New Zealand's annual waka ama sprint nationals will see its biggest pool of competitors in its 30-year history when the event begins at Lake Karāpiro today.

This year more than 1700 teams from 61 clubs will race for the prestigious national
sprint titles in their waka ama (outrigger canoes). More than 3570 paddlers from throughout the country are scheduled to line up in various classes, competing in 10 age divisions until the tournament's conclusion on Saturday.

Waka ama paddlers race over distances including 250m, 500m, 1500m and marathon races of 30km to 75km. The ama (outrigger), on the left-hand side balances the waka or canoe, helping it to slice through the water with every stroke.

Northland clubs competing at the event include Tirohanga Waka Ama, Nga Hoe Horo Outrigger Canoe Club from Pawarenga, Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia Trust from Kerikeri, Mitamitaga o le Pasefika Va'a-alo Canoe Club from Tutukaka, Parihaka Waka Ama Inc from Whangārei and Te Puu Ao from Whangārei.

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Kaitaia's Tupuria King will be searching for his sixth consecutive premier men's title which
will make this year's tournament special according to Waka Ama chief executive Lara Collins.

"With a female majority of competitors, and our five-time national champion Tupuria
King going head-to-head with one of Tahiti's best, Manutea Million, this year is our biggest yet."

Collins said she expected about 10,000 people to attend the event throughout the week to watch crews from across the country compete for club pride.

"We've got crews coming from all over the country from as far north as Kaitaia down to Queenstown.

"Waka ama is a sport like no other, with its inclusive nature bringing together paddlers
of all ages and ethnicities."

Male and female crews will be competing for national honours in the midget (under-10) ,
intermediate (11-13), junior U16, junior U19, open, master (40), senior master (50)
golden master (60) and masters (70) age divisions.

Collins speculated it may be the only sport where grandmothers, grandfathers, mums, dads and their kids can come together to race competitively

"That's what makes it so special and unique– it's very competitive but the focus is on fun and whānau too."