Natone Park paddlers’ glory
A Waitangirua school stood proud among the world’s best waka ama paddlers in Rarotonga last month.
Fourteen Natone Park pupils, aged 10 to 13, were the only Wellington representatives at the Vaka Eiva tournament. The crew returned laden with medals, appropriately made of shell.
A six-strong under-12 crew won two golds, for the 1-kilometre and 250-metre races. The under-14s won bronzes for the 4km and 500m races.
Two students won bronzes in the under-14 500m sprint – Syntyche Maiava and Tamahoukura Gunson in the female and male races respectively.
Natone Park had some of the youngest paddlers in the tournament, which drew athletes from as far away as Canada and the United States.
Students helped raise $40,000 for the nine-day trip, cooking $5 lunches at school, running raffles and sausage sizzles, and doing stocktakes.
Most had never left Wellington before they flew to the islands, said 13-year-old Tinei Penese. ‘‘It was all new to us,’’ he said. ‘‘It was so hot that some of us couldn’t breathe properly, but we were just happy that we got there.’’
The trip was particularly special for Tinei, who has Cook Island heritage but had never been there.
All 14 paddlers were hosted at Rutaki village, where they were fed plenty of watermelon, papaya, doughnuts and fish ’n’ chips.
Apart from the paddling, highlights were a visit to the traditional Te Vara Nui village, and seeing the investiture of a new chieftan’s wife.
The group had seven days of training and sightseeing before the competition began on November 23.
‘‘On the way there we were silent. It was very serious,’’ Tinei said.
Any nerves about Natone Park’s readiness were soon dispelled when they started winning races.
‘‘Time slowed down. All you see is them passing the finish line. That was the best part.’’
All kudos for organising the trip and the team’s performance went to the crew’s coach, Natone Park principal Kiri Smith, Tinei said.
‘‘She’s able to understand where you are and she’s able to figure out your potential.
‘‘She’s exactly the same in the classroom. She’s pure awesomeness.’’