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Inspiring the next generation of paddlers

Saturday 25 November 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Paddling, Sports

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Inspiring the next generation of paddlers
Ngakau Toa Vaka junior girls received their bronze medals for the 2023 International Va’a Federation (IVF) World Paddling Distance Championships From Left: Fletcher Melvin - Ngakau Toa Vaka President, Madison Spurle, Metua-Ani Raea-Araitia, Pourie Kaina, Emii Ringia-Akava, Aliya Reuther, Te Iri Henderson, Jenna Tere - Team Manager. At Back: Tunoa Kaina - Coach. Absent - Aleida Tere. MELINA ETCHES/ 23092201

Over the past 23 years, the Ngakau Toa Vaka canoeing club of Rarotonga has continued to promote, train and encourage paddlers in the sport. The club is excited with the return of Vaka Eiva which starts this morning.

Many existing members have represented the country internationally, some winning gold at the Mini Games in Palau in 2005, including strong representation in the South Pacific Games, in Noumea with a silver medal, and local competitions.

Way back in 1996, oe vaka enthusiasts Fletcher Melvin and his wife Vaea established Ngakau Toa Vaka alongside Joshua Mitchell and Mark and Tony Sherwin.

Fletcher said they started in 1994 using two old canoes at Muri beach where they would paddle around in the lagoon.

“Our dream was to get more canoes in the water and get an international event going,” he said.

Vaea was given a mould from Tahiti, which the Cook Islands Canoeing Association (CICA) used to build four canoes.

Fletcher was the president of Ngakau Toa Vaka for 15 years, and for CICA for about 10 years, before taking time off to focus on his business and other commitments.

This year he is back on board as president of the club, and Vaea is head coach for the women.

The members have been rebuilding the club in the past year to encourage as many people to get paddling in Vaka Eiva.

Vaea coaches the women and juniors alongside Linda Savage Dunn and Jakub Postrzygacz, with Mata Vogel as manager.

She said that new paddlers have joined the club in all of the canoeing categories.

This year the club has five junior teams, an open mixed, two men’s, two open women’s and a masters women team participating in Vaka Eiva.

Basically, paddlers are training eight months of the year, for two months people are doing the singles.

Training for Vaka Eiva was held three times a week, and during the winter months the paddlers would experience rough weather which they used to help build up their endurance levels.

Vaea said the juniors were very committed to the training schedule, keen to get out on the water and to be a part of Vaka Eiva.

“We hope to build their confidence on the water, and hopefully they’ll represent the country in the future,” she said.

“For the young ones, we try to make it fun and make them proud.

“They also make new friends and develop community bonding, and we hope they will lead healthier lifestyle.”

This week, the Cook Islands women’s outrigger team flew to the Solomon Islands to participate in the Pacific Games. Seven of these women are representatives from Ngakau Toa, and one is from Te Tupu o te Manava.