Three generations of paddlers compete at national level

By Regan Paranihi
Three generations of waka ama paddlers. / Source - File

Waka Ama is a family orientated sport where people of all ages, shapes and sizes can take part in.

The eldest participant at this year's competition is 82-years-old and the youngest is five.

The Vitolio family has seen three generations compete at a national level and the next generations continue to keep this sport alive in their family.

Bernie Vitolio (Ngāti Whātua) says, "Being together with the whānau because it's a whānau oriented sport and all their other cousins are paddling as well."

Waka Ama New Zealand CEO Lara Collins adds, "It’s a whānau sport and anybody can do it.

“So you've got grandmothers, nannys, mums, daughters, grandchildren out there paddling and enjoying waka ama together."

It was a flyer that inspired Bernie to start paddling and now the passion for the sport has filtered down to her children and grandchildren.

"I was paddling competitively. I got my daughter into it and she started to paddle competitively as well and her paddling life took over my paddling life.

“So just supporting her and now supporting the mokos."

Koha-Alofa Vitolia (daughter) has been paddling competitively for eight years now and she says, "It keeps me busy especially during the holidays. It keeps me off the streets especially when I was younger. You get to meet a lot of new people and travel around the world."

However, Waka Ama is more than just a sport for this family.

"They get to know what team bonding is all about, team sport, sportsmanship as a team," Bernie says.

“When you come to nationals it doesn't matter what club you are from its cool seeing or paddling against your own family.

“Then it's cool watching your nieces paddling past you and going up to the start line it’s a proud moment," adds Koha-Alofa.

Being a family orientated sport differentiates Waka Ama from every other sporting event.

Collins says, "It brings a real vibe and vitality to the sport which I think is quite unique as well."

This family now have high hopes for the future.

"My families thinking of putting a team together just a whānau team and I reckon that’s cool and hopefully that happens in future," Koha-Alofa says.

Tomorrow the J19's will take to the water to vie for their spot at the world championships in August.