Dedication pays off for Whaingaroa novice paddlers

Raglan’s newest waka ama paddlers dominated the harbour in their races at the Whaingaroa club’s annual regatta held last Saturday.

Three Whaingaroa novice teams were among the 77 waka entered in the 8km race – New Zealand’s biggest start line.

Areare, the Raglan men’s novice team, won their division in 36 minutes and three seconds, nearly five minutes ahead of second-placed Pocc Orginal V1 Gold of Pakuranga.

The competition was tighter in the women’s novice division, with less than two minutes between the winners, Raglan’s Whaia Te Tika (44:39), and third-placed Te Manu Wakawhiti (45:50), also from Raglan.

In other races, Whaingaroa Vintage came third in the 24km masters women’s race (2:18:47) and Herberts on Tour, which includes Raglan paddler Conan Herbert, came first in the open men’s 24km (1:47:01).

Whaingaroa novice muster organiser Lana Herbert said all paddlers in the novice races had been paddling for less than a year.

“Some of those (Raglan) ladies had only been paddling a couple of weeks and picked it up really quickly. They were awesome.”

Lana said the Raglan waka club held a muster for novice paddlers at the start of every year to include new Whaingaroa teams in the competition, while old members hosted the regatta.

This year’s novice paddlers came from all walks of life and nationalities, she said, and the attraction of waka was that it was “nice to be out on the harbour” and meet new people.

The novice paddlers trained together every Sunday for the race and their dedication paid off.

“They know the course really well, have practised it, and the steerers know the water.”

Areare paddler Manu Legousais, 35, who has been paddling for a few months, said he had his head down, focusing on the effort, so had no idea how far in front his team was.

He said there was one waka, an under-16 division team, ahead of his Raglan novice crew, and “while we managed to close the gap quite good” they didn’t catch them.

“It was really great, I really enjoyed that,” said Manu, who was hooked on the sport after a few trainings, finding it “meditative” to be out on the water after a day’s work.

He said the start was “funny” as there was a traffic jam of waka vying for pole position, but steerer Taika Rangiawha “got us pretty well in the first wakas so we had no troubles”.

Whaia Te Tika paddler Nicola Fraser, 43, who has been paddling for about three months, said the race was incredible but quite overwhelming at the start because “wakas were cutting you off, crashing into you and coming up really close”.

“We were very surprised and happy we won our division … doing our best was all that mattered … taking away the win was a bonus.”

Teammate Celia Edmonds, 44, agreed.

“With most of us being mothers and working, it was a challenge at times to get to all trainings. I think we only managed two to three trainings with a complete team before the race.

“In the last 10-15 minutes of the race I think we overtook about three waka, that was epic.”

Sandrine Fournier, 43, who is from Switzerland and has been living in Raglan for a year, started paddling in December and “loved it from the first time”.

“There is no waka ama club in Switzerland,” said Sandrine, who returns home this month. “Lots of people here told me to open the first Swiss waka ama club. Who knows? But there’s a va’a club in France close to the Swiss border where I’m living. So I will take my Tai hoe (paddle) with me and I will use it!”

Whaingaroa Vintage paddler Susan Taylor, 49, said the 24km race was a psychological minefield at the start. “Our steerer took us on the inside of a group of waka locked together, one of which flipped, and cut across the shallows keeping us clear of the carnage.”

This year, 169 teams from across 49 clubs in New Zealand competed in Raglan’s 23rd regatta – about 1000 paddlers in total, up from about 600 last year.

Whaingaroa Whānau Hoe Waka chairperson Amber Hartstone said the event ran smoothly throughout the day.

“We didn’t feel the effects of the extra numbers (of paddlers). We have a really good recipe.

“All our volunteers – club people – worked really hard. Lots of them were there from 5.30 in the morning to six at night.”

Amber said she didn’t expect that the 8km race of novice and junior paddlers would get any smaller in the future.

“We had a few collisions but that’s just really experience, it’s going to happen. You can’t avoid it when you have that many canoes.”

Two memorial trophies were also awarded on the day. One of the trophies, in honour of Raglan paddler Piripi Kereopa who died while racing in the event in 2012, was awarded to the winning team of the senior masters men’s 24km race, the Taniwha Grizzlies.

The other memorial trophy, in honour of Chrissy Herbert who died after racing in the 2001 event, was awarded to the first women’s team to cross the line in the 24km race, Ruamata Masters.

Inger Vos