Waka ama leads way for youth of today
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.
The Waka Ama Sprint Nationals.