Name: Tina Tinggaard Nielsen
Age: 46
Nationality: Danish
Profession: Operations Director, The Pod Company

Outrigging is a Hawaiian Polynesian sport with roots dating back to the very beginning of Hawaii and New Zealand some 2000 years ago when the islands were actually discovered in outrigger canoes. Today, it is one of the national sports along with surfing in that part of the world.
Here, in the UAE, too, it is gaining brisk momentum. So, if you are not the one to lie still and soak up the rays, get down to the beach and try outrigger paddling. “Dubai Canoe family welcomes you,” says outrigger Tina Nielsen for whom paddling is what makes her day, not sure what she would be without it and doesn’t really want to know!

What inspired you to get into paddling and what has kept you hooked to it?
I got introduced to it by my flatmate in the UK when I was looking for a sport after having stopped smoking. I love the great outdoors especially, being on water strikes a great connection with nature and having fun with surfing, meeting other paddlers from all over the world is something I really enjoy. It has been twelve years ever since and there has been no looking back!

What does paddling mean to you?
Outrigger paddling is a fantastic sport, it gets you out on the water and a great stress buster because when you focus on paddling you get your mind away from everything else and therefore a chance to get away and see things in a different light. So, I would find it hard to work as much as I do if I didn’t have paddling in my life. Also, paddling is a great meeting point for like-minded people from around the world and it goes without saying that I have forged great friendships through it. The great thing about the sport is the combination of the team and one- man training and races, so there’s never a lazy moment.

Trace your journey of outrigging…
I started outrigger paddling when I lived in the UK and loved it from day one. Within ten months, I started training twice a day for six days a week. Since I moved to Dubai in 2008, I started to surf ski as I didn’t have my one-man outrigger here yet (OC1, as it is often called). After an amazing OC6 race in Hawaii 2011 with the outrigger club in London, me and my coach Cam Taylor started discussing the possibility of getting a six-man outrigger canoe here to Dubai. Initially, three other paddlers and I got the money together for one canoe and Cam promised to buy another one for us. In May 2012, we got the first two six-man outrigger canoes to Dubai and as far as I know, these are the only two in the Middle East, that is now fully owned by Cam. We are a team of around sixteen paddlers. However, the number keeps changing as people from other countries eagerly keep joining us. We are a group of different nationalities- Kiwis, Tahitians, Fijians, Brazilian, Panama, Irish English, Scots, American and Danish and we are always looking for more paddlers whether they are experienced or not!

Which has been your most memorable paddling stint and why?
There have been many memorable outrigging moments and very difficult to pick one out, but the best moments are probably the races with the crew from Dubai or simply when we are training here in the surf and trying to catch the waves and sprinting to the finishing line. Also, our two races of 48km around the Hong Kong Island have been absolutely fantastic. We were placed on third position both years. The Queen Lily race on The Big Island in Hawaii was another memorable race with 130 women canoes at the start line-six in each canoe and then the same amount of men paddling it back to the start for 38kms.
For people new to outrigging, it is a ten-man change race for the six-man canoe so we do changes every twenty minutes with fresh paddlers having had a break in the support boat jump in the canoe.
And as Hawaiian Governor David Ige said while signing the Paris Sustainability Treaty in 2017 “We are all one canoe, one island and one planet”. This statement is very dear to me and the Dubai Outrigger Canoe Family, “We are all one canoe!” – the five words that explain all about outrigging!

What challenges have you come up against? How have you kept yourself motivated despite these challenges?
Dubai is a fantastic spot for watersport with fantastic people and great events, but can also be a challenge to be a little twelve-man sport that not many people yet understand and love, like we do. Also, finding a home for our two twelve-foot canoes has been a challenge. We were with DIMC in the Dubai Marina and due to the development of the Marina, we are trying to find a new affordable place to have a home for our canoes. We have named our canoes as Kaimana (meaning ‘the magical ocean’) and Al Tahya (meaning ‘Arabic star’ to symbolize the fact that canoes were navigated between the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, by the stars and that is how we want to think our canoe has come to the UAE).

What is next on your cards?
We are planning to do a race in France in July’18 with current paddlers and also the paddlers that have left UAE but are still a part of our Dubai Outrigger Canoe Family, followed by a race in Hong Kong in November’18. We have plenty of Dubai paddlers that have moved back to Hawaii and are eager to join us out there, hence we are also looking at arranging a trip to the land of paddling- Tahiti or Hawaii in 2019.

How do you intend to take your enthusiasm further?
I would love the club to grow in Dubai and meet as many fantastic people within outrigger paddling as possible. I will always keep paddling and loving that connection and respect for the lovely ocean!

How would you describe UAE as a ground for paddling?
UAE is a fantastic place for paddling. It’s never too cold, sometimes very hot but it helps to know that by getting out early and getting back early you can paddle all the year around. We do get some waves, so it’s a fantastic place for paddling. The UAE has all the possibilities of being a big outrigger place as it is for stand-up paddling and surf skiing. ■


Words by: Bandana Jain
Photos by: Supplied