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‘Fittest’ Oe Vaka squad to World Sprints

Tuesday 8 August 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Paddling, Sports


‘Fittest’ Oe Vaka squad to World Sprints
The Cook Islands Canoeing Association (CICA) squad of 28 paddlers will be representing the nation in Apia, Samoa in the 2023 International Va’a Federation (IVF) World Paddling Distance Championships from August 10 to 19. MELINA ETCHES/23080601

The Cook Islands is sending its largest ever squad to the International Va’a Federation (IVF) World Paddling Distance Championships to be held from August 10-19 in Apia, Samoa.

On Saturday, the Cook Islands Canoeing Association (CICA) squad of 28 paddlers, who will be representing the nation in Apia, gathered for the blessing of their uniforms at the Vaka Shed.

The international event will see 27 countries and over 1000 paddlers compete for the world distance titles over 12 kilometres to 24km in courses set out of Apia harbour.

The national squad comprises of an open men’s V6, open women’s V6, junior girls V6 and eight singles paddlers representing from junior through to the Masters 50 age divisions.

All the paddlers are Cook Islands based, with the exception of Beal Vogel Beal and Rachael Matapuku Walker who will be joining the squad from Australia. 

The paddlers have been committed to their preparations putting in intense training sessions on and off the water over the past six months, and in some cases logging in over 100km per week on the water.  

Top V1 master paddler and women’s coach Serena Hunter, who will be representing in the M50 V1 16km race, said: “To me, it’s the fittest squad we have taken to an international event.”

“Everyone has worked hard, and ready to represent the country with pride.

“All of our women’s team are mothers and working full-time, so it’s been a big sacrifice, putting in the hours of training required, along with fundraising. I’m excited for the team.”

Likewise, the men’s crew, coached by experienced master paddler Reuben Dearlove, have logged up some serious miles on the water, both in V1 and V6 boats, and in land fitness training under Joseph Horn-Smith.

This is the first time the Cook Islands have fielded open teams at a world distance championship, and the first international event for a number of the paddlers.

The junior J16 girls coached by Fletcher Melvin are excited for their first taste of international competition and to see how they fare against other junior teams.

CICA vice president Roly Rolleston said: “From the get go this was not entered into with a ‘let’s go on a trip’ attitude, this was always about raising the standard of the sport (locally and regionally), to enter competitive teams at our pinnacle event on the world stage.”

“Our paddlers have worked very hard, both training and fundraising, to get to this moment. CICA wishes them all the very best.”

This is the third edition of the IVF World Distance Championships which is held every two years. The first was held in Tahiti in 2017, and then Australia in 2019.

With the global disruption in recent years due to Covid-19 closures, the event in Samoa has been eagerly awaited by teams worldwide.

CICA would like to acknowledge all those who have supported their fundraising efforts, and the sponsors: Team uniform sponsor Pure Athletic/Onu Sportswear, TAV’s for dress uniform sponsorship, and Federal Pacific Insurance Home office Samoa for sponsorship of the juniors accommodation.

The Cook Islands oe vaka squad members are: Open men’s V6 Andre Tutaka George, Damien Heather, Raniera Ellison, AJ Mataora, Pomare Pittman, Teava Hunter, Ben Raela; Open women’s V6 Kelly Pick, Noovai Aspris, Samantha Ellison, Ana File Heather, Tina Mitchell, Talissa Koteka; J16 girls Emil Akava, Pourie Kaina, Metua Ani Raea-Araitia, Aleida Tere, Aliya Reuther-Vakalahi, Maddy Spurle-Lowe, Eri Henderson. Single paddlers: J16 boys Dee Akava; J16 girls Aleida Tere; Open men Andre Tutaka George, Open women Tara Cummings; M40 men Beal Vogel Beal; M40 women Rachel Mataputu-Walker; M50 men Phil Ave; M50 women Serena Hunter. Manager: Tania Wichman/ Junior manager Jenna Tere.