This coming August 13, the Greater Montreal Outrigger Challenge (GMOC), taking place on the Ottawa River, out of the beautiful Hudson Yacht Club, will be holding its third edition.
Open to all levels of paddlers, and bringing together competitors in outrigger canoeing, surf-ski, stand-up paddleboard (SUP), kayak, canoe, and much more, it promises to be both an exciting event and an immensely enjoyable one for both participants and spectators.
The event is co-organized by Mony Sy and Patricia Gilbert, a couple of professional engineers who competed together in dragon boat racing and eventually fell in love. The couple now live in the Hudson area with their six-year-old twin daughters.
Transitioning from dragon boating to outrigger
Mony initially started focusing on OC paddling as a way of training on his own in an attempt to make the selection for the men’s national dragon boat team in 2008-2009. During the selection process, he travelled to Vancouver for the try-outs, where he first tried OC6 on open water and loved it.
“But after coming back from the World Dragon Boat Championships in Prague in 2009, with our twins on the way, he had to stop dragon boating,” explains Gilbert. “Team training schedules were simply not compatible with the twins’ schedule.”
Photo: (Mony Sy teaching the ropes to one of his girls in his own OC1 boat).
But while the couple may have left dragon boating, like most paddlers who develop a love for being on the water, they never abandoned it altogether.
Still very eager to paddle, but at his own pace and schedule, Sy purchased his first boats; a one-man (OC1) outrigger and two-man (OC2) outrigger at the end of 2009 and had them delivered to Montreal all the way from California. In 2010 he started racing, first in local multi-category small-scale events on rivers in the Montreal area. The downside was that he was often the only person racing in OC and having no one to race against took away some of the fun and challenge.
In 2011 he attended the Blackburn Challenge, a 32km race on the ocean in the Boston area. For the event, he partnered with long-time marathon canoe racer Mario Blackburn (no relation to the race despite the name). Despite both of them being new to paddling as a team, and novices on the ocean and in an OC2, they came in second in their category. Sy loved the event, its laid back atmosphere, and the way it was a meeting point for long-time paddlers (many who were from the local fishing community) who’d been competing in this race for some 30 odd years.
It started dawning on Sy and Gilbert that it would be great to have a local competitive scene, especially since Quebec has such a long history of paddling. It was time, he thought, to start an event like this of his own.
The GMOC event starts taking shape
Over the course of the winter of 2012 Sy and Gilbert started fleshing out the details and thought of what exactly they wanted the event to be. Their goals were to promote the sport, establish a high-quality competition that attracts high-calibre athletes, but also to create an annual “rendez-vous” where local and international paddlers (competitive and recreational) could come to compete and strive for their personal best while reveling in the camaraderie of old friends and good times.
(Photo: SUP paddlers compete in last year’s edition of the GMOC)
As the event’s name indicates, their intent was to target outrigger competitors (OC1, OC2, OC6), but similar to other competitions, they also opened up the event to surf-ski, stand up paddling (SUP) and other boat types that would show up. The course was set at a distance of 35km, but, due to popular demand, they also added a shorter 15km course.
In the summer of 2013 the Greater Montreal Outrigger Challenge finally saw the light and attracted some 45 paddlers, half of which were from Quebec. Several organisers of the Liberty Challenge, the big New York OC6 race, attended, as well as some members of CORA (Canadian Outrigger Racing Association) who flew from Vancouver for the event. Other paddlers mostly came from Ontario and a few from the U.S.
“For such a niche sport, the attendance for a first-year event was a great success,” says Gilbert. “The biggest challenge proved to be getting boats for the race. Most local paddlers didn’t have a boat of their own and those flying in from New York and Vancouver were looking to rent boats.”
The second edition doubled in size and saw 85 paddlers participate. Again, roughly half were from Quebec and the other half from Ontario and the U.S.
“We were fortunate to have members of the Onake Paddling Club competing, a club on the Kahnawake First Nations reserve, and until 2016, the only club in the Montreal area who owned an OC6,” elaborates Sy.
“One of the participants in 2015 was Simon Lebrun, a local marine pilot and SUP paddler who also organizes the Montreal Ice Canoe Race. We became friends. I was initiated to ice canoe during that following winter and joined a team, with which I raced all winter. But most importantly, as an avid SUP paddler, Simon has been helping us grow the SUP portion of our race.”
