va’a is more in line with the canoes the ancestors used.

“It’s a different level – for those guys that paddle rudderless it’s a lot more than a sport,” Dearlove said. “They believe in a connection to the ocean and a connection to mana and spirit and the top teams still derive power from the ocean – they tap into the ocean for force and get stronger as the race goes on.”