Battling blisters, heatstroke and muscle fatigue in tough open water seas in Hawaii, the University of Auckland waka ama team has once again claimed gold in the world's longest outrigger canoe race.
Included in the team were engineering students Nona Taute and Georgia Naera, from Rotorua.
The Queen Lili'uoakalani challenge attracted thousands of the world's best paddlers, overwhelming the small town of Kailua-Kona for three days of racing and events.
The Auckland crew of six engineering students won the open-mixed division in the main 30km Iron event on September 2, beating 17 international teams, and improving on last year's winning time by 22 minutes with a finish time of two hours and three minutes.
Taute, who captains the team, said the pressure to retain the title after winning last year motivated the team.
"There was an elevated level of expectation and as such our diet and hydration were strictly supervised in the week leading up to the race so we were all at optimal body condition.
"Being one of the lighter teams, we were able to easily catch the swell and pick up some serious boat speed.
"Every time we passed a team, we gained more confidence and adrenaline, and there was another mixed team on our tail, making us paddle at our highest intensity to stay in front," he said.
Third year engineering student Billy Bowman said the team were treated like legends in Kona for their performance of a haka, as well as their abilities on the water.
"We were stopped on the street and asked 'Are you from New Zealand? The only reason we come is to watch your haka'.
"Nothing compares with the electric atmosphere of race day. Being one of the hundreds of crews swarming Kamakahonu Bay, preparing their boats for such a culturally significant voyage, was spiritually humbling," Bowman said.
The paddlers won the all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii after winning the university's Great Waka Ama Race in March against seven other faculties.
The University of Auckland team also competed in the eight person relay, placing second, and in the double hull race, placing fourth.