Tama Heta is proof battling a cold Northland winter pays dividends when it comes to racing in the warmer waters of Tahiti.

The 11-year-old waka ama paddler exponent spent hours training on Whangārei harbour and on the Tutukaka Coast which resulted in a winning performance at last month's Te Aito, arguably one of the sports most prestigious races.

It's where the best of the best of all ages come to race to see just how good they are.

For Heta putting in the best performance he could was his main goal heading into the event. And he did just that by beating the other 26 paddlers in his division over the 6km course.


"I wanted to do the race and give it my best go and get international experience," Heta said.

Heta said he looked to his older brother, Tane who had raced three times in the Tahitian Te Aito event, for motivation. Big sister Zane, who has also paddled in the event, accompanied Heta on this year's trip.

Together they trained before the event with Tane passing on tips on how to improve.

However, getting off the start line proved the most difficult part of the race.

Tama Heta wins the U12 Te Aito in Tahiti - one of the sports most prestigious races. Photo/ Supplied
Tama Heta wins the U12 Te Aito in Tahiti - one of the sports most prestigious races. Photo/ Supplied

Paddlers started on the shore and had to grab their waka, carry it to the water and start paddling.

"I got T-boned at the start of the race and had to push hard to the first buoy."

From there he made his move and took the lead, putting himself well ahead of the field. It was a spot he maintained all the way to the finish line in the 6km event.

"When I got in front I just kept focused, concentrated on technique and staying relaxed."


Crossing the finish line was a moment of excitement for the young paddler.

Taking on the Tahitians on their own waters is like beating the All Blacks in New Zealand.

Standing on the podium to collect his trophy gave him a sense of achievement.

"Just believing in myself and knowing all the training would be worth while, it kept me going ... and it paid off."

With the international win under his blade Heta, who started paddling when he was 6, is fast establishing himself as one of the country's top junior male waka ama paddlers.

He claimed a bronze in the Intermediate 500m sprints at nationals on Lake Karapiro in January and at the long distance championships he had to compete in the U16 division where he finished the 12km course in 5th spot in the W1 class and in the rudderless division finished 6th.

Heta and his Mitamitaga team mates are currently training for the Trans-Tasman Gubbi Gubbi waka ama sprint regatta late next month, in Queensland.

The teams and individuals will then compete in the Australian junior long distance nationals the following week.