Here we are, in Rarotonga, for the 2011 Vaka Eiva
(http://www.vakaeiva.com). Been here just over a week now. Today is the
canoe blessing and opening ceremonies, tomorrow the races begin with the
OC1 and V1 events.
There are 12 women here racing for Jericho and 3 guys that will be
racing with other paddlers from NZ and Samoa. We’ve been very warmly
welcomed, and have been interviewed for both the local newspaper and TV
station as the team that has travelled the greatest distance! We’ve been
practicing, wandering, eating and enjoying this lovely island.
Weather has been spectacular and the winds are picking up. The whole
island is surrounded by a reef and the local crews have a big advantage,
knowing how close they can get to that reef, without damaging a canoe
(as one team did last year – actually breaking a canoe in half!).
As part of the whole community spirit approach to the event,
yesterday we visited a local school and had a great time. We were
treated to all the local fruits, fresh from the shell coconut juice and
grated coconut, had crowns and skirts made for us from palm leaves, and
were shown how to husk coconuts. Strangely, they didn’t let us handle
the machetes! All the different grades sang us a tune or two and to
finish off the show, they asked us to sing O Canada! We got through that
without too much embarrassment…. We passed around some souvenirs,
including a foamy puck head hat from the Vancouver Giants. I asked the
students ‘Who should wear the official puck head?’ and they all agreed –
the principal! Pictures will be coming…
Today we are going to paddle canoes from one race site to another,
about a 9 km paddle. It’s about 28C right now, so it’ll be a good test
of paddling in the heat.
More to come – Internet access is spotty so updates may not be regular. Pictures will have to wait until we get home.
Iron races Monday morning we wake up to a cool (22) and windy day. It stayed overcast for most of the day – good for racing but worked it’s way up to about 26.
Due to the small number of canoes, there are multiple iron races
organized by groups: men’s masters, senior masters and under 19s, then
women’s masters, senior masters and under 19s, then the mixed crews.
These races were all 12 km. While by age, we could have raced masters,
we choose to race the 18km open race. When you have come this far, you
might as well make the most of it.
It was a tough race. Winds were from the north east so the waves were
ama side for the first half of the race, intonthe headwind and you also
have the ocean swells pushing you around. Waves were 6-7 feet with the
occasional 8-10 footer to climb. Coming back, we got to do some surfing
but not in the nice sets as we were hoping for. The runs were faster by
the reef but you can’t paddle too close as you get sucked right on to
the reef. The locals really know how to use this to their advantage. For
the first time, a Cook Island women’s team won, beating the strong
Aussies and kiwis. We came in 11th and 12th, very happy to finish, stay
upright, and beat a few other crews. Best of all, at the finish line –
local kids are swimming in the water. They are cheering, then climbing
all over the canoe, pushing us in and generally making for a fantastic
There was one bad incident during the race. The men and women’s open
crews raced together. About 4 km from the finish, one of the men’s crews
hit the reef. Their ama broke and the paddlers got tossed out of the
canoe. Most got away with a few scrapes and bruises but one paddler was
beaten up pretty badly. They started to treat him at the first aid site
but had to take him to hospital. We believe he is ok but haven’t had any
The day ended with an 8km fun mixed race. Paddlers from different
crews jumped into canoes. The water was calmer and the race was on. With
the shorter course, it was a much tighter race with lots of fun
battles. An almost all Canadian crew chased a crew with Nappy steering
all the way, but had to let the Hawaiian take them at the finish!
Tuesday is a rest day for us, with race for juniors in the lagoon. We
will be heading up to do some cheering, while stretching out tired
bodies in prep for Wednesday’s Round Rarotonga Change race….
2006 – 12th Annual World Sprints in Lake Karipiro, New Zealand
* Bronze in Golden Master’s V1 500m – John Roberts, Calgary.
* Bronze in the 500m V12 Golden Master Men combo Canada/New Zealand team
Waka Ama 2006 was paddling at its
finest. Great competition, a good venue, and the special camaraderie
that develops between paddlers in a race situation were highlights of
the session. Added bonus: Canada doubled its medal score over the 2004
Hilo event. John Roberts repeated his win in the 500m V1, bringing home
another bronze, and a Canada/New Zealand team of Golden Master Men won
bronze in the 500m V12 event, bringing our medal total to 2.
Medals aside, there were a lot of
personal bests during this event, and a Canadian record, set by Brian
Webster in the V1-500 Open Men’s event. Brian came home in 02:22.14, to
set a new mark for local paddlers.
If you had to describe the Lake Karipiro
event in one word, that word would have to be ‘busy’. Canada’s team was
small – fewer than 35 paddlers, including two adaptive paddlers from
the Sunshine Coast. Canada did not field an adaptive team this year, so
Din and Sarah won their special medals with the Italian adaptive team,
then switched jerseys and paddled with the Canadian team. Only the
Golden Master paddlers were able to field full teams in their event.
Open, Master and Senior Master events were all mixed age groups, with
seniors finding themselves in some surprising combinations. The bottom
line was, everyone raced, and if a group of senior paddlers found
themselves in an open event, it was still a great experience.
The meet venue, Lake Karipiro, is half
an hour south of Hamilton, on New Zealand’s North Island. Getting to the
venue from team accommodations meant driving in a shuttle – Brian
Webster and Sheila Kuyper did yeoman service coping with driving on the
‘other side’ (we quickly learned not to call it the ‘wrong’ side) of the
road. Sheila’s performance throughout the meet was extraordinary. Aside
from driving (and the disadvantage to a 9-passenger bus is that you
have 8 back seat drivers) Sheila took on the responsibility of making up
teams, to ensure the strongest possible teams for each event, and to
provide opportunities for every participant to paddle. All this was in
addition to her own races, and while she didn’t medal, she was hot on
the heels of the hardware winners. As a novice steerer, she did a superb
job in guiding the V6s around the course.
Events were held on a 500m course, but
the 1000m and 1500m events used only half the course, with a turn at the
250m mark, adding up to three turns in the 1000m races and five in the
1500m. From the spectators’ point of view, it was a much more exciting
race and in many cases technique on the turns almost cancelled out power
on the straight-of-way.
Weatherwise, there was a bit of
everything. The races started off on a clear, sunny day, with calm
water. From there it evolved to foggy mornings that delayed the race
starts, pouring rain that almost obscured the buoys at the end of the
course and sent literal rivers of water churning through the team tents,
to howling winds strong enough to raise 8-12″ waves running diagonally
across the course. Those winds also shifted one of the turn buoys and
when course officials attempted to re-set the marker, several other
buoys were also nudged out of place, resulting in closing down the races
for the rest of the day to make course corrections. That left several
hours worth of races to catch up on over the next two days, but race
officials managed to do it. Efficient marshalling, fast starts, quick
turnarounds and co-operative racers made it work.
The race course volunteers were
wonderful. In between races they loaded and unloaded crews, bailed
boats, and always had time for a cheery greeting. New Zealanders have to
be among the world’s most friendly people, and Kiwi volunteers were the
pick of the crop.
With Waka Ama ’06 behind us, it’s time
now to concentrate on the racing season ahead of us, and to begin
planning for Canada’s turn on the world stage, when we host the 2012
World Outrigger Sprints at Penticton.
~ Florida Town