New Zealand waka ama clubs, including three from Rotorua and one from Tauranga, are taking to the world stage.
This week the 18th edition of the International Va'a Federation (IVF) World Sprint Championships is being held in French Polynesia.
Over the course of 11 days, 2100 paddlers from 34 countries will battle it out on the water. The championships are the pinnacle Va'a sprint competition and comprise two events - the Elite World Championships and Club World Championships – with a strong New Zealand presence in both.
The New Zealand contingent, the largest of the competition with 560 paddlers, are in a solid position to succeed on the world stage and bring back gold.
The event formally opens today in true Tahitian style, full of dance, music and a showcase of the beautiful island and its people. The event is officially hosted by the city of Pirae on the main Island of Tahiti. Once the formalities are out of the way, there is no time to waste with teams familiarising themselves with the Taaone Bay race course over the first three days.
The first of the official race events will see the best of the best from each country take part in the elite competition, with each country permitted one team per category (junior men, junior women, open men and open women) over two days of racing.
The New Zealand paddlers will be fighting to retain their titles from the 2016 event in which they took home more than half of the gold medals on offer in the elite events.
Included in the elite competition are the para Va'a teams and paddlers, who are looking to be officially classified under the International Canoe Federation (ICF) classifications, with strong potential to secure further medals for New Zealand.
Club racing takes place during the remaining six days with paddlers from throughout New Zealand representing 33 clubs, from Kerikeri to Queenstown. Included are Rotorua's Hei Matau Paddlers, Ruamata and Te Au Rere waka ama clubs and the Tauranga Moana Outrigger Canoe Club.
Individual paddlers will have the opportunity to be named world champions in their given age groups. As per the club divisions, medals will be earned from the junior 16 to the master 70 divisions.
New Zealand have a strong number of medal opportunities in the V1 events with top New Zealand paddlers such as sisters Akayshia Williams (open women) and Rangi-Riana Williams (J16 women), Tupuria King (open men), Tui McCaull (master 40 women), Grant Donaldson (master 40 men), Taane Heta (J16 men) and up and coming junior 19 paddlers Inamaru Tere and Darius Apanui-Nepe.
Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins said the level of racing was like no other Va'a event in the world.
"Not only are the best of the best from each county racing but the club event encompasses all age groups which reflects the inclusive and whānau nature of our sport.
"All of the gruelling winter training will come to fruition in Tahiti and I am very excited to see all paddlers – club, elite and para – showcase why Aotearoa is a force to be reckoned with in the Va'a world."