Pilot Bay paddle for elite men’s team

From 7am-11am on Saturday and Sunday, May 14-15, community members can see for themselves some of New Zealand’s best paddlers in action at Pilot Bay. Photo: John Borren.

The New Zealand Waka ama elite men’s team will be in the water at Pilot Bay this weekend as they train in the lead-up to the 2022 IVF Va’a World Sprints.

From 7am-11am this Saturday and Sunday, May 14-15, community members can see for themselves some of New Zealand’s best paddlers in action.

From August 8-16, the Elite men’s team will compete in the world championships in the United Kingdom’s Dorney Lake.

Mount-based paddler Mitch Zandstra says it’s the first time the world championships have been held in Europe.

“Normally, the world champs are hosted in Polynesia, so to go over there is a first time for a lot of us.

“We’re really excited to get over and are looking forward to it.”

The team, which was selected a few weeks ago, are completing their training throughout the North Island.

After this weekend’s session in Mount Maunganui, they will train in Auckland twice before heading to the Bay of Islands in the next three months.

“We don’t get to train all together very often, and only have training sessions every four weeks,” says Mitch.

Along with Mitch, paddlers Tupuria King, Paul Roozendaal and Ash Roozendaal are local to the Bay of Plenty.

“There’s 12 of us in the team, all working together to achieve one goal,” says Mitch. “It’s a pretty cool thing and it also taps in to your wellbeing as well.”

After suffering a head injury while playing rugby, Mitch turned to paddling some years ago. “I had concussion symptoms for about two years, and paddling really helped me to get through that.

“For me, paddling is more than just a sport. It’s part of our culture. My whānau is from Tahiti, and it’s a national sport over there.

“It’s the connection with the water, and being out there with your mates.

“It covers mental health, physical health, spiritual health and it’s also setting goals and targets.”

The Tauranga Boys’ College teacher also coaches Waka ama to students. “I coach and also run a charitable trust around paddling and just getting out on the water. Getting away from everything going on and modern society.

“Especially these days with mental illness, anxiety and depression being so common, just being on the water helps to forget about everything.

“I’m trying to start a programme to get more youth involved and also to give them some motivation and purpose as well.”

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