Waka Ama crews make grade

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

Ex­ams have never been this fun – waka ama stu­dents from all over the North Is­land gath­ered at Onepoto on Satur­day for their end-of-year re­gatta.

This is the sec­ond year Te Wananga O Aotearoa has brought its 350 stu­dents to­gether to stage boat races and skip­per skills chal­lenges as as­sess­ments.

Last year’s re­gatta was in Huntly, and each year the races will be hosted by one of the polytech­nic’s cam­puses in Porirua, Hamil­ton, Auck­land, Whanganui and Gis­borne.

Along with a full day of races, stu­dents were tested on knot­ty­ing, nav­i­ga­tion, VHF ra­dio and other skip­per skills.

The as­sess­ments were staged as group chal­lenges, and sup­port­ers whooped and cheered from the side­lines.

Fos­ter­ing a cul­ture of safety on the sea was a main aim of the day, com­peti­tor John Chaf­fey from Gis­borne’s Whirikoka cam­pus said.

‘‘I think as a cul­ture we’re quite re­laxed and ‘ she’ll be right’, but we see the sta­tis­tics and we need to change.’’

As a child, Mr Chaf­fey was never en­cour­aged to wear a life­jacket, and would un­think­ingly breach ba­sic sea eti­quette by do­ing things like yelling near the wa­ter, he said.

Then one day he nearly drowned and knew he had to spread the mes­sage of wa­ter safety.

‘‘I felt in my last breaths that I was given another chance for a rea­son,’’ he said. ‘‘ You have to re­spect the god of the sea. It’s stronger than you.’’

Scot­tish stu­dent Nathan Cross was one of the few Pakeha faces in the crowd.

Af­ter mov­ing from Bri­tain to Palmer­ston North as a civil ser­vant, Mr Cross wanted to know more about Maori cul­ture.

Be­cause there were no te reo classes avail­able at the time, he en­rolled in a waka ama course. It was not too much of a stretch for a Bri­ton, Mr Cross said. ‘‘We’re all sea­far­ers, aren’t we?’’ Sur­vey­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties with pride was Ngati Toa man Matahi Brightwell, who rein­tro­duced waka ama to Maori in the 1980s.

Raised in Can­nons Creek, Mr Brightwell built a sail­ing ca­noe and trav­elled to Tahiti in 1985, where waka ama is a na­tional sport. Back home, Maori were not in­ter­ested in his plans to re­vive the sport, but he fi­nally put to­gether a Ngati Toa crew in 1993.

See­ing so many waka ama stu­dent gather in his home town 20 years later was a spe­cial mo­ment, Mr Brightwell said.

Pho­tos: AN­DREA O’NEIL

Win­ners: Auck­land’s Ta­maki Makau­rau crew came first in the tough 1000-me­tre mixed race. From left, Amy Strick­land, Trent An­drews, Sharon Hawk, Michael Sala, Aaron Tana and Karyn Bush.

Loud and proud: Blow­ing a conch to sup­port her class­mates was Ngahuia Twomey-Waitai from Whanganui’s Pa­paioea Te Toki crew.

Fes­ti­val vibe: En­joy­ing the races, mu­sic and food were, from left, Daryl Topi, Kawe Bar­ton and Terina Mor­gan.

Race against time: Airini Power, right, puts the fi­nal touches on a tow­ing knot with her class­mates from Whanganui’s Pa­paioea Wehe crew.

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