NZ elite men's waka ama champs prepare to defend title

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

With only three months until the IVF Va'a World Sprint Championships in Tahiti, the NZ Open Men's Elite W12 World Champion team are flat out in training to defend their 500m sprints title.

Coach and paddler, Mark Williams says the weather is not going to deter these twice world champion paddlers who are focused on bringing back gold.

“(We’re) training in all sorts of weather. As you can see today's weather is not the best but we've got to get out there and just train hard, there's no other way to do it," he said.

In an upset win, the NZ Elite Open men’s team beat out the All Blacks of waka ama world, the Tahitians men’s team, at the World competition in Australia two years ago.

“It was a big surprise to Tahiti, and this year is going to be no different,” said elite men’s paddler and world sprints champ Tupuria King (Waikato, Ngāpuhi).

“We're going to have to dig really because it's their home country so they're gonna be really strong. But I mean, we've got a really good coach and the best paddlers in New Zealand.”

Four of the elite paddlers, including the coach hail from Ngā Hau Maiangi Inc, which is a collective of four Auckland clubs, founded by elder Eru Thompson. A record 11 teams from Ngā Hau Maiangi will be competing in Tahiti.

“The training is very intense. Every day they are out practicing, regardless of the weather conditions,” said Ngā Hau Maiangi secretary, Mereana Hona. “It's raining at the moment, but they are still practicing. They are conditioning their bodies, spirits, and minds for the competition.”

And despite not having home advantage, the male paddlers are confident.

“Particularly in the sprints, we have strong boys, big strong boys with Māori and Pacific backgrounds, and we have the ability to overpower the Tahitian's I think,” said Kingi. “The Tahitian's are good at the long distance and the ocean stuff, but we here pride ourselves on the sprints.”

“We're just easy going guys,” said Williams. “We like to work for each other and train hard for each other. Keep it nice and simple.”

Races will cover 11 days starting from the 16 of July.