Waka Ama continues to grow in popularity with record numbers of paddlers signing up to compete at the 31st annual Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Sprint Championships on Lake Karāpiro next week, making Waka Ama one of the fastest growing water sports in New Zealand.

The inaugural Waka Ama Sprint Nationals were held in 1990 at Lake Karāpiro. Seventeen clubs and 43 teams took part. This year there are 2168 race entries from 68 clubs who will race for the prestigious national sprint titles in their Waka Ama (outrigger canoes). 3850 paddlers from throughout the country are scheduled to line up in various waka classes, competing in 10 age divisions at the event from January 12-18.

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Waka Ama New Zealand CEO Lara Collins said this year's event promised to be full of excitement.

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"In 2015 there were 2707 competitors, this year we have a record 3850 paddlers scheduled to race. We have had to extend the event by a day so we now have seven days of racing, starting Sunday and finishing Saturday.

"We've got competitors coming from all over the country from as far north as Kaitāia down to Queenstown in the South Island. There are going to be huge crowds lakeside watching the regatta with around 10,000 expected during the week.

She said Waka Ama was "a sport like no other".

"It's a sport for all sorts of people from all walks of life. Our youngest paddler competing this week is 5 and our oldest paddler will turn 82 this year. Waka Ama 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."

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

Premium gold

At the sprint championships, clubs will compete for national honours in; single, six and 12-paddler teams over distances of 250m, 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Spectators are also in for added excitement as teams competing in the six-paddler 1000m and 1500m classes have to navigate their way through hairpin turns at the 250m mark.

Male and female crews will be competing for national honours in the Taitamariki (under 10), Intermediate (11-13), Junior U16, Junior U19, Open, Master (40) Senior Master (50) Golden Master (60) and Masters 70 age divisions.

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Last year's winner of the 2019 National Waka Ama club points trophy for overall performances throughout the regatta was Horouta Waka Hoe from Gisborne. The club will be back in 2020 seeking to defend their title, one they have won eight times in the trophy's nine year history.

The Winners of the 2019 Ace Cuthers Memorial Club Spirit Trophy Winners – Mitamitaga o le Pasefika Va'a-alo Canoe Club will travel back to Karāpiro with the prestigious trophy that will again be awarded by the volunteers and officials to a club which epitomises the values of Waka Ama; Manaakitanga, Whānaungatanga, Hauora , Tū Tangata, and of course the memory of Ace himself.

Notable Stats:
Paddlers competing: 3850
Clubs: 68
Race days: 7
Volunteers: 150
Spectators expected: 10,000+
Races: 406
Corporate Teams: 10
Paddler % increase (5 Years): 42%