16 Jan 2018

Paddle power at waka ama

11:07 am on 16 January 2018

More than 3000 paddlers will compete this week in the 29th Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Sprint Championships.

The Mareikura Kotiro intermediate waka ama sprint team.

The Mareikura Kotiro intermediate waka ama sprint team. Photo: Supplied

Paddlers will descend on Lake Karapiro in Waikato for the start of the national waka ama sprint championships and what is considered one of New Zealand's fastest growing sports .

Waka ama - or outrigger canoe - has attracted big crowds in the last 10 years, including some of the country's youngest paddlers.

The junior teams are first up with 1000 competitors under 13 years of age.

Kya Thornicroft, 12, from Gisborne is racing with the Mareikura Kotiro intermediate team.

"I started a new team and now I've got heaps of new friends. The sport is cool, but it's more like, I don't know how explain it, it's just the feeling of being down at the river, it's really cool."

Miss Thornikroft said her team intended to win, but more importantly give it everything they've got.

"When everyone comes off the water, the best thing would be if everyone is really tired because that means everyone has gone as hard as they possibly can. It doesn't matter if we come last."

The team's manager Cushla Albert said they meant business.

The team train three times a day, for up to three hours in the morning, an hour at lunch and then a further two hours in the afternoon.

She said although the young kids were pushed to their limits, she was confident the hard work would pay off.

"It is a hard push, I mean if you can imagine these are kids from five-years-old up and it does give up a lot of their summer for them to get on the water to actually compete.

"The other mums and I we do think they have a hell of a good chance, you know, we're very confident."

About 10,000 supporters were expected at Lake Karapiro over the next week.

Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins said in the last 10 years the number of waka ama paddlers has more than doubled.

She said it was a sport for people from all walks of life.

"It's great fun and anybody can do it so obviously that's shown in the fact that our youngest paddler is five and our oldest paddler is turning 80.

"If you're in your 30s and you can't play rugby anymore because your knees are shot, you can still paddle."

This week's winners will compete in the waka ama world championships in Tahiti this July.