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Sprint nationals off

Local clubs looking at alternative regattas


TAIRAWHITI waka ama paddlers are all trained up with nowhere to go.

The waka ama sprint nationals scheduled for Lake Karapiro in January have been cancelled.

It is the first cancellation of this annual event since the sprint nationals were started in 1990.

Young paddlers, in particular, are disappointed because the nationals have been the focus of their training, say Horouta Waka Hoe president Walton Walker and Mareikura Waka Ama Club chairman Billy Maxwell.

But plans for local regattas will be firmed up to give paddlers — young and older — something to train for.

And the question of qualification for the world sprint championships, scheduled for London in August, is also complicated by the cancellation of the nationals.

Waka Ama New Zealand yesterday announced the decision of its board to cancel the national championships “with the safety of everyone in mind” in view of the Covid-19 situation.

The board had planned to make a decision on December 13 but the earlier announcement allows clubs more time to make altrnative plans.

Factors in the decision were:

- Concern over the ability to ensure everyone’s safety from Covid-19 at the event.

- Concern for children under 12 who could not be vaccinated against Covid-19.

- The potential for Covid-19 to be spread back to waka ama communities as a result of the increased travel brought about by the sprint nationals.

- The risk of Covid-19 transmission, albeit reduced by the requirement for adult attendees to be vaccinated.

- The lower vaccination rates among Maori and Pasifika compared with the general population, and the fact that 75 percent of participants at the sprint nationals are Maori or Pasifika.

- Uncertainty over the Covid Protection Framework (the traffic light systsem) and how successful it will be.

Walton Walker said Horouta club members were “extremely disappointed” at the cancellation but not surprised.

“We had already looked at a couple of contingencies, in terms of local regattas, which we will probably persevere with now,” he said.

“One of them relates to what is known as a simulation day, which in the past has been a warm-up to prepare young paddlers for the sprint nationals.

“That is set for Saturday and Sunday, January 8 and 9, and will probably take on more of a family atmosphere.”

The races would be conducted from the marina, where competitors could be kept to groups complying with restrictions on gatherings, but spectators could watch from the grassed banks on the other side of the river.

If requirements on gatherings were met, teams from Mareikura and YMP clubs might also take part.

Walker said Horouta had planned on sending “conservatively” 40 teams, or 240 paddlers, to the sprint nationals.

Of those, the J16 (16 years and under) boys and girls, open men and women, and masters and golden masters teams had indicated they had a goal of qualifying for the world championships.

Teams had to register their intent to enter the worlds by December 15.

For W6 events, the first six finishers in an event final qualified for the worlds.Chances were high that the number of New Zealand teams registering their intent in an event would be no more than six. If elimination races were needed, they could be arranged.

Billy Maxwell said Mareikura were keeping in touch with the regional board members because they were looking at holding some events to compensate for the cancellation.

“We have had a quick conversation as a club about doing something special for our kids because they are gutted,” he said.

Anything arranged could be similar in operation to the regional W1 trials held on the Waimata River at the weekend.

They were held over two days and events and competitors were spread out to comply with group and distancing requirements. Families had to watch from the opposite bank.

The trials were to determine racing spots for individuals in the W1 events, and now they were learning they could not paddle at a national event.

The club had asked members about their intentions in regard to the world sprint championships. Some crews were split between those who wanted to go and those who did not.

“We might see some collaborations between Mareikura and Horouta, where we have combined teams. Our region is pretty strong, and we want to see it represented.”

Maxwell said Mareikura had been looking at sending upwards of 60 or 70 paddlers to the sprint nationals . . . “10 or so teams”.

Of those, four teams — ranging from J16 to masters — had aimed to qualify for the world champs.

NOT THIS SUMMER: The Horouta J16 women’s team Puhi Kaimoana were fourth in the W6 500m final at the waka ama sprint nationals at Lake Karapiro in January. They are (from the front): Brooke Ruru, Mereana Kake, Brooklyn Edwards (obscured), Te Atahuia Matahiki, Hinekotukurangi Newth (obscured) and Aariata Watene. Local waka ama crews will miss out on the opportunity to win medals early next year . . . the national sprint championships have been cancelled. Picture by Garrick Cameron