whitey surfing sepia

Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison

The Dana Outrigger Canoe Club was established in 1971 by the legendary waterman Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison. Back in the 1920’s, while in high school, Whitey was already among the few surfing San Onofre. Once caught skipping school, young Lorrin was told to bring a note explaining his absence. He returned with a note that he had written himself that read: “The Big Ones were Humping.” Whitey was expelled for two weeks after he was forced to explain what the note meant.


Duke Kahanamoku and Whitey Harrison talking story.

In the 1930’s Whitey hopped a freighter to Honolulu. It was here that he took up canoe surfing with the legendary Waikiki Beach Boys and paddled with members of the Hui Nalu or “Club of the Waves” founded by Duke Kahanamoku. He also bodysurfed with Noah Kalama; a connection that would lead to the introduction of outrigger canoe racing in California some twenty years later.

In 1933, the first regatta devoted strictly to canoe racing was held on the Big Island. Looking to increase the sports popularity, Albert “Toots” Minvielle, an avid paddler and former UH swimming coach, began promoting the idea of an inter-island race. Given the treacherous nature of the inter-island channels, most people thought he was crazy.

But, persistence paid off and, in 1952, the first Molokai to Oahu race was held. While the winning purse was $900, the course was so dangerous that Molokai residents actually offered their team $600 to NOT race. Only three teams entered, but the race was a huge success and helped propel Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing to an all time high.

The next step was to introduce the sport to the mainland. So, in 1959, Toots hand-picked Noah Kalama to generate interest in an exhibition race from Catalina to Newport. Kalama was sent to California where he called upon his old friend Whitey to help put the California team together. With only two months to train, Whitey and his crew paddled everyday until 9 pm, regardless of conditions, preparing for the big event.

The race was held on September 20, 1959. The Hawaiians brought over two koa canoes: the Malia and the Niuhe. Built in 1933, the Malia also happened to be the most decorated boat in the islands. The Hawaiians kept that boat for themselves. Whitey’s crew paddled the Niuhe.

The 1959 Catalina Crossing - California Crew

The 1959 Catalina Crossing – California Crew

Half way across, the Californians were holding their own against the more experienced Hawaiians and their celebrated canoe. That is, until they flipped after being hit by an escort boat’s wake. Despite this setback and their overall lack of experience, after five hours of paddling, the Californians were beaten by the Hawaiians by only 11 minutes. Whitey claims he paddled the whole way without a sip of water, while wielding a paddle that weighed at least 10 pounds. You can see a video of the 1959 Crossing here.

At the conclusion of the first Catalina Crossing, a group of California paddlers “borrowed”  the Hawaiians’ treasured Malia while it was awaiting transport back to Hawaii. They secreted it away and made a mold of its hull before slipping it quietly back into the boatyard. Shortly thereafter, fiberglass replicas of the Malia began to appear up and down the California coast. Outrigger canoe clubs also began to spring into existence leading ultimately to the formation of the Kalifornia Outrigger Association (KOA) which has since become the Southern California Outrigger Racing Association (SCORA).

Whitey steering the Kamuela - 1971

Whitey steering the Kamuela – 1971

In the 1960’s, Whitey continued to participate in outrigger racing events with his team using the unofficial name of Doheny Canoe Club. Then, in 1971 an outrigger race was planned as part of the opening ceremonies of Dana Point Harbor. Whitey talked some friends and family members into paddling with him – his son – Lorrin Jr., Jean Pierre Van Swae (a.k.a. “The Fly”), Reggie Fernandez, Dan and Tom Snipes, Walter Allen and Dean Andre. They entered the race in an old canoe that had been hand-built by Whitey named the Kamuela. Whitey and the boys finished fifth after flipping just inside the Dana Point Harbor mouth.

Following this race, Whitey decided it was time to form an official club and, in 1972, the Dana Outrigger Canoe Club was borne. The club’s first canoe purchase was one of the fiberglass Malia replicas, which they purchased from SCORA Historian, Bud Hohl. They named this canoe the Alenuihaha (“Rough Wild Waves”), after the channel that runs between the islands of Maui and Hawaii.

But for Whitey, canoe surfing always took priority over regular training. As another legendary local waterman and founding member of Dana Outrigger, Fly Van Swae, recalls: “We would just go at it, no matter what the weather was. Everybody was stoked and we would just be catching wave after wave. And, Whitey would be in the back steering the canoe – hootin’ and hollerin’ – ‘Woo Hoo! Damn, does it get any better than this?!’”

Whitey canoe surfing off Capo.

Whitey canoe surfing off Capo.

Whitey remained the head coach of Dana Outrigger up until 1983, but he continued to race with the club until he steered his last race at 79. He passed away the very next year, in 1993. But, he left behind a legacy and tradition of boundless energy combined with fierce competitiveness. He passed these traits on two young paddlers back in the 1980s – John “Yamo” Yamasaki and Rich Long.

1992 Molokai Crossing - 1st Place Koa Division. Rich Long (bottom center) and John Yamasaki (upper right).

1992 Molokai Crossing – 1st Place Koa Division. Rich Long (bottom center) and John Yamasaki (upper right)

Yamo and Rich became co-coaches in 1988 and quickly began racking up an impressive list of accomplishments. This included a 1st place win in the 1992 Molokai Hoe Koa Division.

Today, they are still at it. Yamo is President/Chairman of the Board and Head Coach of the Keiki Program. Rich Long is the Head Coach of the Club and Head Coach of the Open Men’s Team. Under their guiding hands, Dana Outrigger has become one of the largest and most competitive clubs on the California Coast.

Dana Outrigger now has approximately 300 active members. This includes 100 kids, ages 9 to 19, who participate every year in our keiki and junior programs. We also have a fleet of twelve canoes. These include 5 unlimited class, 2 Bradley Racers, 2 Bradley Lightenings, 2 Mirages and one canoe that was hand built by Whitey using a sketch that he drew of a canoe he spotted off Ta’aone Beach in Tahiti. You can read more about our fleet of canoes here. Our most recent acquisitions are two unlimited class canoes built by Puakea Designs, named “Te Aito” (“The Warrior” in Tahitian) and the “Ohana” (“Family” in Hawaiian).