The country’s finest paddlers are on show this week as day one of the 2017 Te Wānanga o Aotearoa Waka Ama Sprint Nationals kicked off at Lake Karāpiro. The competition kicked off with the Midget Mens and Womens heats.
Today it is the heats and the semi-finals for the W6 Midget Men, W12 Midget Men, W6 Midget Women, and the W12 Midget Women. All four categories provide the prelude to the week.
Over 1600 teams from 68 clubs will take to the water this week in the hopes of attaining the national sprint title and be crowned Waka Ama champions. The competition organisers are expecting around 3330 paddlers to compete.
As well as paddlers from around the country, there are teams from Fiji and Norfolk Island.
The sport continues to grow with the number of competitors increasing since its inception twenty-eight years ago. The ages range from five years old to seventy-five. Waka Ama New Zealand CEO Lara Collins attributes the whānau aspect as the reason for its growth.
“It’s something that’s enjoyable out on the water with friends. It’s a really whānau orientated sport. I think there aren't many sports where Mum, Dad, Nanny and Koro,[and] all the kids can all race during the same week and enjoy the racing on the water and enjoy each other’s company and all the Whanaungatanga off the water,” says Collins.
Collins says some names to look out for include Te Tai Rāwhiti paddlers Horouta, PCKC from Wellington and Nga Hoe Horo.
“Horouta has won the club points five out of six years that it’s been running. Cook Islands club from Auckland [have a] big club. PCKC from Wellington, clubs from up north Nga Hoe Horo I know they’ve been training really hard,”
Horouta are one of the powerhouses with 64 teams at this year’s meet. The Horouta Babies, who race in the Midget Women's W12 category were one of many teams on the water today. Coach Hawaiki Lardelli found the windy conditions damning for the girls.
“It was pretty windy out there, you had to just knuckle down and get into it. You had to just quickly boom off the start or else you just get pushed,” says Lardelli, whose team was successful in attaining a spot to the semi-finals later today.
Tomorrow sees the start of the Intermediate Women's and Men's along with J16’s and finals of the Midgets.