Sport | Waka ama

Waka ama brings whānau together in Te Waipounamu

The 15th annual “Tuna e Hoe Ana” regatta recently graced the serene waters of Lake Rotoiti, courtesy of the Maitahi Outrigger Canoe Club.

Nearly 200 competitors navigated the tranquil expanse, with a remarkable 75-year age gap distinguishing the youngest from the oldest paddlers.

“This is one of our sites of significance,” Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō Trust cultural advisor Aaron Hemi says.

“This area has been a sanctuary for our people. It served as a mahinga kai, a trading place, a portal to distant realms. Ngāti Apa has had a historical connection that spans many decades, many generations, many centuries.”

The growth of waka ama has been remarkable in this area, with a surge in club numbers and membership, particularly among youth, driven by its blend of physical health benefits and cultural significance.

Cliff Saxton, a dedicated member of the Maitahi club, views waka ama as a means to share and preserve Māori culture while fostering bonds within the community.

“Being Māori myself, it’s given me an opportunity to use my knowledge of waka ama and be able to help support our whānau in developing their knowledge of tikanga Māori,” Saxton says.

Maitahi’s ethos revolves around inclusivity and unity, welcoming all individuals to embrace the rich traditions of waka ama and cultivate a sense of familial warmth and community spirit.

Jan Blythe’s inspiring waka ama journey, that she embarked upon at the age of 63, serves as a testament to the sport’s inclusivity and timeless appeal, with her sights now set on competing in the World Sprints event in Hawaii.