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11 November 2022

Back in the paddle: Vaka Eiva returns after four-year pandemic pause

Friday 24 November 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Paddling, Sports

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Back in the paddle: Vaka Eiva returns after four-year pandemic pause
Powering through on the ocean in Vaka Eiva 2018. HARVEY ALLISON/18112566

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the highly anticipated Vaka Eiva ‘oe vaka’ outrigger canoeing competition, the country’s biggest ocean sporting event which guarantees a display of world class skill and endurance.

After a lapse of four years, the Matson Vaka Eiva is steering back with a big splash attracting an impressive turnout of more than 350 international paddlers registered in 40 teams from Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Tahiti and the United States.

International paddlers started arriving in Rarotonga this week together with their supporters, some landing here for the first time, and some who participated in the first ever Vaka Eiva which was held back in 2004.

Over 120 local paddlers from the two Rarotonga based clubs, Te Tupu o te Manava and Ngakau Toa, are also looking forward to putting their skills to the test.

All up around 500 paddlers will be digging deep into the big blue ocean chasing a prominent finish.

This year would have marked the 20th anniversary of the event; however, it was put on hold due to the global Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. The last Vaka Eiva was held in 2019.

In 2004, the inaugural event hosted 200 paddlers and a fleet of only seven V6 canoes.

From just having an open category in 2004, the growth of Vaka Eiva now sees a multitude of categories ranging from juniors, mixed, masters, senior masters and golden masters.

The tenth anniversary celebration in 2013 saw almost 1200 paddlers participating, with nearly 30 canoes on the start line in some races.

Since the two-year lockdown which saw international paddling events marked off the calendars, there has been a resurgence in interest from paddlers wanting to travel and compete in international paddling events.

Vaka Eiva is on the bucket list for many.

Throughout the years Vaka Eiva has welcomed paddlers from Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Canada, USA, Guam, New Caledonia, Niue, American Samoa, and as far flung as Italy.

The spectacular Motu2motu race in Aitutaki, the 36km changes race between Aitutaki’s beautiful motu follows the week of Vaka Eiva, an event which fast fills up each year.

On Tuesday, November 28, the popular Trader Jacks Boiler Swim will be held which sees funds raised for a chosen charity each year, this year will be for the Maui fire victims that destroyed Lahaina in Hawaii.

Vaka Eiva is recognised as one of the most fun events on the international paddling calendar with what is known to be an amazing week of paddling, festivities, friendship and fun.

Paddlers will not only face the physical demands of the race but also draw inspiration from and connect to Cook Islands culture.

It is one of the most successful annual sporting events in the Cook Islands contributing millions of dollars to the country’s economy.

Everyone would agree Vaka Eiva wouldn’t be what it is without the many volunteers.

The Cook Islands Canoeing Association wishes to acknowledge those who have put their hands up to assist, some of who work from dawn to dusk to ensure a safe, enjoyable experience for all.

The weeklong event sees paddlers compete across various races including fun V6 6km races, V6 and V1 12km iron challenges, junior lagoon day, and the prestigious and gruelling Round Raro relay.

The festival kicks off this afternoon with the welcoming and blessing ceremonies of canoes at the paddling hub in Traders Jacks carpark.