Hunting her way to victory

Thursday November 17, 2016 Written by Published in Paddling
Serena Hunter in action at the 2010 Vaka Eiva. 16110970 Serena Hunter in action at the 2010 Vaka Eiva. 16110970

Serena shares her successful paddling story

 

Her name is synonymous with oe vaka in the Cook Islands. Serena Hunter practically lives and breathes the sport since first taking it up in 2004.

Dubbed the queen of paddling in the Cook Islands, Hunter’s accomplishment in one of the toughest water sports locally has been unparalleled.

The three time Cook Islands Sportswoman of the Year recipient has elevated the sport locally to another level, inspiring young ones with her spirited performances in regional and international events.

Hunter made her international debut in paddling in 2005 when she represented the Cook Islands at the Pacific Mini Games in Palau.

She has since been a regular face in the national side to regional and international competitions, setting records and winning medals including gold.

Last year, Hunter claimed a gold, silver and a bronze medal at the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea in the individual and team events.

This along with her other achievements last year earned her third Sportswoman of the Year award and the Women in Sports Trophy at the Cook Islands Sports Awards held in March this year.

The mother of four, who coaches the champion Rarotonga-based Ngakau Toa crew, has no plans to put her paddles up yet and vows to fight on for the sport she dearly loves.

She is looking forward to her 12th Vaka Eiva which officially begins tomorrow in Rarotonga with the official opening.

Hunter, who in her spare time runs Koka Lagoon Cruises with her husband Conrad, shares her Vaka Eiva and paddling journey with sports reporter Rashneel Kumar.

1.      How long have you been competing in the Vaka Eiva?

I’ve competed in Vaka Eiva since its inception in 2004 when I took up paddling, and only missed two years, one through injury and the other when I had my baby Tia, but even when not competing, I involved myself as a volunteer helping on the media side. It’s been awesome through the years meeting new people, making paddling friends from around the world, and lucky enough to have such a great event right in our backyard.

2. Which year's Vaka Eiva was your most memorable one and why?

Probably the tenth anniversary was one of the most memorable being such a special milestone with over 1000 paddlers here to celebrate the anniversary, and then of course a special year was the first year our women’s Ngakau Toa crew won the Round Raro race after a number of years of trying.  It’s been awesome through the years seeing our paddlers develop and improve and always having new paddlers coming through.

3. I understand Vaka Eiva is regarded one of the best paddling competition in the region. What makes it so prestigious?

It’s not so much prestigious as one of the most fun paddling events on the calendar, as you have a whole week of paddling, partying, mingling with other crews, culture etc. It’s not just ‘race and go home’ which happens at some overseas races.  I do think what we have is special, and I know lots of paddler friends who love coming to Vaka Eiva.

4. You have seen and been at Vaka Eiva for years. Do you want to see anything new or improved this year? What are they and why?

I think there is always room to improve or evolve no matter what the event.  Vaka Eiva did reach its peak in the tenth anniversary, but I think it’s still an event that will still attract paddlers due to where it is and what it offers.  It’s just got to stay ahead of the game, as there are other competitions on the international calendar that paddlers want to go to and there is a limit on paddler spend.

5. What are your expectations from this year's Vaka Eiva? In competition wise, are there any local/overseas teams you think can prove a tough nut to crack?

As coach of our Ngakau Toa women’s crew, all I can do is prepare my crew to paddle their best. Every year, we have new paddlers who we blood in, and there are a couple of very good new talents this year, so we are looking forward to sharing the Vaka Eiva experience with them.

6. How long does it take for a title campaigner like your team to normally prepare for the Vaka Eiva? What sort of training does it require, is it just paddling or does it also include gym work plus other sort of trainings?

