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Harvie Allison: The man behind the lens of Vaka Eiva

Friday 24 November 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Features, Paddling, Sports, Weekend

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Harvie Allison: The man behind the lens of Vaka Eiva
Harvie Allison, 71, is the official photographer for Vaka Eiva. Photo: Supplied/ 23112325

The Australia-based official photographer for the international Vaka Eiva competition calls the Cook Islands his “second home”.

Just as the outrigger canoe regatta had been absent from Rarotonga since Covid-19 ground overseas travel to a half, Harvie Allison had not been able to set foot on the island since the last time the event was held in 2019.

“I’m so grateful to be here. You feel good when you’re here, you really do,” the 71-year-old, who landed back in the country on Wednesday, said.

“Everyone here says, ‘You’re home, thank goodness.’ That’s a pretty big deal.”

Allison had been enjoying catching up with not only the Cook Islands friends he had made over the nearly 20 years the event had been running, but also returning competitors from around the world.

“To see all my beautiful friends here, it just makes me feel so good. It’s fantastic,” he said.

“It’s a big paddling family. Yes, they paddle hard with their racing, but they party together just as hard.”

Originally from Scotland, Allison moved to Australia in 1970 – but it was not until 2004, when he married a Cook Islands woman and took part in setting up the Vaka Eiva that same year, that he discovered his “second home”.

“My wife hasn’t been able to get here, as she is unwell,” he said.

Within four years of helping establish the event, it was ranked the third-largest outrigger canoe race in the world.

Allison said outrigger canoe racing was declining around the world, so it was “exciting” to see the sport still going strong in the Cook Islands.

“I was president of Australian Outrigging at the time, and had a lot to do with setting up clubs.

“They also wanted my expertise as a life saver to help with safety, which was very important. You’ve got to run a safe race.”

As well as having spent 35 years as the official photographer for Surf Life Saving Australia, Allison is patrol captain for the Gold Coast’s Kurrawa Surf Club and had been an active life saver for 48 years. He was also involved in education around water safety.

A patron of Water Safety and Surf Lifesaving Cook Islands, Allison founded the group after the “tragic” death of Vaka Eiva competitor Alan Maki during the 2011 event.

“He had a heart attack out on the ocean, in the canoe. Of course, you can only come in at a couple of places. We had the ambulance waiting at Avana – but there wasn’t even a defibrillator in the ambulance.

“As a lifesaver, I couldn’t have that happen again.”

Now, through Water Safety president Brent Fisher’s efforts to import defibrillators, the devices which use electric shock to restore the heartbeat of a person suffering a cardiac arrest are “everywhere around the island”, Allison said.

Allison said the trick to getting the perfect action shot on the water – other than framing it so the sub-tropical island of Rarotonga was popping up over the waves in the background – was knowing the sport.

“It’s the hardest photography you can do, boat to boat – because you’re both going up and down, and you’ve got to get that shot when you’re at the level where you can see them,” he said.

Allison, who will be taking photographs of Vaka Eiva on behalf of Cook Islands Tourism, will fly back to Australia on December 6.