Why is ama on the left side of the canoe?

That's what I got asked few days ago and I didn't really have a good answer.
I mumbled something about tradition and old beliefs but I don't really know.

So, why is ama on the left side?

Submitted by haris on Tue, 07/06/2004 - 4:16am

I don't really have an answer, but I've always thought it would be nice to try an oc1 rigged on the right side just to practice balancing. I think it might help in learning to be more centered on the canoe.

#1 Wed, 07/07/2004 - 9:19pm

I posted the same question on outrigger yahoo group and basically tradition was the answer.
Also quite a few people rig their canoes (I'm guessing OC-6/4s) either left or right, depending on the conditions and the direction of travel.
I'd love to be able to rig my canoes to the right, as I'm quite a bit stronger on the right from my other paddling (plus it would freak people out :) ) but it's a no go, at least with the canoes I have access to....

#2 Fri, 07/09/2004 - 3:57am

I hadn't paddled for awhile and i went to take my sea-lion out, and in my excitement of going out for the first time in days i rigged the ama on the right without realizing it until i was done.. i was about to rerig it but i figured it might be fun to try it out. It was impossible for me to stay upright, i literally could not take a stroke without the ama popping up, i didn't even likei was in a canoe anymore. so i quickly took it in and rerigged it. Thats why the amas on the left, it's much easier. haha, nah but you dont realize how used to it you get until you try it differently.

#3 Fri, 07/09/2004 - 6:45am

Resurecting old thread...
Only answer I get from people here is : "It's tradition !". Frustrating answer...
A friend (steersman) told me he once rigged his V6 with ama to the right side to give it a try, and his paddlers had issues with balance. Very similar story to that of Luke.

#4 Wed, 09/03/2008 - 11:30pm

sorry double post...

#5 Wed, 09/03/2008 - 11:31pm

Some outriggers are rigged on the right. Keizo has a video up on his profile that shows this. Seems to work for those guys...

#6 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 6:24am

One of the paddlers in our club (I don't want to mention any names, as he reads this website, but his initials are Brent Tibben) did this when he went out for his first paddle this past spring.

The water here can be very cold (freshwater lake, frozen solid in winter). He just wasn't thinking much and rigged his boat on the right. According to him, he didn't get more than 50 feet from shore when he hulied. He had an inkling something wasn't quite right, but couldn't put his finger on it.

#7 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 6:42am

the ama is rigged on the left because most people are right-handed..DUH!

#8 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 8:31am

I rig on the left because that's where the iakos are.

#9 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 8:42am

from wakipedia:

"The amas of outrigger canoes are rigged to the left because the trees in Polynesia have a distinct leftward bend due to a combination of the Coriolis effect and the tradewinds. There are studies that show that African canoe builders rig their native dugouts to the right- for the same reason in a completely different part of the planet- this resourcefulness in 2 different and isolated locales is indicative of the innate resourcefulness of ancient native cultures.

When the original canoe builders were crafting their canoes they took advantage of this natural anomaly to reduce additional labor that is required in the hewing of a traditional outrigger canoe. Stanley and Dewalt were mere figments of their imagination.

Many other traditions follow the same pattern, such as the clockwise revolution of Tibetan prayer wheels, the random spinning of 6 year old children at play, the fluttering of snowflakes, the chemical structure of vegemite studied under a microscope and the subatomic structure of methane gas produced by ungulates."

We are all connected.

#10 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 8:51am

Pure poetry, Dacho. I myself cannot turn left. I'm not an ambi-turner. [movie, anyone?]

Back to the point:
I had a coach that took us out surfing in a 4-man rigged on the right. He called it a "makaha rig" and said it was rigged that way to catch a certain type of wave.

#11 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 9:14am

To Zoolander Sonia ;), theres a picture of a "makaha rig" in Tommy Holmes, "The Hawaiian Canoe", as the guy is coming down a huge wave - evidently, the other paddlers must have bailed out because he is the only left in the canoe, steering the right sided rigged 'ama down the monstrous wave.

Since we're on a trivial roll,
name the Polynesian island that traditionally rigs the 'ama on the right rather than the left

#12 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 9:23am

My ungulates just turned left. How strange.

#13 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 9:25am

Just a wild guess here- pretty sure ancient Hawaiians could have rigged on either side. Once racing canoes appeared and started doing turns, the 'ama rigging probably needed to be standardized for safety in the turns. But still, why left when it could be aurrriiite!

#14 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 9:36am

At Makaha, you would not want your ama on the left.

#15 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 9:51am

There seems to be some common link about making left turns while racing. Outrigger canoes make left turns. Horse racing tracks, dog racing tracks, car racing tracks, running tracks. They are oval tracks but all turning to the left. Maybe it has something to do with the way the earth spins.

#16 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 10:16am

Again, its because majority of the human populace is right handed. Sheesh...

#17 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 10:45am

You're all wrong. The Northern Hemisphere countries should rig on the left and the Southern Hemisphere countries should rig on the right, due to the way water spins when it goes down the plug hole in the bathtub.

Why would the ocean be any different???

