New faces on the water and former paddlers who have been out of action for many years have taken hold of their paddles again to compete at the Cook Islands Games next month.
Master paddler Serena Hunter says she’s never seen anything like it.
“It’s really awesome. The Trader Jacks carpark is a hive of activity most afternoons, and indeed some mornings of the week as island crews head out onto the water,” she says.
“It’s just fantastic. Each year we try to recruit people to come and join oe vaka, so I’m glad the Games has brought people into the fold to give it a go.”
Oe vaka has seen record numbers of V6s and V1s on the water during the race season, with Cook Islands Games preparation credited for the massive boost.
Experienced paddlers from each of the clubs Te Tupu o te Manava, Ngakau Toa Vaka and Live Free are taking the reins in leading their island crews.
The Games programme includes both sprints and distance races and in junior, mixed and open categories and both V6 and V1, so there is something for everyone.
“On the international paddling scene Covid-19 has seen the cancellation of all the major paddling events this year including Vaka Eiva, and also the World sprints that were scheduled to be held in Hawaii in August which some of the local paddlers had been gearing for,” says Hunter.
“Despite these disappointments, there has been a big positive in that the local paddling scene has seen an increased interest this year.”
This year Hunter is focused on coaching a junior group of girls and says it’s been fantastic to see their progress.
“And now they are all paddling in their island crews and we’ll get back together post games for our nationals in November,” she says.
“Most of these girls would normally be focused on netball, so with netball season cancelled it was perfect opportunity to get a group together.”
Team Mauke has 37 paddlers who are proudly representing their island home in the Under 19 and Open Men and Women categories.
The Oe Vaka team is led and managed by Tereau Boaza and the coaches are Tupuna Amo for the U19s and Open Men and Joyce Fortes and Paulina Beddoes for the U19 and Open Women.
“The Oe Vaka atmosphere on Rarotonga is certainly truly alive, the hype and competitive spirit is clear in each code which I think is quite refreshing to see during this time of the Covid-19 crisis,” says Boaza.
“A fair number of our paddlers have never paddled before so for them this is a great new exciting experience.”
Unfortunately, the Maukeans don’t have participants from their home island.
“But we hope this event will shed a brighter light on the sport to encourage and spark some interests in our people both young and young in heart to join and partake in the coming years,” said Boaza.
Coaches Joyce Fortes has 10 years of experience out on the water.
“It is great to see the enthusiasm and excitement from all our new and non- paddlers as well as our active/current paddlers. I think for us to be representing our home island in a sport that is quite rare is such a great feeling.
“Especially for our non-paddlers. To see their faces filled with eagerness and determination not just to turn up to training but to learn, work hard and to paddle their hearts out on the water is so amazing,” says Fortes.
Fortes has represented Akatokamanava in dance competitions and beauty pageants, but not on a sporting level.
“For myself this is so heartwarming and my passion for the sport and for my island truly has escalated. I am pretty sure the feeling is mutual with all our Mauke athletes.”
She also noted that back in the day, fathers and grandfathers on Mauke had their own hand carved vakas and paddles they used for fishing.
“They’d paddle out “ki tua” (out into the ocean) to fish for our families early hours in the mornings or late at night. Their vaka’s and paddles aren’t as light as ours nowadays either. So, paddling for our island as one now is truly meaningful.”
“The Cook Islands games has definitely brought our islands alive and together, despite what is happening around the world, so thank you CISNOC and a huge meitaki ranuinui to the Cook Islands Canoeing Association for being able to cater the events, canoes etc. for all our islands to enjoy.”
The Mauke training schedules are: U19 Men and Woman 5pm Tuesday and 7am Saturday, Open Women 4.45pm Monday and Wednesday, 7am Saturday, Open Men 4.45pm Tuesday and Thursday, 4pm Saturday.