Waka Ama squads get ready for world championships

By James Perry

The country's elite Waka Ama paddlers have had the best part of the last two years affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic but are now gearing up for the World Sprint Championships in August.

Some of New Zealand's brightest J19 men assembled in Auckland this weekend to trial for the elite team to take on the world's best near London in a little over three months' time. 

Mairangi Campbell, (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe), is one of those selected for the team. He says it's a relief to represent Aotearoa on the world stage.

"[It's a] pretty buzzy opportunity. There were all the boys trialled and went to all the camps. [It's] pretty good to make it through the selection." 

Pharel Grbic (Ngāpuhi), is another young paddler on the rise. He told teaomaori.news 'it's a huge honour' to be selected in the elite squad for the first world championships to be held since 2018.

"Honestly, I've got to take a step back sometimes. I'm actually in this team. All the past paddlers have been all the gun paddlers. It's honestly an unreal moment to be in this team."

Eton Colle's Dornay Lake

Hunter Hewson (Ngāti Porou) says it's a dream come true for him to be in the J19 Aotearoa squad.

"It means a lot to me, personally. When I was back in inti's [intermediate age], just a young boy, I looked up to the J19 boys at the worlds. I wanted to be like them. To be there means a lot." 

Usually held every two years, the world championships were cancelled in 2020 due to health and safety concerns surrounding the pandemic that wreaked havoc around the globe. It meant at least one generation of paddlers missed the chance to chase J19 success in Hawaii.

However, the current crop is determined to not let the disruption affect their focus on capturing gold on the famed Dorney Lake course, owned by Eton College and the site of the 2012 rowing and canoeing events of the Olympic Games.

"It's cool we get to come together and everyone's on the same page learning and open-minded and all ready for the journey ahead, which is obviously getting gold," Grbic says.

Waka Ama Aotearoa chief executive Lara Collins says Team Aotearoa are determined to improve on the last time out in Tahiti. 

"At the last world championships, our men won three silvers. I know the men are looking to win gold this time around as are all of the teams."

Collins says having lost large parts of the last two years of competition to Covid-19, it's no surprise it is at the forefront of planning for the many clubs and teams making the trip to the first world sprints championships in Europe.

"The risk of Covid-19 is obviously still there for people and we are trying to provide as much information as possible. How to best manage themselves, their whanau, the rangatahi, making sure that they are safe and that they can come home safely."

The Aotearoa Elite squads can be found here.