The 30th annual Waka Ama Sprint Championships on Lake Karāpiro this week has a record number of paddlers signing up to compete.

The first Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Sprint Championships were held in 1990 at Lake Karāpiro when there were 17 clubs and 43 teams took part.

This year more than 1700 teams from 61 clubs will race for the national sprint titles in their Waka Ama, outrigger canoes.

Of those 61 clubs, seven of them are from the Rotorua and surrounding areas.


Ruamata Waka Ama club teams Mako and Ngaruroa will be defending their titles in Master Women and Senior Master Women divisions.

More than 3000 paddlers from throughout the country are scheduled to line up in various waka classes, competing in 10 age divisions at the event from January 14 to 19.

Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins said that this year's event promises to be full of excitement.

"In 2014 we had 2562 competitors, this year we have a record 3577 paddlers registered, we've grown 39.6 per cent in five years."

Collins said crews from all over the country would be competing in front of an expected crowd of 10,000.

She said waka ama was a sport like no other because of the inclusive nature that brought together paddlers of all ages and ethnicities.

The youngest paddler in the competition this year is 5 and the oldest 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."

A Māori public health organisation Hāpai Te Hauora congratulates Waka Ama New Zealand for its commitment to Māori wellbeing during the national championship festival.

This will be it's sixth year as a "fizz-free" event, meaning no fizzy drinks will be sold at the tournament.

General manager Janell Dymus-Kurei said the event was a great example of leadership in Māori health and a positive "pro-Māori" event which Hāpai Te Hauora was proud to support.

"Organisers have shown a strong commitment to oranga tinana through the promotion of physical activity which is embedded in te ao Māori."

She said through the adoption of a "fizz-free" stance the festival highlighted the importance of the availability of water, wai Māori, to all whānau across the motu.