Initially predicted as “a refreshing drizzle”, the day produced rough conditions that caused the length of the races to be reduced by almost 50 per cent.
But still people turned up in droves to the Vaka Village to celebrate the first day of the annual competition, opened by a speech from the Cook Islands Canoeing Associate Janet Maki.
She opened with a chant, which she told the audience was one that the Cook Island ancestors performed for a tree to be built into a canoe.
“And that chant reminds us of the important relationship that our people have with nature. With the trees, the mountains, the land and of course the ocean,” Maki said.
Maki’s reference was to the strong relationship that the Cook Islands has with ocean that surrounds it. The country’s Exclusive Economic Zone was declared a whale sanctuary in 2001, a shark sanctuary in 2012 and this year a marine park through Marae Moana.
“As the saying goes, ‘culture is not a harbour, it’s a voyage’. But it’s also about recognising the origins of your culture,” Maki said.
Her speech broached the topic of the Marumaru Atua, the Cook Islands’ ocean-going vaka that sustained heavy fire damage a few months ago.
“We have a connection to it. A spiritual connection, it is a canoe that is owned by the people of the Cook Islands.
“On my home of Aitutaki, we have the historical canoe Ngapuariki. Our canoes have names. And they have names because of the relationship that we have with that canoe.
“It’s not just a vessel, it’s also a tree, a tree that has provided to the family who wanted that canoe built. And therefore the name personalises it to us.
“And so before we can continue on in this Vaka Eiva, I feel I my heart that I need to make a small donation to the Cook Islands Voyaging Society, acknowledging the relationship that we have with this canoe.
Maki then presented Cook Islands Voyaging Society president Ian Karika with a donation to reflect the spiritual connection forged between a canoe and the ocean.
“And to the visiting paddlers, I hope that this whole week for you will be a wonderful one, where you will establish new relationships and you will experience much more than you expected.”
Following Maki was Sport minister Albert Nicholas, who thanked the people who had revived the old tradition of vaka-paddling.
“Thirty-one years ago, some insane psychopaths decided to get together and bring back an old tradition that had been lost for many, many years, and that was vaka-paddling
“So these individuals got together, and with their passion for our traditions, decided to bring back an old custom. The idea started to form itself, and started to draw the attention of other individuals on the island.”
He said that same passion for vaka-paddling had been evident 14 years ago, when a group got together to organise the first Vaka Eiva competition. However, Nicholas did not shy away from problems the event faces.
“I can see that we face a challenge. I only say that because once upon a time when I attended an official function, there would be 600 paddlers here. Today I believe we number 320. So there are challenges that we face.
“And they are on a number of levels. But I’d like to put faith in the committee that we have, in our president Janet. The challenge is to come up with a concept that will be very enticing and attractive to paddlers across the world.
“I have no clue what that formula is, but I trust the committee over the next 12 months will discover what that is, and come up with something to ensure that our competition survives. And this is not an easy task.”
Nicholas made sure to welcome the overseas paddlers to “Wellington” (referring to the Wellington-type weather of the day), and commended them on their efforts to make it to the Vaka Eiva festival.
“It is an honour to have all you individuals join us for this competition.
“The actual competition may not be very long, but the actual preparation that it takes for you to get here, takes months and years. So as athletes we should respect and honour you.
“On that note, good luck to everyone over the next week.”