Waka Ama sprint nationals return for 2021

Image: Waka Ama Facebook page.

Thousands of paddlers are set to compete at the 32nd annual Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Sprint Championships on Lake Karāpiro.

Waka Ama New Zealand CEO, Lara Collins says the event, which starts this Sunday and ends Saturday, January 23, promises to be full of excitement and a great opportunity to get together after several Waka Ama events were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

“2020 was challenging for everyone, so we are really excited to be able to bring our waka ama whānau together for Nationals, not only to race, but to be with everyone, it’s going to be an awesome week."

Nearly 3500 paddlers are scheduled to race from 66 clubs throughout Aotearoa along with 14 corporate teams.

"We have crews coming from all over the country from as far north as Kaitaia down to Christchurch in the South Island."

Lara says there are going to be huge crowds lakeside watching the regatta, with around 10,000 expected during the week.

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

"Our youngest paddler competing this week is five and our oldest paddler is 83. It may be the only sport where grandparents, mums, dads and their kids can come together to race competitively.

"That’s what makes it so special and unique– it’s very competitive but the focus is on fun and whānau too especially after the year we have all had."

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa chief executive Te Ururoa Flavell says it’s a privilege to be the principal sponsor of what will be the world’s largest Māori gathering in 2021.

"Waka Ama and what it represents, kotahitanga (unity), whānau ora (wellbeing) whakapakari i te tinana me te wairua (preparation of body and spirit) and ki te hoe (readiness) are themes that resonate strongly with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and the Waka Ama community.

"Of course this is a competitive event but whanaungatanga (relationships) is an important part of this event. We at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa are about building on that kaupapa by focusing on ‘whānau transformation through education."

Lara says adhering to COVID-19 tikanga (protocols) in Aotearoa has made the regatta possible. All competitors and supporters must use the COVID-19 tracer app to sign in to the event each day, the Ministry of Health ‘Sanitizer Squad’ will be on-site during the week with sanitizer and COVID kaupapa reminders for everyone and all are asked to adhere to the COVID Level 1 protocols of; Hand washing, signing in with QR codes, turning on bluetooth on the COVID tracer app and staying home if you don’t feel well.

Waka Ama paddlers typically race over distances including 250m, 500m, 1500m and marathon races of 30km-75km. The ama (outrigger), on the left-hand side stabilizes the waka or canoe, helping it to slice through the water with every stroke.

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.

The inaugural Waka Ama Sprint Nationals was held in 1990 at Lake Karāpiro, back then there were 17 Clubs and 43 teams took part.

"This year we have 3480 paddlers entered from 66 clubs, they will race for the prestigious national sprint titles."

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), and Masters 70 age divisions.

Last year’s winner of the 2019 National Waka Ama club points’ trophy for overall performances throughout the regatta was Horouta Waka Hoe from Gisborne. The club will be back in 2021 seeking to defend their title, one they have won 9 times in the trophy’s 10 year history!

The Winners of the 2020 Ace Cuthers Memorial Club Spirit Trophy Winners – Hei Matau will travel back to Karāpiro with the prestigious trophy that will again be awarded by the volunteers and officials to a club at the event in 2021 that optimises the values of Waka Ama; Manaakitanga, Whānaungatanga, Hauora , Tū Tangata, and of course the memory of Ace himself.

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