More than 1500 secondary students are at Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake) gearing up for the first day of the Waka Ama Championships.

The atmosphere was buzzing this morning as the week-long sporting event officially opened.

Te Wananga o Aotearoa National Secondary School Waka Ama Championships is one of the largest secondary school sports events in New Zealand - second only to rowing's Maadi Cup, which is also running this week.

Students from the 96 schools competing were scattered around the lake, playing music, warming up and mingling with their peers.

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Schools will compete for national honours in one, six and 12-paddler teams over distances of 250m and 500m.

Teams competing in the six-person 500m classes will also have to navigate their way through a hairpin turn at the halfway mark.

Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins said the event had "snowballed" since it started 15 years ago.

"Everyone is excited, there is a real great atmosphere. There is no cellphone coverage out here so once the kids realise that you see them start talking and interacting with each other which is really neat."

She said Lake Tikitapu provided a great venue for the event and organisers were looking forward to the next four days.

John Paul College Waka Ama manager and school board member Eugene Berryman-Kamp said his students were feeling nervous but excited ahead of the race.

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"The sport has grown really well at the school and we have a strong foundation of students who are helping grow interest."

John Paul College has five crews competing at this year's event.

- For the full story, see tomorrow's edition of the Rotorua Daily Post.