We usually start our training three months out, and we train three days a week on the V6 canoes.  Majority of our ladies have full time jobs, families and other commitments, so three days a week is all I ask to train as a team, and they are expected to put in their own training on single canoes, and gym/cardio work.  You certainly see who puts in the work, it does make a difference on the canoe.  Because it is only three days on the water on V6. I do try to emphasise quality sessions, we do quite a bit of interval work to push ourselves. Our novice programme starts early in the year, where new paddlers go through a couple of months of technique and training together, and those who are keen to continue training towards Vaka Eiva have the opportunity to do so. 

7. On the competition day, how does a day start for a paddler like you? Is it intense or just like any other day of the year? How do you get yourself ready mentally for the fight in the water?

I always get a bit of butterflies no matter what event I’m paddling in.  It’s always good to have a bit of nerves, keeps you on your toes.

8. What it takes to be a good paddler? What is (or are) your secret(s) to such long success?

I don’t think there are any secrets to being a good paddler. Like any sport, its commitment, dedication, willingness to train hard, perseverance, good attitude and of course, a love for your sport.

9.  I understand you are over 40 and certainly, showing no signs of slowing down. Any retirement plans yet? How many more years you think you have got left in you when it comes to competitive events such as Vaka Eiva?

Hahaha! I’m just getting started baby ;) 

10. Any message to our young and upcoming paddlers.

Yes, that oe vaka is a wonderful sport, and part of our culture and history, and we have had a few youngsters in our club this year who I have seen training hard and showing real commitment and hunger for the sport, and it’s very awesome to see.  It’s not an easy sport, it requires physical and mental strength, and it’s exciting when you see youngsters coming through who are willing to put in the hard yards and dedicate themselves.  In recent years there’s been Ioana Turia, Otea Tommy, Andre Tutaka George, and this year we have Teava Maoate who is so keen always out on his single. I must make mention of Keelyn Higgins only 17 years old who only started training with our open women’s crew a few weeks ago and has proved a real standout paddler making it into our top crew, and also 19 year old Tayla Beddoes, who raced in her first Round Raro race last month with her mum Paulina. So it’s really awesome to see young ones coming through the ranks.  A big event on the cards next year is the world distance championships in Tahiti in June, and it will be awesome to see a strong Cook Islands representation across the board.

 

Her name is synonymous with oe vaka in the Cook Islands. Serena Hunter practically lives and breathes the sport since first taking it up in 2004.

Dubbed the queen of paddling in the Cook Islands, Hunter’s accomplishment in one of the toughest water sports locally has been unparalleled.

The three time Cook Islands Sportswoman of the Year recipient has elevated the sport locally to another level, inspiring young ones with her spirited performances in regional and international events.

Hunter made her international debut in paddling in 2005 when she represented the Cook Islands at the Pacific Mini Games in Palau.

She has since been a regular face in the national side to regional and international competitions, setting records and winning medals including gold.

Last year, Hunter claimed a gold, silver and a bronze medal at the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea in the individual and team events.

This along with her other achievements last year earned her third Sportswoman of the Year award and the Women in Sports Trophy at the Cook Islands Sports Awards held in March this year.

The mother of four, who coaches the champion Rarotonga-based Ngakau Toa crew, has no plans to put her paddles up yet and vows to fight on for the sport she dearly loves.

She is looking forward to her 12th Vaka Eiva which officially begins tomorrow in Rarotonga with the official opening.

Hunter, who in her spare time runs Koka Lagoon Cruises with her husband Conrad, shares her Vaka Eiva and paddling journey with sports reporter Rashneel Kumar.

1.      How long have you been competing in the Vaka Eiva?

I’ve competed in Vaka Eiva since its inception in 2004 when I took up paddling, and only missed two years, one through injury and the other when I had my baby Tia, but even when not competing, I involved myself as a volunteer helping on the media side. It’s been awesome through the years meeting new people, making paddling friends from around the world, and lucky enough to have such a great event right in our backyard.

