A Whāingaroa open mixed team – racing together for the first time, and with a late ring-in as well – have paddled their way to a surprise gold at the Waka Ama Long Distance Nationals at Picton.
The team of Teresa Waitere, Ben Millward, Lance Higgens, Chev Reti, Jo Gibbs and Wayne Trott headed home a field of seven waka in the gruelling 24km race.
The Whāingaroa crew had put in a lot of hard work since being selected at a club muster a few months back, but were still thrilled and surprised to win by the best part of a minute from a Manukau team, with southerners Waitaha another two minutes back in third.
“You just don’t know (what to expect) when you’re training in little old Whāingaroa,” one of the victorious local paddlers explained. The team had been getting out on the water two to three times a week but had no accurate feel on how fast their opponents would be.
And with the last long distance nationals having been held a full two years previously – the 2020 champs were cancelled because of Covid-19 – the paddle-power of the teams they’d face was even more of an unknown.
The Whāingaroa win in 2hr 6m was all the more remarkable given that Chev Reti was a last minute ring-in for club stalwart Nicola Taylor, who was recovering from a recent operation and pulled out on medical advice.
Adding to the excitement for the local contingent, longtime paddler Wayne Trott came away with a bronze medal in the adaptive men’s 10km race while Whāingaroa’s open women’s team – Krystal Higgens, Kristi Daniel, Haidee Rangiawha, Briar Heinrich, Ariana Millward and Lana Hartstone – just missed the podium with an “awesome fourth place” in their 24km race.
Locals Conan Herbert and Taiko Rangiawha also got gold in the open men’s long distance course although they were racing for Conan’s family team up north, Nga Hoe Horo.
Whāingaroa Whānau Hoe Waka members were delighted at the club’s successes at what is one of the largest events on the Waka Ama NZ racing calendar. The event attracted 860 paddlers – ranging in age from 16 to 70-plus – over two days of Anzac Weekend.
Meanwhile the local club is hosting this weekend the Whāingaroa Hoe, which has grown to become one of the longest-standing and largest long distance waka ama events in the country. Saturday’s hoe will see 900-odd paddlers compete, with best viewing of the spectacle from both the jetty and walkbridge downtown, Cliff St and the Raglan wharf.
Experienced local paddlers forgo competing to run this much-anticipated annual event, but Whāingaroa will still have a couple of novice teams to give first-time local competitors a go.