Waka ama: Bay crews in race for glory

The surge in popularity for waka ama racing shows no signs of letting up as schools turn out in their droves for this week's ActivePost National Secondary Schools Waka Ama Championships.

Starting today until Friday, Rotorua's Blue Lake is the venue to 482 teams from 90 schools, including Tauranga Boys' Tauranga Girls' and Otumoetai colleges, as they paddle for the national title on their outrigger canoes.

More than 1500 students from schools throughout the country are expected to line up in various boat classes in the under-19 and under-16 divisions.

Lara Collins, chief executive of Waka Ama New Zealand, said that despite only being around for 12 years, the Waka Ama Championships had grown into one of the largest secondary school sports events in New Zealand - second only to the Maadi Cup.

"The growth in participants has been quite phenomenal and I think the secret to its popularity is that waka ama really is quite simple for kids to take up.

"The atmosphere at all our race meets is electric - the paddlers are all very competitive but everyone has a lot of fun."

Waka ama has six paddlers working over varied distances from 500m, 1500m to marathon races of 30-75 km. Schools will compete for national honours in one, six or 12 paddler teams over distances of 250 and 500 metres.

Spectators are always in for added excitement as teams competing in the six-person 500m classes have to navigate their way through a hairpin turn at the halfway mark.

In just25 years Waka Ama racing has become the fastest growing sport in New Zealand.

Every year, more than 8000 paddlers from 85 clubs turn out to race in a show of strength, endurance and team work.

Last year's winners of the ActivePost National Secondary Schools Waka Ama Championships:

U19 250m Boys Championship: Gisborne Boys' High School; U19 250m Girls Championship: Nga Taiatea Wharekura; U19 500m Boys Championship: Te Kura Kaupapa o Ruamata; U19 500m Girls Championship: Nga Taiatea Wharekura; U16 250m Boys Championship: Huntly College; U16 250m Girls Championship: Trident High School; U16 500m Boys Championship: Nga Taiatea Wharekura; U16 500m Girls Championship: Gisborne Girls' High School.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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