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Club embraces waka ama and kapa haka

By Paul Titus

A club with hearty Methodist roots put in a winning performance at the national Waka Ama Sprint championships last month and is now looking forward to competing in the national kapa haka festival.

The Whangarei-based club Te Puu Ao is the brainchild of Methodist minita-a-iwi Winiata Morunga. Winiata’s daughter Recenia Kaka says Te Puu Ao means ‘heart of the universe’ or ‘beginning of all beginnings’.

The club’s kaupapa is to create a world that fosters champions and inspires magnificence. Many of those involved in Te Puu Ao have affiliation to hapu within Nga Puhi.

The Morunga whanau are Te Hikutu, which is based in the Methodist stronghold of Whirinaki, Hokianga. Recenia says that her father brought his children up to conduct karakia from Te Taha Maori’s blue prayer and himene book.

"Te Puu Ao started out as a kapa haka club," she says. "Our first serious competition was in the Tai Tokerau regional championships in April, 2008. We were fortunate enough to win that competition, and that means we will be in Tauranga for Te Matatini, the national kapa haka championships in February."

The Morunga whanau met with other key whanau members Ralph and Auriole Ruka to create and to amalgamate waka ama (Polynesian canoe racing) with kapa haka.

"It is unusual for a club to compete in both waka ama and kapa haka but the waka is an important legacy from our ancestors so we decided to do it. Part of our journey now has been to see how we can unite the two disciplines under one kaupapa. We are also looking at other disciplines for youth such as hip hop.

While teams from a full range of ages take part waka ama racing, Te Puu Ao’s teams are all in the younger age groups. The club has a midget girls team and a midget boys team (seven to 10 year olds), an under 12 boys team, under 16 boys and girls teams, and an under 19 boys team.

Recenia explains that waka ama races are for W1, W6 and W12 canoes. W1 are single person canoes, W6 are six person canoes, and W12 are two W6 canoes joined together to create a 12 person canoe.

The Te Puu Ao waka ama teams are based at Tutukaka Marina in Whangarei. They generally practice after kapa haka rehearsals and in the build up to championships last month they were on the water every other day.

While the ethos of the club stresses participation over winning, the hard work has paid off. Te Puu Ao sailed off with a good medal haul at the NZ waka ama national regatta, which took place January 14-19. It is the largest waka ama competition in the world, and this year 3000 paddlers took part.

Te Puu Ao’s midget girls team won a bronze in W12s, and its under 16 boys team ‘The Puha Boyz’ won gold in for both the 1000 metre and 500 metre races in the W6s. Under 16 paddler Tupu King also won gold in W1.

While the other waka ama teams might be able to have a break now that the championships are over, the members of Te Puu Ao have no time to rest on their laurels. They are the first team to perform when Te Matatini opens on February 19th so they are now busy practicing hard.