The team at Auckland Airport before the long night and day of travel

The team has finally arrived in Hawaii! Months of training and hard work has lead to this.

After hours of travel, a long day of shopping at Ala Moana and a final flight to Kona we arrived at our hotel for the week. The next day we went down to the race base, Kamakahonu Bay, to try and find a waka to paddle in for a practice session. It was a chance to test out our CamelBaks and experience the heat whilst on the water. It was amazingly blue and clear and we even saw dolphins on the paddle back in!


First paddles session in Hawaii

We cooled off with a quick swim in the bay. On Thursday we had our first race, in the four person mixed relay, which involved a waka huli (flipping the boat!) and getting back on it again to keep paddling. In our heat we decided to perform the flip at the start. We came second which meant we qualified for the finals.


During the final race the boys went first with Georgia steering them to gain us a good lead. As they came around the buoy the rest of us were waiting in the water to haul ourselves in as they jumped out. We made good time on the change over and carried it home with a good lead over the other teams. It was our first gold medal!



The wakas lined up ready for the racing during the Queen’s birthday weekend


We then had to race off again to make it to the cultural night, where we were performing a waiata and haka. The boys pulled off an awesome waka ama inspired haka with their paddles which received a standing ovation and ensured they were recognised for the rest of the trip everywhere they went.

On Friday we drove down the coast for some sightseeing all the way to our starting point for the 30km Queen Lili’oukalani race the next day. At Honaunau (the starting point) there was a historic village which we explored and then went for a quick swim afterwards to cool off. That afternoon we saught out the waka we would be using for the Queen’s race and found it was a beautiful wooden one called Kamakahonu, named after the bay we would be paddling her back into.

In order to watch the sunset that night we drove to a place called Kua Bay. The waves there were awesome and the whole team spent a long time in the water, where we saw a turtle and an eagle ray. The sunset was spectacular that night, but we had to head home soon in order to get a good night’s rest before the big race.


Swimming at Kua Bay whilst watching the sunset

The morning of the race we went to the blessing at 6am and watched the women’s crews head out of the bay. After a big breakfast we packed up and headed to Honaunau with just enough time to get in the waka and paddle out to the start line. It was an awe inspiring sight sitting there and then paddling with over one hundred wakas on either side of us.



Wakas resting at Kamakahonu Bay before the Queen Lili’oukalani Race

We started the race a bit behind the line but got the pace up quickly and made great time in the first half an hour. We reminded each other to drink from our CamelBaks, stayed positive and managed to pass a few other crews. Each time a mixed crew was spotted Nona would tell us that was our next target to pass, and we gradually made headway.

As we entered the second hour we began to tire, and the swell was constantly battering the left hand side of the boat. There was one heart stopping moment when the ama nearly toppled but we all managed to lean left in time to balance the waka. This happened a few times and Te Wera and I began alternating paddling and bailing as we took on water.
As the end was in sight we levelled with a men’s crew from Melbourne and began a race within a race to see which of us could cross the finish line first. There was a really great vibe in the boat for the whole race and as we crossed the two hour mark we kept the encouragement and positivity going. We managed to pull away from the Melbourne crew as Nona steered us through the big swells. Soon the crowd and finish line were in sight and we thought the sea would calm. But it didn’t and we continued to lean hard to the left as three massive waves tried to knock us out of the waka 100 metres from the finish line. We managed to keep it together and crossed the line at 2 hours and 25 minutes without any last minute capsizing heartbreak.

Prize giving happened soon after and we sat (and slept) and waited for the results of our division’s Iron Mixed race. We came first! We had managed to smash our goal of finishing below 3 hours and had come out top in the process.


Gold medals presented at the prize giving!

After another quick stop at the hotel we were out again for the paddler’s torch light parade. All the paddler’s got a lit fire torch and we carried them down the coast back to Kamakahonu Bay.

On Sunday we had our last race, the 12 person mixed double hull. With us 8 paddlers, coach Leki and Albie and Dani we had 11 people so we recruited an Australian man called Brad who was keen for a paddle. The race was a 5 km loop and in the end we finished 6th out of 30 wakas.


The team after the luau waiata and haka performance

We were exhausted by this point but we still had a luau to attend and a request to perform our waiata and haka again. After this we had one last bit of shopping before heading to the beach. The boys went swimming and saw some huge turtles whilst the rest watched the sunset from the bay. For our last night together with the crew we went to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and a few of us ordered celebratory cocktails!

The whole Hawaii experience has been absolutely amazing and the crew couldn’t be prouder of our performance and being able to represent the university and our families in this race. I would like to thank Auckland University and the Sport and Rec team for their support, our coach Leki and my team mates for teaching me waka ama and the ways of the sport, and finally for taking me on an amazing, unforgettable journey.

Here’s a video of the team’s experience in Hawaii: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibwSfL6IRRI&feature=youtu.be

Fast facts:

8 University of Auckland Engineering students
114 wakas
30 km paddle
32 degree Celsius heat
2 gold medals
$150,000 waka
1 standing ovation
5 turtles
1 eagle ray
7 dolphins
42 pairs of newly bought shoes
4 pairs of sunburnt legs
4 visits to Ross the department store

1 amazing experience!

Thanks for tuning in,