Waka ama champion battles illness to win national sprint title
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
An Auckland-born Tahitian-raised waka ama paddler had to overcome food poisoning to secure his fourth national sprint title.
Manutea Millon is Ngāti Whātua and was raised in his father’s homeland of Tahiti where he got involved in the waka ama from a young age.
“My dad used to be a champion in Tahiti.
“He was part of the top three in the world in singles, so I was kind of following him.”
What is waka ama?
Waka Ama is the Māori name for outrigger canoeing and holds a special place in Māori and Pacific culture.
The sport is like kayaking, with the difference being the boat design and paddles.
Waka ama boats have one or more lateral support floats fastened to either or both sides of the boat and use only one paddle.
Millon won the NZ title in 2019 and 2020 but couldn’t come back to defend his title in 2021 due to Covid.
He returned to New Zealand last year and won, setting a new 500m sprint world record of one minute and 57 seconds in the process.
And nothing was going to stop him from defending his title this year, not even food poisoning.
“I still haven’t fully regained my power; I was just throwing up.
“I didn’t feel good before the race, so I changed my paddle.
“I went with a smaller one, a smaller blade because I couldn’t put the same power on my stroke, and it worked better for me.”
With his victory at the National Sprint Championships, he booked his ticket to the World Champs in Hawaii in August, hoping to beat his former team Tahiti and secure another world title for himself and New Zealand.
“I think we’re going to have one of the strongest New Zealand teams ever and we’ll do our best to keep Aotearoa on top.”
Not only does Millon want titles in waka ama, but he also wants to inspire the next generation of paddlers and keep the sport growing in New Zealand.
Millon coaches waka ama clinics to local teams when he is not competing in hopes of keeping our country at the top of the sport but isn’t finishing up his own career anytime soon.
“As long as I can win, I guess, but I’m trying to do my best to lift the level here in Aotearoa.”
He hopes his teaching can leave a deeper impact on those he helps.
“Show them the way on how to train hard, train smart, respect the rules, respect the parents and try to bring the next generation into not doing any drugs and just doing clean sport.”
Hero image: Millon Manutea after taking out his fourth National Waka Ama Sprint title. Photo Garrick Cameron Studio 5 and Waka Ama NZ. Photo / Supplied