Cheers Rambo

#18 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 11:11am

To kamamakakaua re: ama trivia:

Ama rigged on the right in Tubuai!!!

BTW, did the picture in Tommy Holmes book also call it a Makaha Rig when on the right? or did my coach make that up?

#19 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 11:16am

Tommy and Aka rigged on the left Oc4


#20 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 11:39am

Sonia - nice job with answering that - I read that in Herb Kane's historical article - as for the Tommy Holmes picture - I don't recall reading that it was a "Makaha Rig", although I admit, I did not read the complete text that accompanied the pic. There's also another picture in The Hawaiian Canoe with a Tahitian six person canoe that has the 'ama right rigged.

Rambo - that was an impressive video find! Aka Hemmings and Tommy Holmes - two great watermen.

#21 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 12:00pm

It wasn't a find, it's been in the locker video section for 2 years. I own an original VHS tape from an early Molokai Hoe coverage back when the Bank of Hawai'i sponsored the event. The short clip was taken from that. Spoke to Aka about it in Hawai'i when he took me out in the OC4 at Outrigger CC. Recons they were crazy .... hahha.

There is also a blowup photo of it on the wall at Island Paddler Shop in Waikiki.

Cheers Rambo

#22 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 12:24pm

Wow, what a great question..I asked my husband, who builds sailing canoes why outriggers and such rig on the left..I couldnt belive that he didnt really have a good answer, something about surfing, etc etc..We rig our big ama's on the sailing canoe on the right. We do it because of the prevailing swells when we are going from island to island come from the right side and when fly the ama to avoid getting hit. Sometimes we fly them to high!!
I can't wait to keep reading what everyone has to say and learn something new. Maybe we should do a segment on our show asking people that question and see what they have to say:):)

Ocean Paddler TV

#23 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 3:31pm

The side the ama goes on should be dependant on the conditions and your personal preference. The beauty of the Hawaiian canoe is that it can be rigged in many different ways. It is designed to be versatile and have the ability to be used in almost any ocean condition. The challenge is to know how to rig it properly to match the conditions whether it be right, left, in, out, up, down or whatever.

I have seen pictures of malia canoes being rigged for sailing with the stern forward. Ive' heard that works better because the stern is wider and therefore doesn't plow into the water as much when sailing fast.

Try it, you might like it.

#24 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 3:33pm

Wow, what a great question..I asked my husband, who builds sailing canoes why outriggers and such rig on the left..I couldnt belive that he didnt really have a good answer, something about surfing, etc etc..We rig our big ama's on the sailing canoe on the right. We do it because of the prevailing swells when we are going from island to island come from the right side and we fly the ama to avoid getting hit. Sometimes we fly them to high!! As you can see in this photo. My crew was screaming. I had my eyes closed..hahaha
I can't wait to keep reading what everyone has to say and learn something new. Maybe we should do a segment on our show asking people that question and see what they have to say:):)

Ocean Paddler TV

#25 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 3:34pm

Your right Terry it's not such a silly question at all. Most all of us tried to humor the question because we didn't know the answer.

I kind of have an idea having read it somewhere i think in Tommy Holmes book The Hawaiian Canoe or The Canoes of Oceania by Haddon and Hornell. Just going through them now to find it.

Back later

Cheers Rambo

#26 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 4:03pm

The oldest canoes, from west of central Pacific, could go both ways so ama
was kept to the side suiting conditions without having to re-rig.

One way, or tacking canoes as opposed to shunting canoes appear to have come
from the eastern Pacific.

#27 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 5:08pm

Why not?

#28 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 6:08pm

The particular side of the canoe the 'ama is on is completely arbitrary, just like the number of seats in the canoe.

On a side note, it's like zoolander who cant turn left.

#29 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 8:09pm

I think the reason was actually spiritual.
Still looking.

#30 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 9:20pm

I bet that the reason is simple. I would guess that the early Hawaii regatta race rules stated that a canoe had to make a left-hand turn around its flags. That dictated the ama to be on the left. It would have been tough for a crew to be competetive if they had to make a left-handed turn and the ama was on the right. As time went on, people probably just got used to it being on the left and kept it that way.

Now imagine if the race course was similar to that of a track and feild race track. You had no 180 degree turns to make about a flag but rather a gentle turn. Stability around a turn would not be an issue. So in this scenario, I would guess that the ama would be rigged on the opposite side of the turn. ie: left-hand turn -> ama on the right. Why? Because if the ama was away from the turn, the canoe would be traveling a smaller arc and therefore, less distance.

Now there's an idea for a master blaster race: A typical regatta with a quarter mile race course, or maybe shorter, where the ama is on the right, but you must make a left hand turn around your flags????

#31 Thu, 09/04/2008 - 10:44pm

verbatim per Nappy, " well... if get surf and kinda aaah.. aaah choke swells, rig 'em on tha right. catch tha bumps quick. if u eat it, aaaah. lose money u."

couldn't have sed it better myself.

