Sport | United Kingdom

J19 elite men waka ama team for 2022 world sprints

The revival of waka ama post-Covid-19 is official: A squad of seven young men are off to the 2022 World Sprint championships in the United Kingdom, starting with their first New Zealand training camp.

“[It's a] pretty buzzy opportunity. All the boys trialed and went to all the camps to make it through the selection,” Mairangi Campbell (Ngāti Porōu, Tūhoe) said.

Local Auckland paddlers have been in awe of the world champions who hail from Panama Road, in Mount Wellington, Auckland.

“[I've] honestly gotta take a step back sometimes, I'm actually in this team. All the past paddlers have been all the gun paddlers. Just yes, it's honestly an unreal moment to be in this team, a huge honour,” Pharrell Grbic (Ngāpuhi) said.

“It means a lot to me. Personally, when I was back in intermediate, just a young boy, I looked up to the J19 boys at the worlds, I wanted to be like them,” Hunter Hewson said.

The reality of Covid affected the last World Sprint Championships for Aotearoa paddlers. "Back in 2020 a lot of our boys were at the top of the grade just about to go to Hawai'i for world sprints. Pretty much, last minute, it got cancelled," said Hunter Hewson. 
Waka Ama chief executive Lara Collins addressed the logistics of an Aotearoa contingent travelling to Europe during a global pandemic. "The risk of Covid is obviously still there for people and we are trying to provide as much information as possible, how to best manage themselves their whānau, the rangatahi that are going to make sure that they are safe and that they can come home safely," Collins said.

“It's cool that we get to come together and everyone's on the same page, learning and open-minded and all ready for the journey ahead, which is obviously getting gold at worlds,” Grbic said.