Waka Ama NZ/Tauranga Girls’ College
Tauranga Girls’ College students in action at Waka Ama Nationals High School on Blue Lake in Rotorua.
Teenage waka ama paddlers have set their sights on further glory, following the high school champions in Rotorua.
Over 1500 tauira from across the motu paddled on Blue Lake for the first time since 2021.
Hamilton Boys’ High School dominated in the top category for the Under-19s, placing first in both their six-seat 250m and 500m sprints.
It was Rico Kelton’s second time competing in the secondary national championships in Year 13 and it was a rewarding moment to be able to win two races with his team.
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“I could see the boys were super proud, yes the energy was there and the boys were just super happy. It was really tight, all the boys could tell from the other schools they were coming after us. You could tell the pressure was there, but we just stuck to our game plan and hoped for the best,” Kelton said.
The right mindset was key, he said.
“We started pretty much from the water telling all the boys to bring their A game and we wouldn’t mix and mingle with those other schools we would just stay under our tent and you know focus relax and get your ready for our varieties.”
He was now looking for a club so that he could compete in the Waka Ama national sprint champions next year.
Maia Campbell, 16, the current under-16 and 19 world sprint champion, has set his sights on next month’s long distance champions.
The Tai Rāwhiti teen, the son of Kiwi Campbell – one of the biggest names in Waka Ama – won his first 250m sprint last week.
But Cyclone Gabrielle made training difficult.
“We had to go to Rotorua to train there for about a week, so it also helped with our long-distance training. So yeah, it was something completely different, it was also very difficult because most of the roads were closed. So I was very thankful for that, Campbell said.
He now had his sights set on competing in the National Long Distance Championships alongside his Gisborne club Horouta and individually.
But as Te Tai Rāwhiti was still in recovery mode after the cyclone, he flew offshore for his training.
“Yes, I plan to qualify and go to Samoa, that’s my main goal and my main priority. I’m going to Tahiti to train there for about two weeks and campaign there with some good coaches” said Campbell. said.
It was also the first time Te-Iringa Murray, from Tauranga Girls’ College, competed in national championships.
Together with her team, she won the under-16 250m sprint on a 12-seater double-walled waka.
“Oh well, we were just happy, it was a happy surprise because when we went to the national championships we didn’t get really good results and then we came here and got really good results,” said Murray.
It was also an exciting race, winning by just one second from Rotorua’s Ruamata.
“Not much talking on the boat so then you can listen and stuff. I don’t want to be second, I want to be first – so keep pushing.”
Waka Ama NZ CEO Lara Collins said competition had been tight over the past week despite the difficult conditions.
“It was a bit chilly on Wednesday and Thursday – only 4 degrees and quite windy days – which made it challenging, but also quite exciting on the water. So yeah, there was just a lot of excitement, a lot of good racing, close racing and luckily people everywhere on land and in the water,” Collins said.
Many teams were now looking forward to the long distance championships in August.