A long-distance waka ama race which organisers hope will become one of the sport's most coveted titles has been won by a masters' team from Whangarei just half a minute ahead of their Tutukaka-based rivals.
The 25km Te Taiawhio o Ipipiri race was founded in the Bay of Islands 25 years ago by the late Kris Kjelsden, a father of the sport in New Zealand, but had not been held for 17 years.
The gruelling event was revived as part of the inaugural Bay of Islands Waka Festival held on Ti Beach last Saturday and Sunday. Day one of the festival saw relay, midget and mid-distance races while Sunday was set aside for Te Taiawhio o Ipipiri.
Rough weather on the day saw the course changed from a 25km loop around Motuarohia Island to a more sheltered 23km to Opua and back.
Team Toots, a men's masters crew from Parihaka Waka Ama Club, reached the finish line on Ti Beach in a time of 1:44:30, half a minute ahead of Team Kina, an open men's team from Mitamitaga o le Pasefika Va'a-alo Canoe Club.
Competition for third place was even tighter, with a women's masters crew from Mitamitaga club pipping the under-19 boys of Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia by a few seconds.
The original trophy could not be found, despite a six-month search by festival organisers, so a new one was carved in the form of a hoe (paddle) by Anthony Dunn of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
Race director Rob Cameron, of Waitangi Waka Ama Club, said the aim of bringing back Te Taiawhio o Ipipiri was to keep Mr Kjelsden's spirit alive.
"We're starting small but we want to develop it into a major event. We hope it's going to be the genesis of a real revival of waka ama in Waitangi."
California-born Mr Kjelsden introduced waka ama to Northland when he settled in Pawarenga. Later, a company he set up in Tutukaka built many of the waka used around New Zealand today.
Another aim of the festival, Mr Cameron said, was to look after the sport's future by boosting youth participation.
The festival was organised by Anika West and Steph Godsiff of events company Blah Blah Marketing and hosted by Waitangi Waka Ama Club.
It received nationwide publicity on Friday when TV1's Breakfast show was broadcast live from Waitangi, with presenter Brodie Kane and deputy mayor Tania McInnes having a go at paddling a waka.
Plans to incorporate traditional waka into the festival fell through because several tangi over the weekend meant paddlers were not available. Organisers were pleased, however, with a turnout of waka ama paddlers that was three times higher than expected. About 150 people took part from as far away as Waitakere.
Te Taiawhio o Ipipiri top results
1 Team Toots (masters men, Parihaka Waka Ama Club, Whangarei); 2 Team Kina (open men, Mitamitaga o le Pasefika Va'a-alo Canoe Club, Tutukaka); 3 Team Miti (masters women, Mitamitaga); 4 Fat Oysters (J19, Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia, Te Tii). Also competing were men's masters and senior masters plus women's open and golden masters from Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia, and mixed senior masters from Waitakere Outrigger Canoe Club.
For more articles from this region, go to Northern Advocate