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Hall of Fame induction for Raipoia

Raipoia Brightwell was waiting for a medal ceremony when she heard she was being inducted into the Waka Ama New Zealand Hall of Fame.

Old friend Corrina Gage was on the stage at the Waka Ama NZ sprint nationals at Lake Karapiro on Saturday and said a special presentation would be made.

By the end of it, Raipoia Brightwell had joined husband Matahi in the sport’s virtual hall of fame.

Matahi Brightwell was one of three inaugural inductees in 2015.

Raipoia, originally from Tahiti, was part of the land support team for the Hawaikinui voyage in 1985. Her father Francis Cowan and Matahi undertook the voyage to show that Maori had the capability to achieve the great migration described in Maori tradition.

In Gisborne, she helped Matahi start the Mareikura Canoe Club, the first waka ama club in the country.

She was the first secretary of Tatou Hoe o Aotearoa (the original name of Nga Kaihoe o Aotearoa/Waka Ama New Zealand) and continues to be active as a coach, administrator and paddler.

At national and international events, Raipoia joins other elite paddlers to compete for the Ruamata club and consistently finishes among the medal-winners.

While Raipoia paddled as an individual in the golden master women’s division (60-plus) at Karapiro last week, she was steerer for the Ruamata senior master (50-59) women’s six-place 500-metre and 1000m, and 12-place 500m crews. Ruamata won gold in all three events.

Welcomed to the Hall of Fame 'club'It was while Raipoia was waiting for the medal presentation for these races that Hall of Fame member Gage welcomed her to membership of the Hall of Fame “club”.

The citation for the award said Raipoia Brightwell had been active in every facet of waka ama: as a leader inspiring others, as a paddler winning national singles and team titles and being a multiple world champion, as a coach (particularly of junior paddlers), as an administrator and as a driver of the sport.

“Humble and fiercely competitive, Raipoia is a true legend of our sport, respected by all, locally, nationally and internationally,” the citation said.

On the opening day of the sprint nationals, Matahi and Raipoia Brightwell were among those honoured for having taken part in every one of the 30 national sprint championships held from 1990.

Last night, Raipoia said she had not known she was being inducted into the Hall of Fame until Gage made the announcement.

“I was a little lost for words,” she said

“I’ve always paddled — in Tahiti, everyone can paddle a fishing canoe — but it was more recreationally. I didn’t really pick it up as a sport until I came to New Zealand. I looked at it more as a taonga (treasure) when I came here. It is part of our Maori and Polynesian culture.

“I paddle because I love it, because it’s part of my culture.”

She said being inducted into the “virtual” hall of fame — so called because it exists on the Waka Ama NZ website, not at any physical location — was a pleasant reminder of the part she and Matahi had played in developing a sport that now attracted over 3000 paddlers to its national sprint championships.

Those honoured with induction into the hall of fame — or their whanau, in the case of posthumous recognition — receive a tohu (award) to keep, while their achievements are celebrated on the Hall of Fame page of the Waka Ama NZ website.

Raipoia Brightwell was inducted along with two other pioneers of the sport. Posthumous awards were made to Chrissy Herbert and her husband Bo, Nga Hoe Horo foundation members who helped put Pawarenga on the waka ama map.

HONOURED: Raipoia Brightwell with the tohu (award) presented to her at the Waka Ama New Zealand sprint nationals to mark her induction into the Waka Ama NZ Hall of Fame. Picture by Paul Rickard