Waka ama helps men paddle to a healthier future

By Regan Paranihi

Waka ama has inspired many Māori males to take a leap into looking after their health.

Health Central New Zealand says Māori men have the lowest life expectancy rate in the country and the death of Māori males is twice the amount of non-Māori.

Māori have a genuine connection to the sport as it connects them to the stories of the past and this traditional sport is breeding a healthier lifestyle for those involved.

"Its good for all of us all 60+ and some 70+ and we are still doing the sport because we love it,"Whitiora Haku says.

With waka ama comes a major commitment to fitness and training and Charlie Simons says its a regime that encourages them to keep going.

Charlie Simons says, "The training regime you can exert yourself and you don't have to as well but if you feel the waka going great you just want to try and put in the effort."

Despite the constant growth in the sport for some of these elders it's their happy place.

"I've been coming here for 25+ years and it's got bigger and bigger. It's harder and its harder. All that competitiveness, the health, that we've been talking about, its here, getting out here," says Whitiora.

It is also a sport that encourages them to keep fit.

Tahi Nepia says, "This is a good place to help them get their body up and moving."

"It's got to be right up there aye it keeps everybody fit and gets them off the couch," adds George Thomas.

For first-timer Ned Tapa, who would usually tour up and down the Whanganui river, says waka ama is an amazing experience.

"61-year-old and getting on the water its got to be the best thing for us."

Win or lose these elders say they are all winners out on the water.