A tough training schedule - including a four-day paddle to Whangarei and races in Rarotonga - continues to pay off for a Far North waka ama club whose members returned from the nationals weighed down with medals.
Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia was founded by Danny and Tuppy Kaiawe to give young people in Te Tii a healthy outlet for their time and energy as well as a chance to mix with positive role models. Initially, the club paddled in waka loaned by the police but has had its own since late last year thanks to a health board grant.
The Kaiawes' efforts are paying off, with the small northern Bay of Islands settlement now a waka ama powerhouse and some of its troubled boys transformed into high-achieving athletes.
The club fielded competitors from 12 to over-60s in the Waka Ama Nationals at Lake Karapiro from January 15-19.
Mr Kaiawe said the J16 boys' team "Bagtown Boys" won gold in the W6 (six-seater) 500m and bronze in W6 1000m, while 12-year-old Mano Herewini - little brother of star paddler Kingi Herewini - "blitzed the field" to win gold in the W1 500m.
Last year, the boys took part in a four-day hoe (paddle) from Maitai Bay to Whangarei, competed at Vaka Eiva in Rarotonga and the Auckland waka ama marathon, turning them into "well-oiled machines".
"There were a lot of comments about how good they looked in terms of the way they paddle as a result of all the hoe they've had," Mr Kaiawe said.
The J19s featured in all the finals while new teams in the open women's and open men's divisions performed well considering it was their first time competing.
Club members also paddled in mixed Auckland/Northland teams. The Wai Tokerau senior masters - made up of paddlers aged 50 and over from Waitakere and Tai Tokerau, including Mr Kaiawe and Kerikeri policeman Rob Cameron - won gold medals in the W6 500m event and the W12 500m, with six paddlers from Team Kaipara making up the numbers.
Mrs Kaiawe joined Whangarei's Mitamatanga and Hilda Halkyard-Harawira's Rangaunu to win silver in the W12 500m, also bagging silver in the W6 1000m and bronze in the W6 500m with Rangaunu. Another Te Tii resident, Clayton Wikaira, won gold, silver and bronze paddling with the Manukau Outriggers.
One of the most valiant efforts was by Kaeo GP Ian Lawson in the W1 500m golden masters for paddlers aged 60-plus. "He might have done better if his training schedule hadn't been hindered by a fall out of a tree. "