First-time waka ama paddlers have given the thumbs up to the sport after months of intense training leading into the highly competitive nationals.
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The event held at Lake Karāpiro last week started with the under-16s races in the first half of the week, then the adults and finals on Saturday.
First-time competitor Tony Halalilo (Makave in Vava’u) said he wanted to learn an indigenous water sport that is whānau-orientated.
“I’m interested in oceanic sports and I really find the whole kaupapa [principles] about waka ama a good thing for future generations,” he said.
“We’ve got the kids categories but it also includes the adults and even the grandparents categories.”
Despite being disqualified in his first race in the senior masters W6 500m, Halalilo was optimistic about his next race.
The training sessions leading up to competition week can be “psychologically” tolling, Halalilo said.
However, he said the trainings are worth it if it can change the way the media portrays Pasifika as “unhealthy”.
“I’m keen to prepare and have a go at it and deepen that connection to the Pacific. I want to highlight that the Pacific is a really super valuable place for all of us to utilise and be a part of.”
The competition didn’t just include Pacific people but also a mix of ethnicities.
“We’ve got lots of non-Pacific or non-oceanic people but they’re still included and just as valued as everyone else.
“They have that Pacific Island DNA. It’s inclusive. You don’t have to be Pacific Islander,” he said.
Around 3200 people of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities took part in the nationals.
Kirihi Proctor (Ngāti Porou) is another first-time paddler at the nationals.
She paddled for Aratika Water Sports club in the open women’s team and trained with the Taniwha Outrigger Canoe Club.
Her new team, Aratika, had a training camp the weekend of the competition and had a day to adapt to the club’s paddling techniques.
“We worked on training all of our techniques, like switching different seats, which was really good because I’m normally used to being in the back like seat number five or four,” she said.
Proctor said she feels happy being on the water and is grateful to have the opportunity to compete.
Hero Image: Tony Halalilo paddles for one of Auckland's waka ama clubs Taniwha and it was his first time paddling competitively.