Waka Ama continues to grow in popularity, with record numbers of paddlers signing up to compete at the 30th 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.
Among competitors will be 114 paddlers in 19 crews of all ages from Ōtaki's Waka Hoe Waka Ama Club. The club did well last year at the World Champs and expectations for the nationals are very high, said club coach Ngahui Henare.
"We have four teams for the under ten year olds, four for 10-13 years olds, four junior teams (aged 13-16 years) and four teams for 16 to 19 year olds as well as one open division and two masters team for the over 40s.
"We are planning to be on the podium," Ms Henare said. "That is what we train for. We do not go to the nationals for anything less than a podium spot."
The big passion of all her crew members drives them to train six days a week, something they have done for the past 13 weeks.
The crews train on Winstone's quarry lake and the working quarry means that crews can only access the lake after work hours.
"So we train from 5pm to 10pm on weekdays and from 1pm on Saturdays. Thankfully we can train all day Sundays."
"Winstone have been fantastic but the restriction to our training hours means we are at a bit of a disadvantage compared to other clubs, who was access to water 24/7."
Those restrictions do not seem to hamper the club members' enthusiasm for their sport though.
"Their passion is incredible."
Ms Henare said training and coaching so many crews is not easy.
"It is a hard task and demands a lot of commitment, but for a small town we achieve a lot. We did really well at the regional competition and are hoping to do really will at the nationals."
She said the outcome is an open book right now.
"We have no idea how we will go on the day, but we have trained hard enough for it and the commitment and passion is certainly there."
Ōtaki's Waka Hoe Waka Ama started small in 2010 with two crews for the under tens. The club became official in 2011 and has 140 plus members of all ages. Next year they look forward to celebrating 10 years, hopefully with some national titles.
The first Waka Ama Sprint Nationals was held in 1990 at Lake Karāpiro. Back then there were 17 clubs and 43 teams took part.
This year over 1700 teams from 61 clubs will race for the prestigious national sprint titles in their waka ama. A total of 3577 paddlers from throughout the country are scheduled to line up in various waka classes, competing in 10 age divisions at the event from January 14-19.
Waka Ama New Zealand CEO, 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% in 5 years. With a female majority of competitors, and 5 time national champion (Tupuria King) going head-to-head with one of Tahiti's best (Manutea Million) - this year is our biggest yet!"
"We've got crews coming from all over the country from as far north as Kaitaia 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."
"Waka Ama is a sport like no other, with its inclusive nature bringing together paddlers of all ages and ethnicities. This year we have majority female competitors in six of 10 age divisions with 1370 paddlers under 13, and 34 paddlers over 70."
"It's a sport for all sorts of people from all walks of life. Our youngest paddler competing this week is five 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 (family), too."
Waka Ama paddlers race over distances including 250m, 500m, 1500m and marathon races of 30km-75km.
The ama (outrigger), on the left side balances the waka or canoe, helping it to slice through the water with every stroke.
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 Midget (under 10), Intermediate (11-13), Junior U16, Junior U19, Open, Master (40) Senior Master (50) Golden Master (60) and Masters 70 age divisions.
Last year's winner of the 2018 National Waka Ama club points' trophy for overall performances throughout the regatta was Horouta Waka Hoe from Gisborne.
The club will be defending its title, one they have won seven times in the trophy's eight-year history.