For the nine young members of New Zealand paddling club Te Whanau Waka Ama o Whangamata, competing in Vaka Eiva is the experience of a lifetime.
The Coromandel club’s J16 girls’ team will spend an exciting week competing against some of the best paddlers in the region and beyond, as well as experiencing the culture, sights and sounds of Rarotonga.
It’s the first time Te Whanau Waka Ama o Whangamata, founded in 2013, has competed in Vaka Eiva. The J16 team first got together in March this year and have been practicing regularly on Whangamata Harbour in sometimes challenging conditions.
The trip is certainly well-deserved, as team members, most of them aged 11-15, have put in a huge effort to raise the $17,000 it will cost, says coach Simone Hughes.
They’ve been fundraising through sponsorships, an online raffle and doing various jobs including gardening, donating pine cones and “workie bees”.
“Each of the children had to find a sponsor and write a letter explaining who they are and what they are doing,” Hughes says.
Parents gave their support both financially and with their presence at early morning and long day training sessions.
Hughes says waka ama is much more than paddling. “It a vessel that enables our youth and all members to learn about values, water safety, care for each, relationships and more.
“Training always ends with a high five and a ‘thank you for bringing me home alive’.”
Hughes says she fell in love with paddling after first trying it in Wellington some years ago. She works as a teacher aide at Opoutere School, near Whangamata.
With the help of volunteers she also puts long hours and a huge amount of work into coaching and encouraging the 30 club members. Passionate about the sport, she says the lessons children learn from participating in vaka ama can serve them well in life.
As for their chances in Rarotonga, she says the Whangamata team will be up against some of the best in their age division.
“But having the opportunity to paddle in such a prestigious event is gold.
“These girls are from three different schools and have had to work out relationships and conflict. They have had to learn a sport none of them had tried before, so it was really important that they gained to tools they need for the high calibre event to give them a chance.
“And if they take the lessons they’ve learned from waka ama into adulthood, they will have done well.”