Waka ama programme promoting wellbeing for Tairāwhiti rangatahi and whānau

The six-week wellbeing programme provided 18 waka ama teams and their supporting whānau with nutrition, training, and wānanga activities that promoted healthy living, eco-living and cultural connectedness.

Published: Rātū, 29 Kohitātea, 2019 | Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Horouta Waka Hoe Club, Mareikura Waka Ama Club and YMP Waka Ama Club came together to run the programme for paddlers and their whānau in the Tūranga region.

The programme took a holistic approach to understanding wellbeing through a kaupapa Māori lens.

“This is a kaupapa that combines our efforts, our tribalism and natural competitiveness to great affect and impact for our region” says Walton Walker, Horouta Waka Hoe Club President.

110 high-performing waka paddlers participated in Gisborne Horouta Waka Hoe Club’s wellbeing programme. Participants were of all ages – from rangatahi teams competing at Junior 16, through to pakeke teams of Master 70 division.  

“The programme helped me understand why wellbeing is important” says Gaibreill Wainohu, Horouta Waka Hoe paddler and 2018 Māori Junior Sportswoman of the Year.

“Now wellbeing is not just a physical thing. It’s also a mental thing – making sure I’m looking after my emotions, realising there’s support if I need it, and giving my body the right fuel to improve my performance”.

Gaibreill believes the wellbeing programme was key for her impressive successes at the 2018 IVF Va’a World Sprint Championships in Tahiti. She took first place in the J16 women’s V1 500 metres final by 0.18 of a second, and competed in teams that won medals across the competition.

“Over in Tahiti our new understanding of wellbeing helped my team stay focused. It wasn’t just training on the water but everything – the individual, swimming and wellbeing training that helped me to perform well”.

The Tairāwhiti waka ama community relies on a network of whānau that actively support their athletes to get up at the crack of dawn for training. During the programme the paddlers trained morning and night, usually six days a week.

“My family is really supportive. Having this programme helped them understand when I’m tired or need certain help from them” says Gaibreill.

The programme also reconnected whānau to kaitiakitanga principles of care for the wai and the whenua. 

“It’s important to educate and remind our paddlers that every little scrap of plastic has an impact on our waterways” says Kiwi Campbell, Horouta Waka Hoe Club coach.

To get through the gruelling training schedule paddlers and their whānau modelled healthy lifestyles and their own principles of kaitiakitanga based on Te Mana o Te Wai.

Paddlers attended nutritional workshops overseen by a qualified nutritionist, and kept track of what they ate in their training diaries. The programme encouraged a smoking, alcohol and drug-free environment to support the athletes to succeed. 

Facebook groups enabled the paddlers and their whānau to support one another to show up to training and succeed, through positive peer pressure.

Wānanga activities and lessons from a tikanga Māori perspective encouraged cultural connectedness. Athletes learnt about their whakapapa connections with local iwi, the history and wāhi tapu on the Waimata, Taruheru, Turanganui, Waipaoa and Te Arai rivers, and participated in kōrero on traditional leadership.

“Waka ama can be a vehicle to other successes, and give young rangatahi opportunities they may never have had” says Walton.

“These opportunities provide a great pathway for our kids. It’s a foot in the door for rangatahi, and a way for us to engage and give back to communities.”

Te Puni Kōkiri Matika: Moving the Māori Nation Fund supported this kaupapa. The Fund supported initiatives that provide opportunities for whānau to pursue wider, holistic, whānau wellbeing outcomes for the community. However, the Fund is no longer available.