Waka ama leads way for youth of to­day

South Waikato News - - Your Paper, Your Place - TOM O'CON­NOR

There are many rea­sons to cel­e­brate the suc­cess of the an­nual Waka Ama Sprint Na­tional com­pe­ti­tions on Lake Kara­piro.

Apart from the boost to the lo­cal econ­omy, there are far more im­por­tant ben­e­fits which do not have a dol­lar value.

In a vir­tual river of neg­a­tive events in­volv­ing young peo­ple the Waka Ama Sprint Na­tion­als are a bright bea­con and ex­am­ple of all that is truly good and whole­some about sport sim­ply for the fun of it.

There is a place for ev­ery­one, from young­sters to vet­er­ans test­ing their skills against each other and fam­i­lies camp­ing out to be part of the whole spec­tac­u­lar event.

Apart from the hun­dreds who will camp at e Kara­piro, schools, mo­tels and marae in the re­gion will all have waka ama fam­i­lies stay­ing.

Not since the whale boat races and at­ten­dant pic­nic ac­tiv­i­ties at Kawhia dur­ing the 1950s has a sim­ple wa­ter sport at­tracted so many peo­ple in­tent on hav­ing sum­mer fun.

This year more than 3000 com­peti­tors of all ages were ex­pected to take up their pad­dles and give it a go, 250 more than last year.

With more than half of all com­peti­tors still in their teens the event has the po­ten­tial to rem­edy a se­ri­ous prob­lem fac­ing many of to­day’s young peo­ple. With so many of them spend­ing too much money and far too much time push­ing the but­tons on all man­ner of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy gad­gets, this level of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity has enor­mous value for their well­be­ing.

In an­cient times the Waikato and Waipa rivers were im­por­tant high­ways in and out of the vast cen­tral North Is­land. Prow­ess with a pad­dle was a highly re­garded skill in the days when the only al­ter­na­tive to wa­ter trans­port was walk­ing. Com­pe­ti­tion, par­tic­u­larly racing, was a nat­u­ral devel­op­ment and, from about the late 1850s, spec­tac­u­lar dis­plays at Ngaru­awahia and other places along the Waikato River. Huge waka taua or war ca­noes, pow­ered by up to a hun­dred skilled pad­dlers amazed early Pakeha ex­plor­ers with the speed they could gen­er­ate.

In the late 1890s com­mu­nity pic­nic was or­gan­ised near mod­ern day Ngaru­awahia for St Pa­trick’s Day, March 17, which in­cluded ca­noe racing. A few years later the fledg­ling Ngaru­awahia com­mu­nity, Maori and Pakeha, to­gether set up the Ngaru­awahia Re­gatta As­so­ci­a­tion and first re­gatta was held in 1896.

Within a few years the re­gatta had grown into a ma­jor event and trains brought spec­ta­tors from most cen­tres in the up­per North Is­land with three or four from Auck­land alone. Pad­dle steam­ers were packed with pa­trons from the river ports as thou­sands of peo­ple came to en­joy the event.

A mas­sive flood in 1972 meant the re­gatta had to be can­celled and the or­gan­is­ers did not have the in­come to risk an­other one the fol­low­ing year. The re­gatta was in dan­ger of be­ing lost un­til Tu­ran­gawae­wae Marae came to the res­cue and kept the event go­ing.

One of the im­por­tant ob­jec­tives of the Ngaru­awahia Re­gatta is to pro­mote and en­cour­age aquatic sports and the preser­va­tion of Maori events and cus­toms.

In­cluded in th­ese are the an­cient skills of ca­noe han­dling which have been handed down the gen­er­a­tions. Al­though not part of the Ngaru­awahia Re­gatta, the Waka Ama Sprint Na­tion­als car­ries on that ad­mirable tra­di­tion of a wa­ter sport in Waikato for ev­ery­one to en­joy with an em­pha­sis on tra­di­tion, fam­ily fun and healthy com­pe­ti­tion, run by vol­un­teers sim­ply be­cause it is a good thing to do. We need many more such peo­ple and events.

DOMINICO ZA­P­ATA/FAIRFAX NZ

The Waka Ama Sprint Na­tion­als.

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