Barrett only Nelson paddler at champs

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 10:00 11/01/2014

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Nelson's Carmel Barrett is the region's sole representative among a record number of paddlers competing at the waka ama sprint championships.

A total of 1461 crews from 54 clubs will paddle for the national sprint title on their waka ama, or outrigger canoes, at the 25th ActivePost national champs, on Lake Karapiro next week.

More than 2800 paddlers from throughout the country are expected to line up in various boat classes, competing in 10 age divisions at the event starting on Monday.

Barrett will represent the Whakatu Marae Waka Ama Club in the 500 metre single. She will also volunteer for the week organising registrations while her husband, Peter, will man one of the support boats.

The top of the south has a strong waka ama presence, but Barrett said the vogue in this area is for the longer distances, although she was part of a Whakatu Marae team last year.

It is Barrett's third year at the sprint champs. She has been a semifinalist in the past, but believes that participation is the most satisfying aspect of the regatta.

"Waka ama in the North Island is so strong and competitive that just going up there, having a go and seeing how well you can do against other women is a great challenge," Barrett said.

"There will be competitors up there ranging from midgets who are 6 years old to paddlers who are 80. So it is a sport you can do your whole life."

While the shorter distances are becoming more popular on the Mainland, there are only six crews from the South Island competing.

Barrett said it can be quite a "lonely sport" when she is the only person out training on the water.

However, she is thankful of having a strong network across the Cook Strait to help reduce travel costs as she has the use of a waka while she is there.

Lara Collins, chief executive of Waka Ama New Zealand, said that this year's instalment of the sprint nationals promised to be the biggest and most exciting yet.

"The number of crews signing up has been quite phenomenal, and we're expecting a bumper crowd. What's great also is that we're seeing more and more kids of all ages giving waka ama racing a go.

"That's fantastic for our sport. The paddlers are all very competitive but everyone definitely has a lot of fun too.

"And with more than 10,000 people expected to line the banks and cheer the crews, the atmosphere will certainly be electric," she said.

For the sprint championships, clubs will compete for national honours in one, 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.

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Waka ama racing has grown in popularity over 25 years to become the fastest growing sport in New Zealand.

Each year, more than 8000 paddlers from 85 clubs turn out to race waka ama in a show of strength, endurance and team work.

- The Nelson Mail

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