Team off to world champs

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Ahuriri Houkamau and fellow adaptive paddler, Nicky-Lee Epps, at Pandora Pond, the adaptive waka team's training ground.
Ahuriri Houkamau and fellow adaptive paddler, Nicky-Lee Epps, at Pandora Pond, the adaptive waka team's training ground.

A standout waka ama team based in Hawke's Bay hope to leave other craft in their wake when they race in the upcoming world championship on Australia's Gold Coast.

The Haeata Ocean Sports Club "adaptive' team" - which include paddlers who are wheelchair-bound, blind and physically impaired by stroke or accident - will represent New Zealand in two events at the IVF Va'a World Sprints Championship in May.

A waka ama paddler for just over a year and a member of the adaptive team since its launch in September 2015, Ahuriri Houkamau is excited about taking part in the world champs. He can scarcely credit that, as he nears 50, he will be representing his country in sport.

"That's quite strange," the lecturer at EIT's Te Uranga Waka says, "a bit unbelievable really."

The adaptive teams race with tools and in outrigger canoes modified to suit the individual paddlers' needs. A handicap system based on crew members' disabilities will operate for the world champs.

Houkamau's position is in the middle of the waka ama.

Houkamau received spinal injuries in a car accident and is paralysed on his left side. He has only partial movement in one hand and can't walk far but he digs deep on the water, working with five other crew members to power the waka ama forward.

"I feel the benefits from the sport, certainly from the training and comradeship," he said. "You don't feel like you're the odd one out - everyone has something going on."

The team are in good hands with one of the country's top women paddlers, Roni Nuku, as their coach. However, they face a challenge in fundraising for the world champs.

"It's not just us going," Houkamau says of the team, "everyone has to take a support person. I'm taking my wife, Angela. Everyone needs someone but we have nowhere near the $30,000 or so needed for the trip.

"We are cooking hangi, selling raffle tickets and have a Givealittle page on NZ Para/Adaptive Waka Ama Team Facebook, but over and above that we need sponsorship.

"Hopefully we can get our faces out there and someone might latch onto us and get us to where we want to go."

The adaptive team showed its form at the National Waka Ama Sprint Championship held on Lake Karapiro in January.

"That worked out well: three teams took part in our section and we came back with several bronze medals. Three teams took part in our section.

"Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, all eight lanes will be full of adaptive paddlers."

After the worlds, the team has its sights set on Rio de Janeiro next year.

"If we can get through this one, I don't see why we can't get to that one as well."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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