Almost 1800 secondary school students will paddle on Tikitapu over the next week.
The Te Wananga o Aotearoa Waka Ama National Seconday School Championships will see students from 118 schools, from Dunedin to Kaiataia, compete at the lake in W12, W6 and W1 divisions.
Event co-ordinator for Te Waiariki Purea Trust Kelley Korau said the event brought people together.
She encouraged members of the public to watch the racing which was taking place from Tuesday to Friday.
"The atmosphere is awesome. The kids are having fun and there's singing and the racing is exciting to see," Korau said.
She said students from Gisborne's Lytton High School were ones to watch as they had done well last year.
"Our local squads are always up there. Rotorua Boys' High and Girls' High are going to be favourites for this year."
Korau said some students from Girls' High were "paddling at a world elite leve" with the national team.
But the event also allowed those who only raced at school to compete and participate, she said.
Each of the schools provided a volunteer for the event and Korau said that was what made it possible.
"If it wasn't for all the volunteers and the schools that allow their rangatahi to come out and help, we wouldn't be able to run this big event."
Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins said a school in Tahiti was also bringing 30 students to the event and spectators would have a great view of the racing.
"The event's quite significant in terms of its size. It's grown quite a lot over the years and it's highly competitive on the water, but off the water there's a really great atmosphere."
The event is in its 17th year and is open to the public to watch with parking available in a nearby reserve. It has run at Tikitapu for eight years.
- Tuesday, March 20: W1 and W12 heats, semi finals and finals from 9.30am. W1 prizegiving from 4pm.
- Wednesday, March 21: W6 250m and 500m heats from 8.30am to 4.30pm. W12 prizegiving from 4.45pm.
- Thursday, March 22: W6 250m and W6 500m semi finals from 8.30am to 4.30pm
- Friday, March 23: W6 250m finals and W6 500m finals from 9am. Prize giving at 1.30pm.