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Oe Vaka juniors brave the waves

Friday 1 December 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Paddling, Sports

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Oe Vaka juniors brave the waves
Aotearoa New Zealand junior paddlers race in Vaka Eiva. HARVIE ALLISON/23113010

In very testing conditions, local and Aotearoa New Zealand junior paddlers hit the water on Wednesday afternoon in the Vaka Eiva Junior 6km course which saw eight canoes head out from Avarua Harbour to the Club Raro buoy turnaround back towards the Avatiu Harbour, and back to the start.

The Ngakau Toa Vaka Junior U16 women’s world champion crew dug deep battling the waves and the wind racing in first place.

These Under 16 girls came back from the​ August 2023 International Va'a Federation World Distance Championships in Samoa with the bronze medal.

Vaea Melvin, their coach was elated at their Vaka Eiva 6km performance.

“They have put in so much work this whole year,” she said.

“This is also good preparation for their Round Rarotonga race today – their first attempt as a team.”

Melvin was also excited for their younger Under 14 juniors.

“Just watching those little champs crossing the line, you could see  that they had given everything they had in the race and it just makes me so proud of them – the true spirit of Ngakau Toa Aito.

On behalf of the U16 team, paddler Pourie Kaina the race was spectacular.

“It was good to see more paddlers around our own age, and being able to compete with them, in our own waters,” said Kaina.

She said they were honoured to receive a haka from their paddling brothers and sisters, all the way from Aotearoa, who are participating in Vaka Eiva.

“We are also extremely proud to see that all of the hard work and dedication that the juniors have done this year has paid off.

“It’s also good to know that the future of the Cook Islands paddling is very bright,” said Kaina.

Thirteen-year-old Isabelle Dun participated in the Ngakau Toa Babes J14 team which also competed in the J16 course.

Dun said they did experience some confusion at the start but they came through and received a lot of encouragement.

“The wind was challenging and blew some of our caps off but we kept going.”

Te Tupu O Te Manava’s Under 14 coach Emilene Taulu-Amo was very proud of her juniors.

She said “This is their first Vaka Eiva, they did their best out there and gave it a go and I hope it’s not the last.”

Master paddler Serena Hunter is Te Tupu O Te Manava Under 16 Girls coach.

Prior to the race Hunter had said to the girls “this is likely the roughest ocean race you will encounter as juniors.”

She said even some of the adult teams have struggled in the testing conditions this week.

“All the juniors did so well out there on Wednesday,” said Hunter.

“It was awe-inspiring watching from the coast - all the junior crews battling upwind in those waves, and then turning and getting rides on some pretty big swells.”

“I’m a very proud coach (and mother), it’s a highlight of my Vaka Eiva.”

Hunter has coached these girls for three years and feels “so proud” of their progress and that they are able to get out there and battle the elements by themselves. 

“All the junior teams can be very proud of their efforts yesterday, and also the coaches,” said Hunter.

Twins Isabella and Milla Nicholas and Reva Hunter (Serena Hunter’s daughter), were part of Te Tupu’s U16 Girls crew.

Hunter said Isabella has come a long way in learning how to steer, “it takes a lot to have the courage to steer in rough conditions especially, and she’s doing very well.”

Isabella said paddling against the Ngakau Toa U16 world champs was great.

“They definitely are a big challenge and they really pushed us compared to previous years, our girls were all feeling our push and working at it,” said Isabella.

Although there were big swells and rough conditions, Milla said they all “pushed” through talking to each other, “and the atmosphere was just awesome.”

Reva Hunter also enjoyed the experience, “it was good to race against teams from overseas so we really did push ourselves, there were big waves but some good surf too,” she said.

V6 Junior 16 Mix Iron 6km race results are as follows: 1st Ranginui - Te Wharekura o Mauao, Ngawiki 44.40; 2nd Ngakau Toa Vaka Mixed – Ngakau Toa Vaka, Cook Islands 45.26; 3rd Pikirangi - Te Wharekura o Mauao, Ngawiki 45.27; 4th Te Vaerua - Te Wharekura o Mauao, Ngawiki 47.35.

V6 Junior 16 Women 6km race results: 1st Ngakau Toa Vaka - Cook Islands, 41.49; 2nd Team Tiare – Te Tupu O Te Manava, Cook Islands, 45.00; 3rd Ngakau Toa Babes J14's, Cook Islands, 46.18; 4th Te Tupu O Te Manava Juniors, Cook Islands 48.38.