Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Outrigger farewell ceremony for humble waka ama star

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Simati (Marti) Toomalatai's waka ama team will pay tribute to him with a paddle out at Sulphur Point tomorrow morning.
Simati (Marti) Toomalatai's waka ama team will pay tribute to him with a paddle out at Sulphur Point tomorrow morning.

A memorial ceremony is planned for a highly respected and talented Tauranga waka ama enthusiast who lost his battle with lung cancer over the weekend.

Samoan-born Simati Raven Toomalatai, 35, also known as Marti, died peacefully on March 20 at Waipuna Hospice surrounded by his family after an almost eight-month battle with the disease.

The popular member of the Tauranga Moana Outrigger Canoe Club will be farewelled tomorrow morning by his waka ama teammates and family, with a paddle-out from Sulphur Point.

Mr Toomalatai is survived by his wife Kathryn and his two sons, Charlie, 4, and 11-month-old Oliver (Olly), his eight brothers, and two sisters, and his mother who lives in Samoa.

In October, the couple would have marked their sixth wedding anniversary.

His widow said they first met in Samoa about eight years ago when Mrs Toomalatai (nee Meredith) was involved in a voluntary aid programme called VIDA - the American equivalent of VSA.

At the time Mr Toomalatai was coaching and playing AFL in Samoa, which included playing in some international tournaments.

"Simati was also a really accomplished paddler at an international level, and paddled for the Samoan national team. Some of his brothers and his two sisters have also been competitively involved in the sport."

Olly was three-and-half months old when her husband was diagnosed with the cancer, she said.

"Simati started losing weight and feeling quite unwell. After tests, X-rays and a biopsy he received the diagnosis on August 6 last year. It came completely out of left-field for both of us."

She said her husband, who had worked in the kiwifruit and avocado industry, was brave, gracious and strong to the end.

"He was very determined to fight the cancer. He never gave up or lost focus, and fought right to the end."

Mrs Toomalatai said her husband had a huge passion for life and lived for his family.

"Simati was a very fun-loving, very caring person who always looked out for everyone, and he made friends really easily with people from all different nationalities and walks of life.

"I want people to know how much he was loved. He was a great dad, and a loving husband. We were great friends as well as being a married couple, and we did everything together as a family.

"We will miss him very much," she said.

Tauranga Moana Outrigger Canoe Club spokesman Roger Colquhoun said he first met Mr Toomalatai when he came down to a club "Have a Go" event at The Lakes about six years ago.

"Marti didn't say at the time that he had paddled for the Samoan National team. He was a very shy and humble guy, but over a period of a few months, he started to open up and became more involved in club events, and also began coaching some of our newbie paddlers.

"Marti was a very good all-rounder and proved to be a real asset to our club."

Mr Colquhoun said Mr Toomalatai was a popular and highly respected member of the club, who had a wicked sense of humour, an infectious laugh, and was renowned for his positivity and generosity.

"Marti was a great guy. It's very sad, very tragic," he said

One Facebook post read: "There are gentlemen and gentle men, and you were both Simati, I hope you pre-ordered the angel wings. Have fun up there.".

Following the paddle out a funeral service will be held.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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