The 32km James Bhutty Moore-morial Race regularly attracts more than 100 paddlers each year.
The race is a tribute to James Moore, who drowned while training in the waters off Mount Maunganui used in the race route, in July 2008. Moore was part of Team Goodyear, one of Rotorua's most successful waka ama teams.
This year the race is also a trial for the 2019 World Distance Championships to be held in Mooloolaba, Australia in August.
Tupuria King won the race three consecutive times between 2015-2017, but was pipped by Australian Paul Chong last year. Chong isn't returning to defend his title.
"Tupuria is entered again and most likely he'll win," organiser Paul Roozendaal said.
Having only missed one race, through injury, Roozendaal also hoped to be there or there abouts after finishing fifth last year, and was looking for a top three finish.
"I've been doing a lot more training this year so I'm hoping to be up there."
The field in the women's race is headed by last year's winner Penelope Strickland.
"She's one the world's best stand up paddlers. She's now based in Australia, but is coming back to do the race and she'll be strong," Roozendaal said.
Hawaii's Alisa Prendergast, a world class paddler who now lives in New Zealand, was second last year and will line up again in 2019, while Rebekka Still, Tui McCaull and Maketū's Nicky Kingi are also likely to be in the mix.
The event consistently attracts more than 100 competitors and this year Roozendaal is expecting entry numbers to be around 130.
He said he thinks the event is a major factor in the growth of long distance waka ama in New Zealand.
"I believe this race has a big influence on the number of people doing distance races. The stories people have about this race, everyone loves this race. People do more distance paddling specifically to enter this race.
"Waka ama is generally a sprint event and we get much larger numbers to a sprint event. There are two different types of canoe - sprinting and distance canoes - and more and more distance canoes are being imported from China and the more of those we get, the more paddlers we get."
While time moves on, Roozendaal said he still reminds people about the reason the race is held.
"We've been so lucky, every year we always get really good conditions and there are not many events get that, so that's why this one's so popular. I don't know whether it's because James is watching over us or not."
The memorial race is being held for the 11th time tomorrow between Maketū and Pilot Bay, or Pilot Bay and Maketū depending on wind direction.
Roozendaal said early indications are the race will start at Maketū.
"We just watch the wind and if it does look changeable or variable we leave [a decision] to the last minute."