HISTORY OF WAKA AMA
Waka ama, or outrigger canoes, are part of the culture of Pacific people. After Aotearoa New Zealand was settled by the first Polynesian voyagers, waka design and use went through a number of evolutionary stages. The different trees available here and their huge size meant that waka in this country eventually became single-hulled and did not need an outrigger float, or ama, to keep their hulls upright.
Gradually, over hundreds of years, waka ama went into decline in Aotearoa. But during the 20th century, Māori travelling to Pacific islands such as Hawai’i and Tahiti observed the continuing tradition of waka ama racing and in the mid-1980s waka ama began to be revived here.
Hosting the world championships in Aotearoa in 1990 rekindled the flame, and the sport has grown to the extent that many people from different cultures are now sharing in this special part of the history and traditions of their ancestors.
Initially called Tātou Hoe o Aotearoa, the waka ama association comprised just two founding member clubs, Ngā Hoe Horo in the north and Mareikura on the East Coast. From these small beginnings, the national association, since renamed Ngā Kaihoe o Aotearoa / Waka Ama New Zealand, has expanded to include six regional associations, with a growing list of clubs in each region.
The week-long National Waka Ama Championships, with upwards of 3500 competitors each year, illustrates how the sport has grown.
WHAT IS WAKA AMA?
A waka ama is an outrigger canoe or waka (canoe) with an ama (outrigger) strapped together and held apart by 2 wooden, aluminium or carbon fibre beams or tubes known as kiato.
Contemporary waka ama come in many shapes and sizes, from W1 (single), W2 (double), W3 (triple), W4 (four person) and W6 (six person). A W12 or double hull is made by strapping two W6 hulls together without their ama.
Sometimes waka ama are also called OC1 - OC6 or V1 – V6 etc depending on the country of origin or specific tradition. The W prefix is particular to New Zealand referring to ‘waka’, while OC is used in Hawai’i, USA, UK and Australia (referring to outrigger canoe) and V is used in Tahiti are a number of other Polynesian islands (referring to va’a or vaka).
W6, W4 and W3 waka ama have a steerer (kaihautu/kaiurungi) who controls the craft with a special paddle (hoe urungi), whereas a W2 and some W1 canoes arecontrolled by foot pedals attached by cables to a rudder near the kei or stern. A rudderless V1 is steered by the paddler with a normal hoe by ‘paddle steering’,
Waka Ama can be either a social pastime or highly competitive or a mixture of both. Waka ama racing involves both sprints, normally contested over 500, 1000 and 1500 metres in multiple lanes (and on flat water) or marathons contested over longer distances from 10 to 100kms and normally in the ocean. Long distance ocean racing can be either iron (non-stop/no crew changes), relay or changeover – typically involving 9 crew members and support boats.