Na­tone Park pad­dlers’ glory

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

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.’’

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