Should Waka Ama be made an Olympic sport?

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

World champion Waka Ama paddlers Kiwi Campbell and Rose King sympathise with Māori Olympic gold medalist Lisa Carrington, following the announcement that her specialist event, the K1 200 canoe paddling sprint event, will be removed from the Olympics.

The duo is also holding on to the dream that one day Waka Ama will be recognised as an Olympic sport.

The decision to remove the K1 200 event, which Lisa Carrington has dominated since its introduction in 2012, is disappointing.

“It's really disappointing to hear that,” Campbell says. “It's disappointing for us as a country. Lisa has dominated that grade in particular, and did a fabulous job as a role model for young women throughout New Zealand.

"It would be really interesting to see how and why they've come to that conclusion. It seems to be a really popular event, spectator-friendly, hard and fast and about power and speed, so I really can't understand the decision making on that particular event.”

“When I first heard about it getting taken out I was quite upset,"  King says. “I know they like to keep sports rolling in and out, like remove something and put something fresh in there but to us, we're quite competitive and dominant in that race, and Lisa Carrington is such a good role model and inspiration for us so it's quite sad that she won't be able to compete in that race again.”

Campbell says, “she's so strong, and we would have loved to see her continue to dominate that and I'm she would have for many years or for however long she was anticipating to compete.”

What about Waka Ama?

In 2018, there were more than 5000 paddlers in Aotearoa alone. Kiwi Campbell and Rose King say being included in the Olympics would only further the growth of the sport locally and internationally.

“It would be an amazing achievement. It's something that's been talked about when I was a teenager and racing, and it still hasn't eventuated. We hoped we could get in the next generation to be looking at competing at Olympics level. I think it will bring a lot more mana to our sport. It already does have that cultural aspect, just being on par with the other mainstream sports, and having that same recognition”, Campbell says.

“I think the values line up ”, says King. “I know that the Olympics were brought about for world peace and education for youth, and I think that aligns with what we do in Waka Ama.”

“We're widely seen as participation, incorporating whanau, but we do have a lot of athletes who perform really highly in this sport so in that respect it would be an amazing achievement to get into Olympic sports,”  Campbell says.

The level of competition is high throughout Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. So what races would be seen at the Olympics if Waka Ama were to be included?

“I think it would be great if we could see some individual events, similar to kayaking, probably ones that feature in terms of good spectating so looking at V1, 250m or even 500m race. It would be really awesome to see a six-man event, so it could be the blue ribbon event, which is the 500m team event at nationals, so it would be exciting as well,” Campbell says.

“It would be good just to get in there and see how our level competes at that stage,” King says.

With Waka Ama nationals on the horizon, Campbell says the sport is still going strong despite Covid-19.

“It's just going to be interesting, Obviously Covid-19 has affected everybody throughout the year and what does that look like, how do we get motivated, will we get called into a lockdown? But we've just got to continue to keep moving forward, continue to build our sport and it's just going to get bigger and better.

"We've got some really dedicated volunteers on the ground and moving it into a different space by supporting our tamariki and I think it has that cultural aspect to it and that's why it has this beautiful movement throughout our country," Campbell says.

Waka Ama Sprint Nationals will be held on January 17, 2021.