Mangawhai’s New Waka Ama Family

Mangawhai Waka Ama is Northland’s newest outrigger canoe club and one that’s growing fast because of its supportive, inclusive vibe. 

“It’s a lovely group of people – we’ve become like a whānau,” says Jackie Fanning, one of the founding members. “We get a real cross-section of the community and it’s a neat way to meet different people.”

The club was founded in 2016, but has only been active for the past year.

“It took us a while to find a boat. The ones we have now are all borrowed,” says Jackie. “We have three six-person boats: two from the Pahi Club near Paparoa and one from Tai Tokerau Polynesian Canoe Association. We were lucky enough to get a grant from lotteries, that enabled us to get organised and upgrade important safety gear. Our local surf shop in Mangawhai, Bammas, provided some life jackets, which really was a huge boost, and our local Barfoot & Thompson office has helped pay for travel costs and entry fees. We’ve even had some locals donate paddles. Not bad for only a year!”

Jackie says they now have more than 20 regular members and a few others that drop in and out.

“Lots of people just do it for the social side of things, you don’t have to enter the competitions. You don’t have to be fit or competitive to do Waka Ama, it’s for everyone. We really encourage the social side of our club. It’s fun to go away to events, or just all meet down on the water to go out on little missions together.”

When they do compete, Jackie says they focus on the long-distance races, which can take more than three hours to finish.

“We’ve just completed a race around Takapuna that was 24 km and we did an 18 km race the other day. There are long-distance nationals coming up in Napier and I think we’ll put in a team for that. They will have races that are around 30 km.

“It’s a long way, especially if you’re close to another boat, then it can turn into an epic battle. In the last competition, at the halfway point we were the last boat around, but then we just started passing all the other boats and ended up coming second in our division. The last 3km we were tied with another boat and we had to fight and really dig deep.

“You get such a sense of satisfaction when everyone is working together well. If everyone is out of sync you’re not flowing well. It’s not just a matter of throwing some strong paddlers in the boat, you all have to work as one.”

The club is currently based in Sellars Reserve, but the Kaipara District Council is helping them find a new location. Jackie says they have plans to expand further and encourages people to check out the Facebook page (see link below).

“The next step is getting some adjustable paddles, so we can grow the youth side of our club. That’s our mission this year, to get the high school kids involved.

“We also really want to get a four-man waka and some singles and doubles too. It’s a good way for people to learn how to paddle because they can feel what their stroke does, compared to the bigger boats. Hopefully next year we can host our own event, maybe race to Sail Rock and back – it’s around 28km.”

Jackie’s love of the sport is inspiring.

“It’s a really fun sport, and it’s so inclusive as well. You see people from all ages competing, from kids to people in their 70s,” she says. “One thing I like about Waka Ama is that it ticks a lot of boxes; you get to be out on the water, get to go on missions in nature, get fit, and get to meet new people. Heaps of fun!”

Words by Reuben Keeling

Junction Mag