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Vernon paddler bronzed at World Championships in hot Samoa

Bob Woodman, racing for Canada, was third in six-man boat, fourth in solo event in age groups

His World Championship bronze medal is literally in the mail.

Oh sure. There was Vernon’s Bob Woodman – halfway around the world in August – on the podium at Apia, Samoa with his Team Canada mates, having captured third place in the six-man Master 60 class at the 2023 IVS World Distance Outrigger Canoe Championships.

They were presented their medals. A picture was snapped. Then…

“We had to give the medals back,” laughed Woodman, who turns 60 on Oct. 8. “Someone had stolen all of the remaining medals before the presentations. They did have enough for the photos but then they took them back.”

That was really the only downside to Woodman’s first-ever trip to the World Distance finals.

He and his Canadian mates Jim Underwood, Don Irvine, Rob Varnel, Dennis Silverstone, and Brad Morrison covered the 24-kilometre course in 2 hours 5 minutes 3 seconds. Australia won gold in 2:01:53. Hawaii was second in the 16-country race.

Woodman, A Vernon businessman who owns and operates Dodds Appraisal and Auction Service, nearly added a second medal.

He was fourth in the 16-kilometre Master 60 men’s solo race, finishing just 3.3 seconds behind a paddler from Tahiti.

“I looked back at the last turn and I could see someone back there but I wasn’t really concerned. The Tahitian behind me, he had issues with his (outrigger) canoe,” said Woodman. “I didn’t know that at the time. He went way up a different straight line shot to the finish line, way out on my left. I wasn’t dogging it but I wasn’t paddling as hard as I could.

“To be fair, even if he didn’t have issues with the canoe, he would have probably beat me anyway. So as bad as I feel, he probably deserved that spot.”

Woodman earned his spot at the World Distance finals (which alternates yearly with the World Sprint championships, held in 2022 in England) through the Canadian trials last year.

There is only spot available for each country in each race at the World finals. Woodman paddled his ticket to Samoa in the solo event, and his performance there earned him a seat in the country’s six-man boat.

The owner of “too many canoes,” Woodman prepared for Samoa by making regular trips to Vancouver every other weekend. Not only to train with his teammates, but to get used to paddling a rudderless canoe in the ocean. Conditions on the ocean are something that can’t be mimicked on Okanagan Lake, his home, freshwater training course.

“The difference training on the ocean as opposed to a lake is huge,” he said. “Where my downfall is, you go out of the harbour which is relatively calm, out into the ocean around some buoys and then normally the surfing leg is going downhill, and I can excel at that on my ruddered canoe.

“The problem with rudderless canoes is, they’re long and skinny and if they get turned sideways, it’s hard to turn back. I talked to a guy who is a really good rudderless paddler. He told me, ‘keep the boat straight. Don’t worry about catching a wave.’ It looks like I’m hardly paddling but if I didn’t the boat could spin sideways, then I’d lose so much time trying to get it turned around.”

Of his World Championship debut – which included racing in the hottest temperatures he’s ever encountered on the water, 44 degrees Celsius – Woodman rated the experience as “awesome.”

“It was really neat to go there, see another part of the world, race with people from all over the world,” he said. “It was really fun.”

Woodman found more fun this month in Newport Beach, Cal., competing at the U.S. Outrigger Canoe Championships Sept. 9.

He was a member of the winning nine-man Masters 60 crew made up of seven Canadians (including Olympic gold and bronze medal-winning canoeist Hugh Fisher of Vancouver) and two Americans. Only six team members could be in the canoe at once. The others substituted in during the race.

Woodman and friends Gary Parsons, Tony VanBuren, Cam Fagrie, Laci Bujdos, Fisher, Brian Kummer, Alan Lipp, and David Ross covered the 54km course from Catalina Island to Newport Beach in 4 hours 19 minutes.

“We actually lost one guy about 1:45 in with torn muscles, and we went the rest of the way with eight men,” he said.

A former triathlete, Woodman was among those recruited by Canadian Outrigger Hall of Fame member Cheryl Skribe to form such a club in Vernon. Woodman was among the original members of the Vernon Racing Canoe Club, now known as the Vernon Rowing and Dragon Boat Club.

It was love for a new sport at first paddle.

“It’s water-based, it’s in the Okanagan, in the hot sun, and it’s much better to be on the water for a few hours than on a road bike for a few hours,” laughed Woodman.

In summer, he’ll spend six days a week on the water. In the winter, that drops to two days a week, sometimes three. Part of the love is the competition. Part of the love is the serenity.

“When you’re out there by yourself on a Saturday morning, in the middle of winter and no other person, just you, the birds, and the ducks, it’s peaceful and quiet,” he said.

While he hopes to stick around Vernon for a bit, Woodman has no plans to hang up the paddles anytime soon.

“I’ll continue for as long as I can. It’s something you can still do at any age,” he said. “When I was in Samoa, I was having dinner by myself one night, before my teammates arrived, and a group of ladies asked if they would sit with me. They were the women’s 70-plus team from Hawaii.

“We had the greatest conversations. One of the ladies was over 80 and one said she was stoked to be paddling in the World Championships.”

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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