Waka ama sprint nationals finally back after 2022 cancellations

By Jessica Tyson

The annual Waka Ama Sprint National Championships kick off this weekend at Lake Karāpiro, Cambridge.

It will be an exciting time for paddlers who missed out on the competition last year after it was cancelled due to the risks of Covid-19.  

Waka Ama New Zealand CEO, Lara Collins, says the event, which starts this Sunday 15th and ends next Saturday 21st of January, promises to be full of excitement and a great opportunity to get together after many cancellations last summer. 

“We are excited to bring our waka ama whānau together for nationals, not only to race but to be with everyone! It is going to be an awesome week,” says Collins.

2,700 paddlers and 8,000 spectators expected

Nearly 2,700 paddlers from 63 clubs throughout Aotearoa will take part, along with 17 corporate teams and several international paddlers from Fiji. Crews coming are from as far north as Kaitaia and as far south as Christchurch.

There are going to be huge crowds lakeside watching the regatta, with around 8,000 expected during the week.

“There is a reduction in participation numbers as a result of the past few years of Covid, but regardless, the shores of Lake Karāpiro will be brimming with whānau happy to be back after the event was cancelled in 2022.”

Collins says the youngest paddler competing is five and our oldest paddler is 81.

"Waka Ama is a sport like no other, with its inclusive nature bringing together paddlers of all ages and backgrounds with their whānau, she says.

“It may be the only sport where grandparents, mums, dads and their kids can come together and compete at an event."

Photo / File

Addition of Master categories

This year sees the addition of Master 75 and Master 80 race categories.

“There aren’t many sports that cater to these age groups and it’s wonderful to have our koroua and kuia take part,” says Collins.

“That’s what makes it so special and unique, is the atmosphere - the racing is competitive but the vibe is what draws the crowds and whānau.”

At this national sprint championships, clubs will compete for national honours in single, six and 12-paddler teams over distances of 250m, 500m, 1000m and 1500m. 

Spectators are also in for added excitement as teams competing in the six-paddler 1000m and 1500m classes have to navigate their way through hairpin turns at the 250m mark. 

Male and female crews will be competing for national honours in the Taitamariki (under 10), Intermediate (11-13), Junior U16, Junior U19, Open, Master (40), Senior Master (50), Golden Master (60), Masters 70, Master 75, and Master 80 age divisions.

Horouta Waka Hoe back to defend their title

The 2021 winner of the National Waka Ama club points trophy for overall performances throughout the regatta was Horouta Waka Hoe from Gisborne. The club will be back in 2023 seeking to defend their title, one they have won 10 times in the trophy’s 11-year history.

Whakaata Māori is the official broadcaster of the Waka Ama Sprint National Championships, with races broadcast live and exclusively here from Monday 16 January.