Vaka Eiva Day 1

Jan – Jericho

Here we are, in Rarotonga, for the 2011 Vaka Eiva ( 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.

Vaka Eiva Day 4

Jan – Jericho

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 welcoming committee!

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 status updates.

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 New Zealand

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