Waka ama champs: 'I just love being out on the water'

10:26 am on 14 January 2019

More than 3500 paddlers will take to Lake Karāpiro this week for the National Waka Ama Championship in Cambridge.

Trinity Herewini and Bailey Fabish (front two).

Trinity Herewini and Bailey Fabish (front two). Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the tournament, attracting the most paddlers the event has seen.

The Junior Under 16 Women's crew from Te Ringa Miti Tai Heke Waka Ama Club braced against the winds late last week for one of their last paddles on the Whanganui River.

"It has been really tiring," 15 year old Bailey Fabish said.

"We have been coming to training six days a week, from 10am to 3pm. And we have just been out on the water and doing heaps of fitness."

But Bailey is an old hand at Waka Ama, having picked up her first paddle when she was only five. Come race day, she will have a key role as caller - giving the girls their queues for how to paddle.

"It's good because then [the calling] can pick the team up, and when you are not calling the hips, you can call out to pick the pace up and stuff."

The Whanganui girls' crew is one of 1700 teams from 61 clubs competing at Lake Karāpiro in Cambridge over the next six days for the 30th Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Championships.

While Bailey is calling, Honey Waitokia will be at the back of the waka, steering.

Coach Matenga Tamehana.

Coach Matenga Tamehana. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

"It is a lot of pressure, but I do it to help the girls get through it.

"We have come a really long way. I didn't think we would come to nationals, and to know that we are, with the girls that we started with, it is pretty cool."

Matenga Tamehana, 20, coaches the team - a job he volunteers to do - taking up almost 40 hours a week recently.

"It's going to be a pretty tough competition - we have got a lot of newbies in the team.

"This will be the first-year paddling for four of them.

"I am just hoping that they can try their best and have fun - it is an awesome sport."

This year there will be 1015 more competitors compared to 2014.

Te Ringa Miti Tai Heke chairperson Hone Tamehana puts that down to Waka Ama being a family sport for all ages.

This year a five-year-old will be competing, and so will an 82-year-old.

"The environment at nationals is huge - it is indescribable," Mr Tamehana said.

"The wairua [feeling] that goes with it, just has that powerful āhua [form] that you just want to embrace - given that you are competing against the best teams in the country."

He also said the club fundraised all year, so the competition was not too expensive for competitors and their whānau.

Despite having competed at nationals once before, Trinity Herewini is feeling nervous.

"I love Waka Ama, I just love being out on the water.

"It is nice being out on the water because sometimes when it is really calm you can just glide across the water and it feels really relaxing."

There will not be much relaxing at the moment though, with the team set for their first race tomorrow.

The event ends on Saturday.