Rivals blown out of water by Waitara's teen waka ama crew
13 Apr 2017
A Taranaki tight-six all-girl waka ama crew blew the competition out of the water to paddle to victory at the National Waka Ama Secondary School Sprint Competition in Rotorua.
The Waitara High School J19 (19 and under) teens were first-timers at the four-day event that saw more than 100 teams battle it out on Lake Tikitapu recently.
Relative newbies to the growing sport, the 'underdogs' came out on top winning gold in the 500-metre sprint and bronze in the 250-metre sprint.
Now outgoing outriggers, the crew is Tahlia Rukuwai, Tanisha MacDonald, Te Ata Barbarich-Love, Zhana Hutchieson, Kaya Rogers, and Tamalia Sadler.
"When we looked behind us it was like, what? It was really awesome, we kinda didn't expect to win," said MacDonald.
While most teenage girls are caught up with music, clothes, hanging out with girlfriends, or boys, once the crew set their sights on Rotorua the majority of their spare time was spent training on and off the water, as well helping to raise the cash needed to get them there.
The build up for the competition was far from smooth sailing, it was, "Bloody hard work," said head coach Karen Bergman.
"Right from the start the girls were up for anything."
"They blew me away actually with their dedication. They did everything I asked, they didn't argue with me, or in the waka and that means a lot," Bergman said.
The girls underwent an intense training regime to help them get cardio and upper body fit fast. They worked out twice a week for up to three hours, with cardio work on the beach on top of that. Closer to the competition they trained up to five times a week.
"Without our coaches we would have never learnt so much in such a short time which was nine weeks to be exact. They taught us the basics," Barbarich-Love said. "Our manager Sylvia and coaches Karen and Levi were the best at trainings and were a big impact on getting to our secondary comp."
The team, spawned from a favour, sister to sister, was formed at short-ish notice.
When Sylvia Sadler's passion for waka ama was sparked in her little sister Tamalia Sadler, she suggested her younger sibling rope in a few friends to form a secondary school team.
Tamalia's popularity showed through when five of her friends needed little persuasion to jump on board. Sylvia was also roped in, but as manager, motivator, and often taxi driver to get the girls from Waitara to New Plymouth to train.
Barbarich-Love said after initially testing the waters of a sport way out of her comfort zone, she was hooked.
"Instead of being on the field we were on the water which was definitely new for me. It was something I had to learn as well," Barbarich-Love said.
For the bubbly bunch of teenagers, the world of competitive waka ama was their oyster, with a few of the crew aiming to compete internationally one day.