Waka Ama crews make grade
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.
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.