A new challenge this year: the Waterway Series
Motivated by the desire to create ties with the broader OC paddling community established in neighbouring Ontario, as well as make the event even more competitive and established, Sy and Gilbert came up with the idea this year of partnering with two big events similar to GMOC in Eastern and Central Canada, in order to form a circuit. They approached the organizers of these events who immediately came on board, giving birth to the Waterway Series.
With this new concept, each of the races (Toronto International Outrigger Challenge, July 9 and 10 in Toronto, Wai Nui O Kanaka Why Not, July 23, in Mississauga, and the Greater Montreal Outrigger Challenge, August 13, in Hudson) becomes a leg of the Series and allows competitors to accumulate points based on their performance at each race. The paddler with the most points is declared champion in his or her category in the Series. The series is open to OC1, OC2, OC6, surf-ski, and SUP paddlers.
“The Waterway Series is a great way to give exposure to Montreal and put it on the map as an outrigger, surf-ski and SUP paddling destination,” says Gilbert, who expects attendance to the GMOC event could grow to some 130 participants this year.
“While GMOC remains a laidback event open to all levels of competitors, who first and foremost approach it as a personal challenge, the introduction of the point series concept will now also generate greater interest among high level competitive athletes,” adds Gilbert.
Jacques Blais, an avid outdoorsman and a former TA in French at the University of Calgary fell in love with OC while living in Hawaii. When he retired and moved to St. John, New Brunswick, he realized how perfectly suited outriggers were for the Bay of Fundy waters, and is now trying to bring the sport to the area. Blais participated at the GMOC event for the past two years and will definitely be back again this year.
“Mony and Patricia make the race special,” explains Blais. “And I’m returning because I want to support their efforts in growing and expanding outrigger canoe culture in Eastern Canada.”
Another big name attaching his name to this year’s event is Tamas Buday Jr. To many people the Buday name may not mean much, but if you’ve ever followed canoeing in Canada you’re familiar with it.
Buday Jr. is a Hungarian-born Canadian sprint canoer who was a member of the Canadian National Canoe team for 15 years. His father was a two-time bronze medalist at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and a four-time world champion. Buday Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, and represented Canada at three Olympic Games (two of them with his brother Attila) and at nine World Championships. He won three silver medals at the Worlds and retired from competing in 2009 and is now a coach.
But retirement doesn’t last long for athletes who’ve trained and competed their entire lives. They need the rush of competition, and that love of the open water… it keeps calling them back. Buday Jr. quickly found a new passion; racing and competing in SUP, and like many other former elite sprint canoers and kayakers, he effortlessly crossed over to other paddling sports, and looks forward to competing at the GMOC next month.
“The 4km and 12km SUP courses have actually been designed by Buday Jr.,” says Sy. “They’ll have an exciting running start from the beach and some amazing technical turns to test the paddlers’ agility.”
For the remaining boat types, the courses they will be racing will be 15km or 30 km. The OC6 competition will be a relay: two crews will be paired together, with the first crew racing 15 km then swapping with the second crew, who then completes its 15km.
A family affair
Not only is the GMOC event a unique opportunity to see surf-skis, outriggers, and increasingly popular SUPs in competition, it’s also the perfect occasion to actually give them a try.
“The first two years we kept the event to racers and their close supporters,” says Sy. “This year, we’re aiming to go way beyond that. We’ll have a dozen exhibitors on site presenting their gear (widest display ever of SUP brands in Quebec) and we want spectators visiting to discover these paddling sports (outrigger, surf-ski, SUP), test all the latest paddling equipment, ask the pros all the questions they want, and enjoy a nice family day out.
“There’ll be free clinics on site to learn the basics, perfect their technique and essentially it’s a great opportunity for newcomers to try SUP, and for others to compare different equipment,” adds Gilbert.
(Photo: Last year’s participants pose for a group picture on the beach in Hudson.)
As the parents of two young girls, both Sy and Gilbert aim to make the event a family affair. Sure, it will be competitive for those who want to test themselves, but it will also be an event where those curious about the sport can come out and see what the fuss is all about. With the beach, the playground, picnic spots, a BBQ after the race, and with the beautiful town of Hudson (celebrating its 150 anniversary this year) within walking distance, there is lots to see and do for everyone.
In the meantime, the event keeps growing and expanding, as word gets out.
“We just received notice of our first oversees participants,” Gilbert tells me smiling. “We have two OC6 paddlers travelling all the way from Japan this year.”
Like they say, success always comes in waves. The trick is to know how to ride them. And no one is better equipped to do that than those who’ve spent years and years on the water.
The complete list and schedule of all races and clinics will be available at the GMOC website the day of the event.