Waka ama paddlers return with gold

08 September 2017
Waka ama team 2017 University of Auckland waka ama team 2017

Battling blisters, heatstroke and muscle fatigue in tough open water seas in Hawai’i, the University of Auckland waka ama team has once again claimed gold in the world’s largest outrigger canoe race.

The Queen Lili’uoakalani challenge drew in thousands of the world’s best paddlers, overwhelming the small town of Kailua-Kona for three days of racing and events.

The crew of six engineering students won the open-mixed category of the main 30 kilometre Iron event on September 2, beating 17 international teams, and improving on last year’s winning time by 22 minutes with a finish time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.

Team captain Nona Taute said the pressure to retain the University’s title helped fuel the team’s motivation.

“There was an elevated level of expectation and as such our diet and hydration were strictly supervised in the week leading up to the race so we were all at optimal body condition. Being one of the lighter teams, we were able to easily catch the swell and pick up some serious boat speed. Every time we passed a team, we gained more confidence and adrenaline, and there was another mixed team on our tail, making us paddle at our highest intensity to stay in front,” Nona, a civil engineering student, says.

Third year engineering student Billy Bowman says the team were local legends in Kona for its performance of a haka, as well as its abilities on the water.

“We were stopped on the street and asked ‘Are you from New Zealand? The only reason we come is to watch your haka’,” Billy says. “Nothing compares with the electric atmosphere of race day. Being one of the hundreds of crews swarming Kamakahonu bay, preparing their boats for such a culturally significant voyage, was spiritually humbling.”

The paddlers won the all-expenses paid trip to Hawai’i after winning the University's Great Waka Ama Race in March against seven other faculties.

Since then they have been training three times a week at Okahu Bay and on the Waitemata Harbour to build up stamina and team camaraderie.

This year’s crew had experience on its side, with waka ama stalwarts Nona and Billy, Georgia Naera, Josie Stevens, and Dallas Watene all members of the outstanding 2016 crew which won in Hawai’i.

They were joined by new crew members Sarah Carson, Vaoala Enesa and Jessica Retter. A Waka Ama mixed crew must be made up of three females and three males, along with two reserves.

The University of Auckland team also competed in the eight person relay, placing second, and in the double hull race, placing fourth.

Media contact:

Danelle Clayton
Communications, Vice-Chancellor's Office
The University of Auckland
Email: d.clayton@auckland.ac.nz