Among the kaleidoscope of sports on the schedule for World Masters Games 2017 perhaps the one many will be least familiar is Waka Ama, which is included within the canoe programme.
With its origins throughout the Pacific region the sport – a form of boat racing powered by paddle - has developed and grown in New Zealand since the mid 1980’s and now boasts more than 90 clubs.
Participants compete in a narrow canoe with an outrigger to form the balance on the boat/waka. Traditionally made out of wood the modern day Waka Ama are made out of fibreglass or carbon fibre.
Competition is divided into sprint races - either over a straight 500m course or the 1000m race which involves three hairpin turns on a 250m course- or in longer distance marathon racing. Waka can vary in size to include one, three, six or 12 person racing known as V1, V3, V6, V12 racing – the V standing for Va’a the traditional Tahitian, name for boat, canoe or ship.
In New Zealand a large percentage of the 5000 regular Waka Ama participants are from a Maori/Pasifika background and Waka Ama NZ chief executive Lara Collins is delighted the sport is included on the programme for World Masters Games 2017.
“It gives us a great opportunity to showcase and profile the sport to a lot more people,” explains Collins. “Auckland is the biggest Polynesian city in the world and it certainly adds a Polynesian cultural element to the Games. I’m sure Aucklanders will really get behind the sport.”
New Zealand has established itself among the world’s leading nations in the sport - alongside Tahiti and Hawaii regularly excelling at the biennial World Championships, the next edition of which will be staged in May 2016 on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.
With more than 25 nations now regularly competing in the sport from Australia to Canada and Great Britain to Japan it has established a genuine global foothold and with a thriving masters division, Collins insists the sport holds many attractions.
“Many people come into Waka Ama later in life like ex-rugby players and netballers who may no longer be able to run because of injury, but can paddle,” insists Collins. “In Australia the majority of paddlers are of masters age and in New Zealand we are seeing a growing number.
“It is such an appealing sport because you are both an individual within the waka but also competing in a team environment,” she adds. “The sport has a lot of history, it is colourful and exciting. It appeals to be people who like to be out on the water. It is fun and anyone can do it!”