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Four wins for NZ teams at world waka ama championships | RNZ News

It has been a day of gold for Aotearoa at the Va’a World Sprint Championships in the UK, with four waka ama teams victorious.

The Aotearoa Women’s Elite waka ama team after a win. Photo: Supplied / Waka Ama NZ

The J19 men’s and women’s teams, as well as the elite men’s and women’s teams all won their V6 500m races.

This year, 1550 paddlers from 19 countries were taking part in the International Va’a Federation sprint championship, held at Dorney Lake in Windsor, England.

NZ Women’s Elite team paddler Tui McCaull said it had been a long road to the competition.

“It’s a big honour, it’s been a very long process to get here. The worlds was cancelled, the last sprint worlds was cancelled back in 2020 due to Covid, and so putting together a campaign like this has been pretty massive.

Women’s Elite team paddler Tui McCaull in training for the the Va’a World Sprint Championships in England. Photo: Supplied/ Tui McCaull

"The commitment that all paddlers and the team have made to not just train for the event, but to get over here, it’s huge.”

The Aotearoa Women’s Elite team faced four other countries in their V6 500m race, and will paddle in the final two races on Friday.

McCaull said Friday’s race was not only technically difficult, but would be a test of stamina.

Instead of a linear straight line sprint, the team would have to sprint 250 metres, then turn their cumbersome waka a full 180 degrees, before sprinting back – doing this five times.

“We know we can do it at home, we’ve practised at home up and down the river in Gisborne and all sorts of conditions and low tides and high tides and strong currents and everything,” McCaull said.

“So we know we’ve got it in us, but it’d just be really cool to pull off a really technically great race tomorrow.”

When asked how the team reacted to winning gold, McCaull said there was only ever one option.

“We’re not here to mess around, you know our coach Kiwi Campbell’s been really clear about that from the start. We’re here for gold and that was stated right from the get-go.

"When your coach sets that out as the end result, everything moves towards that.”

Getting into the elite teams at the international stage required a high degree of fitness.

Trials had included a 5km run, time trials on the water, a one rep max deadlift and seven rounds of 100 squats – what McCaull called “the circuit from hell’.

"I think there was something like 600 burpees… a one minute plank prone hold, all sorts of horrendous, torturous exercises that had to be videoed and recorded and sent to the coaches,” she said.

Women’s Elite team paddler Tui McCaull. Photo: Supplied/ Waka Ama NZ

But the sacrifice was paying off with the medal results.

All the teams had to sacrifice a lot of whānau time to get there, including weekends away for training camps on top of exercising two to three times a day for the past five months, she said.

“We don’t get to do this without the support of our families picking up the slack at home, all of those household duties, the washing, the vacuuming, the grocery shopping, because you get back from a weekend of training and you’re not a happy, cheerful, nice person to be around until you’ve had a good 10 to 12 hours sleep, then you’re ready to go again.”

The team also brought in sports psychologist Dr Ihirangi Heke, to help mentally prepare.

“There’s a lot of noise going on, there’s a lot of other teams and distractions and things at the venue. Let’s not forget we’re also on the flight path for Heathrow, so every couple of minutes there’s a big plane going over in different directions.

"So you sort of got to learn to zone that out and just focus on what your job is, and just stay on task.”

McCaull said waka ama was well overdue to join the Commonwealth Games.

“I know Commonwealth Games is about this elite kind of status of sport as well, but I’d like for people to consider that sport’s not just a vehicle to superior elite accomplishments but also to promoting healthy lifestyles for everybody.”

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