2. Which year's Vaka Eiva was your most memorable one and why?

Probably the tenth anniversary was one of the most memorable being such a special milestone with over 1000 paddlers here to celebrate the anniversary, and then of course a special year was the first year our women’s Ngakau Toa crew won the Round Raro race after a number of years of trying.  It’s been awesome through the years seeing our paddlers develop and improve and always having new paddlers coming through.

3. I understand Vaka Eiva is regarded one of the best paddling competition in the region. What makes it so prestigious?

It’s not so much prestigious as one of the most fun paddling events on the calendar, as you have a whole week of paddling, partying, mingling with other crews, culture etc. It’s not just ‘race and go home’ which happens at some overseas races.  I do think what we have is special, and I know lots of paddler friends who love coming to Vaka Eiva.

4. You have seen and been at Vaka Eiva for years. Do you want to see anything new or improved this year? What are they and why?

I think there is always room to improve or evolve no matter what the event.  Vaka Eiva did reach its peak in the tenth anniversary, but I think it’s still an event that will still attract paddlers due to where it is and what it offers.  It’s just got to stay ahead of the game, as there are other competitions on the international calendar that paddlers want to go to and there is a limit on paddler spend.

5. What are your expectations from this year's Vaka Eiva? In competition wise, are there any local/overseas teams you think can prove a tough nut to crack?

As coach of our Ngakau Toa women’s crew, all I can do is prepare my crew to paddle their best. Every year, we have new paddlers who we blood in, and there are a couple of very good new talents this year, so we are looking forward to sharing the Vaka Eiva experience with them.

6. How long does it take for a title campaigner like your team to normally prepare for the Vaka Eiva? What sort of training does it require, is it just paddling or does it also include gym work plus other sort of trainings?

We usually start our training three months out, and we train three days a week on the V6 canoes.  Majority of our ladies have full time jobs, families and other commitments, so three days a week is all I ask to train as a team, and they are expected to put in their own training on single canoes, and gym/cardio work.  You certainly see who puts in the work, it does make a difference on the canoe.  Because it is only three days on the water on V6. I do try to emphasise quality sessions, we do quite a bit of interval work to push ourselves. Our novice programme starts early in the year, where new paddlers go through a couple of months of technique and training together, and those who are keen to continue training towards Vaka Eiva have the opportunity to do so. 

7. On the competition day, how does a day start for a paddler like you? Is it intense or just like any other day of the year? How do you get yourself ready mentally for the fight in the water?

I always get a bit of butterflies no matter what event I’m paddling in.  It’s always good to have a bit of nerves, keeps you on your toes.

8. What it takes to be a good paddler? What is (or are) your secret(s) to such long success?

I don’t think there are any secrets to being a good paddler. Like any sport, its commitment, dedication, willingness to train hard, perseverance, good attitude and of course, a love for your sport.

9.  I understand you are over 40 and certainly, showing no signs of slowing down. Any retirement plans yet? How many more years you think you have got left in you when it comes to competitive events such as Vaka Eiva?

Hahaha! I’m just getting started baby ;) 

10. Any message to our young and upcoming paddlers.

Yes, that oe vaka is a wonderful sport, and part of our culture and history, and we have had a few youngsters in our club this year who I have seen training hard and showing real commitment and hunger for the sport, and it’s very awesome to see.  It’s not an easy sport, it requires physical and mental strength, and it’s exciting when you see youngsters coming through who are willing to put in the hard yards and dedicate themselves.  In recent years there’s been Ioana Turia, Otea Tommy, Andre Tutaka George, and this year we have Teava Maoate who is so keen always out on his single. I must make mention of Keelyn Higgins only 17 years old who only started training with our open women’s crew a few weeks ago and has proved a real standout paddler making it into our top crew, and also 19 year old Tayla Beddoes, who raced in her first Round Raro race last month with her mum Paulina. So it’s really awesome to see young ones coming through the ranks.  A big event on the cards next year is the world distance championships in Tahiti in June, and it will be awesome to see a strong Cook Islands representation across the board.

 

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