Tuatahi's big dreams
Passionate paddler Tuatahi Mihaka is only 12 years old but she's been out on the water every day preparing for her waka ama competition.
The Tamaki Outrigger Canoe Club member is one of a record 2800 participants who've been competing at the 25th ActivePost National Waka Ama Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro this week.
She ramped up her training in early January in the hopes of bringing home a national title.
"One day I want to be in a New Zealand team. That's what I'm hoping to achieve. If I do well at nationals then that's the first step."
Waka ama racing is based on the ancient Maori form of transport and has become increasingly popular since the 1980s.
Tuatahi started paddling with the club at the Panmure Basin in 2010 but had to put her dream on hold when she broke her arm in 2011.
She couldn't stay away from the water for long, she says.
"After the break, when I got up and running again, I got started with waka ama straight away. I just wanted to be part of the team again."
Tuatahi is competing with a team in the under-16 category and in the intermediate singles this year.
Tamaki is one of 54 clubs competing at the national event. The club has been based in Panmure since 1990.
Club president Sam Walters says the nationals offers newcomers the chance to see how far the sport can take them.
"It's about experiencing waka ama at its finest. The exposure down there is massive. If you're an up and coming paddler you get to see the best in New Zealand.
"Tuatahi is already punching above her weight in team crew - it's really, really good stuff."
But there's more to waka ama than just battling for first place, he says.
"Waka ama teaches you how to be an elite athlete. That's no different to any other sport, but what waka ama provides here is real whanaungatanga, family togetherness, learning to trust and be around each other.
"We try to teach the kids values of respect around waka."
Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins says the sport is growing rapidly, with membership increasing by 30 per cent in the last year.
Qualifying races for the New Zealand team heading to worlds in August are under way, she says.
"We've got paddlers on the water this week from 5 to 74 years old. It's not only the racing but also what paddlers get once they're off the water.
"There's so many opportunities in it. This is not something that's just done in New Zealand."
Tamaki Outrigger Canoe Club is always looking for new members.
Go to wakaama.co.nz for more information.
East And Bays Courier