Sport | Waka ama

Waka Ama Sprint Nationals a major comeback following Covid setbacks

“It’s going to be 7-days of awesomeness.”

More than 3,000 competitors will take part in the Waka Ama National Sprint Championships at Lake Karāpiro this week.

The record for competitors was set in 2021 at 3,500. The 2022 competition was cancelled due to COVID-19, and numbers dropped in 2023 to 2,700 competitors.

But this year’s entries show a promising increase, said Waka Ama NZ Chief Executive Lara Collins.

“We have 3,200 paddlers, which is 500 more than we had last year.... it’s going to be seven days of awesomeness.”

Over the week, 75 clubs from Kaitāia in the Far North to Invercargill in Te Waipounamu, with paddlers from ages 6 years old to 80-plus in the Master’s section.

They will paddle courses of 250m, 500m, 1000m and 1500m with races for single paddlers, teams of six, and teams of 12 paddlers.

Those in the J16 divisions and above will also be competing for placings in the Aotearoa team for the IVF Va’a World Club Sprint Championships in Hilo, Hawai’i, later in the year.

Collins said among the large number of athletes, one club would be tough to beat.

“Horouta Waka Hoe as a club has been the most consistent in the last 10 years. They’ve won the most events....and they will be really competitive again.”

The first three days of the event will feature racing by tamariki and rangatahi, aged from 6 to 16 years old.

The corporate challenge races will be held on January 19 and the finals for all teams will be on January 20.

10,000 spectators and pakihi Māori

More than 10,000 spectators across the week will add to the excitement of the event, with dozens of vendors, service providers and pakihi Māori serving everything from kai to sportswear to rongoā Māori.

“It’s a great place to be even while the racing is happening. Mostly it’s about whanaungatanga—coming together, connecting, and seeing people they haven’t seen since last year,” Collins said.

“I’ve been involved for 25 years in the sport, and this is a real highlight in the calendar year for us.”

Collins also paid tribute to the large number of volunteers.

“We have about 180 volunteers that give up their time....about 100 volunteers stay on site for the whole seven days. So just a big mihi to them.”

Whakaata Māori is the official broadcaster of the 2024 Waka Ama National Sprint Championships with live racing from 9 am on January 15 on Whakaata Māori and MĀORI+.