Waka ama regatta a ‘great spectacle’

Raglan’s annual waka ama regatta promises to be a “great spectacle” this weekend with over a thousand paddlers taking part in races.

Whaingaroa Whanau Hoe Waka club chairperson Amber Hartstone says what used to be a whanau gathering of waka clubs has turned into a huge event, and if it continues to grow in popularity every year “I don’t know what we will do!”

“It’s almost doubled what it was last year and that was a big regatta,” says Amber.

She cautions Raglan residents and visitors that there will be over 100 canoes coming into town for the event on Saturday, and State Highway 23 and Marine Parade will be busiest between 6am and 11am.

“There has to be 77 boats here at seven in the morning for the first race,” she says, “so be careful on the road”.

Last year there were 58 waka on the start line of the first race, the 8km for novice and junior paddlers, and, lined up side by side, the canoes stretched all the way across the harbour.

Collisions are inevitable when the starting gun goes off.

Amber says with 19 more boats in this year’s 8km race at 9am “we are just going to have to think about how we will manage that. It will be quite a great spectacle”.

Entries are also up for 24km races.

Altogether, 169 teams from 49 clubs across New Zealand are competing in Whaingaroa’s 23rd regatta. The youngest paddlers are aged 11-13 and the oldest are over 70.

Amber says the numbers are not unexpected but “amazing”.

“I would have been expecting anywhere from 600 to 800 paddlers.”

She says Raglan’s regatta is popular because the harbour is nice to paddle in and there are not too many long-standing, long-distance races on the waka ama calendar.

“If people know it’s a good event they want to come.

“Particularly for the junior and novice teams, unless they go overseas they won’t get to start on a start line that big.”

Regatta organiser Haidee Rangiawha says she has had some sleepless nights worrying that she may have missed something in the planning stages of the event.

“The big, obvious jobs are easy. It’s the little things that will determine if the day runs smoothly or not.

“I’m looking forward to the race and seeing all the waka out on the Raglan Harbour.

“The Whaingaroa hoe is one of the biggest races in New Zealand. I think people just love the opportunity to paddle here and Raglan is central for the paddling community.”

Traffic management at Te Kopua Domain will be in place from 5.30am.

Parking for the event will be around the boat ramp area and the airfield.

Spectator viewing of the races will be best at the race start times of 9am, 10.30am and 1pm from the footbridge and then along Cliff St and at the wharf.

Inger Vos