#32 Fri, 09/05/2008 - 3:40pm

I was told that in the early days of outrigger racing(Late 1800's). The races were straight point to point. One and two mile courses. So no need for turns in that respect.. But, I did hear that because Waikiki was the most popular place for canoe surfing, and that the waves back then primarily broke to the left, the amas were put on that side. It was the most popular spot for outriggers and the King would select his best paddlers from those that he would see regularly. Since these paddlers were from that area, they felt comfortable in putting their ama on the left...

#33 Fri, 09/05/2008 - 10:09pm

i like th' idee peter. master blaster wi' port hand turn on starboard hand rig. loggin' that one away fer future reference.

also, maybe th' Micronesians be havin' things figured ou' wi' th' proa. th' boat dasn't turn, 't jus' switches ends. in traditional Marshallese races, th' boats would sail across th' lagoon, swap th' mast an' steersman from one end o' th' boat t' th' other an' sail aft, without eredoin' a turn! so part o' the'r racin' skill lies in bein' able t' switch riggin' proficiently. hulls be shaped asymmetrically t' compensate fer th' wind pushin' in one direction, windward side be rounded like a hawaiian canoe but th' leeward side be flat. if a proa be properly shaped an' rigged, 't will sail perfectly straight wi' nay steersman an' nay adjustment t' th' sail. Marshallese still build wee unmanned scale models o' the'r outriggers an' sail them in races. th' canoes will track perfectly straight from point t' point if set up fer th' correct wind/sea angle/conditions. e'en in a crosswind. now THEY be havin' 't dialed...

i like the idea peter. master blaster with left hand turn on right hand rig. logging that one away for future reference.

also, maybe the Micronesians have things right with the proa. the boat doesn't turn, it just switches ends. in traditional Marshallese races, the boats would sail across the lagoon, swap the mast and steersman from one end of the boat to the other, and sail back. without ever doing a turn! so part of their racing skill lies in being able to switch rigging proficiently. hulls are shaped asymmetrically to compensate for the wind pushing in one direction, windward side is rounded like a hawaiian canoe but the leeward side is flat. if a proa is properly shaped and rigged, it will sail perfectly straight with no steersman and no adjustment to the sail. Marshallese still build small unmanned scale models of their outriggers and sail them in races. the canoes will track perfectly straight from point to point if set up for the correct wind/sea angle/conditions. even in a crosswind. now THEY have it dialed...


#34 Fri, 09/05/2008 - 10:39pm

I'll be real brief on the spiritual aspect Rambo alluded to. I just spoke with a cultural guide here on Maui, according to the gatherers of medicinal plants, and praying etc. was all done with the left hand. Not sure if that is why they put the ama on the left, but the left does have spiritual meaning.

Have Fun...Kicbacmaui!

#35 Sat, 09/06/2008 - 10:03am

Thanx for your pirate to english translation jc9_0... but i just discovered I'm getting used to your pirate talk ! Don't even need the translation to understand you. weird !

#36 Sun, 09/07/2008 - 10:11am

Har, Har, them Micronesian swabs be real crafty wi them switchin ends.
Same crafty stunt be handy 't times' when paddlin... approachin a reef strewn beach through surf 't be handy 't choose 't good board fir 't ama.

Also methinks 't symmetry be honestly at 90 deg to her majesties ships when veiwin the plan proper.

#37 Sun, 09/07/2008 - 5:50pm

Pirates rules !

#38 Sun, 09/07/2008 - 6:02pm

On double hulled voyaging canoes, the left hull was already called the 'ama.

#39 Tue, 09/09/2008 - 12:18pm

If the voyaging canoe can switch ends then what determines the ama being to left or right.
Answer to the question also depends on whether a double hull canoe came before the outrigger canoe.

#40 Tue, 09/09/2008 - 2:08pm

Mmmm.....not sure if this answers your question or just throws it out of dimension slightly.....

Steve West, in his book suggests that no definitive reason for the ama being on the left exists, however, suggests that "Ama" is a derivitive of "hema", meaning left or south ........I had a look at a Polynesian dictionary website and here's the results for "Ama"....note the specific reference to the left/right in both Tongan and Tahitian

AMA, the outrigger of a canoe: Katahi ka pehia e Maui te ama. 2. The stage between the canoes of a double canoe. Cf. amatiatia, a canoe with an outrigger.

Samoan—ama, the outrigger of a canoe; (b.) (fig.) a wife.

Tahitian—ama, the outrigger of a single canoe. The paeama is the “port,” and the woman's side; paeatea, “starboard,” and man's side. Cf. tauama, a canoe with an outrigger.

Hawaiian—ama, the longitudinal stick of the rudder of a canoe.

Tongan—ama, the larboard side of a canoe; hama, the outrigger of a canoe; (b.) the smaller part of a double canoe; (c.) the leeward; (d.)


So, my "hoa".........the "ama" is on the left because it IS the left....hehehe

#41 Tue, 09/09/2008 - 3:06pm

There is the theory that 'ama' is derived from the word nsama relating to the Malay terminology 'saama' meaning to accompany, or tag along with.

#42 Tue, 09/09/2008 - 7:32pm

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