By Kei Va'emolo
The day we decided we would create a new outrigger canoe club in January 2011, my sister Marina and I brainstormed ideas on what we would call the new club. One suggestion was “Nawi”, an aboriginal word meaning canoe. Other ideas we played with included “Pineula” and “Mulivai Fagatoloa”, the names of NZ clubs that introduced us to waka ama back in the mid-90s. The names we came up with up to that point didn’t seem right. After failing to find a name while brainstorming amongst ourselves, we reached for a Maori dictionary sitting near the table and randomly chose a page and word out of the dictionary. The first word chosen randomly was “Maia” with the meaning “To be brave, bold and confident”. We both agreed the name was a good one, and from that moment, MAIA outrigger canoe club was born.
We noticed a lack of juniors in the sport of outrigger canoeing at the time Maia was created. One of our main dreams was to increase the number of kids participating in waka ama and use the sport to reach out especially to at risk youth. Noticing a lack of Polynesian paddlers in a sport derived from the pacific, we also wanted to increase Polynesian participation in waka ama. The aim was to use waka ama as a tool to reconnect urban Polynesians to their identity while promoting a healthier lifestyle.
We wanted to differ from many of our competitors who were heavily adult based with a focus mainly on competition. We wanted to create a club that felt more like a family/whanau which allowed people of all ages and paddling abilities to take part either socially or competitively. Our success not only measured in medals and trophies, but rather achieving the core values of whanau, inclusiveness, comradery and personal development.
After struggling for months to locate a home close to water and capable of storing six-person canoes, we almost gave up, until one day my son Billy and I stumbled upon a struggling RSL club while driving past Kyeemagh. The RSL club was the first place to give us the green light to store our six-person canoes on their property, a key turning point for the development of our club. Thank you, Debbie, and Kyeemagh RSL because without you, Maia would not have found a home and we probably would not be in existence today.
Our next hurdle was obtaining equipment and becoming legal/registered. Canoes were the obvious first pieces of equipment we needed, but we also needed paddles and safety equipment such as lights, PFD and tow ropes. Many hours I read through safety manuals, hassled people for guidance, was left on hold when calling government departments and slowly assembled a core group to assist myself and Marina in setting up Maia outrigger canoe club. Marina, Henry, Matt, Tippy and myself, the founders of Maia outrigger canoe club, set about selling Cadbury fundraiser chocolates, clearing the storage area for the canoes and finding someone to make our first canoe trolley. In July 2011 we purchased an old unwanted 6-man classic canoe from Port Hacking OCC. Our first ever canoe had not been used for years, and we had been told, used as a massive esky during parties. On the 22nd October 2011 we paddled this six-man canoe for the first time. The former chilly-bin became our first and much-loved club canoe, finding a home at Maia and getting to be on the water again where she belonged.
For me, this is not just a sport, it’s a way of life. It has shown me the best and the worst in human nature. With the support of those around me, we have created a paddling whanau that we are very proud of.
Waka ama has been a tool that has helped me grow as a person, as a leader (albeit reluctant haha) and as a communicator. I have suffered from anxiety in the past, and for me, Maia has helped me overcome a lot of this. Not all days are good, but my life has improved thanks to Maia OCC and its people. It makes my heart sing when I see our little paddling whanau make a difference in the lives of others.
Maia is not just a name or a word we plucked out of the dictionary. Maia is a word that found us, it is who we are as a club and what each of our members strive to do, every time a Maia paddler faces their fears, be it when showing up to their first training session, facing rough weather, paddling up to the start line of a race, training a group of footy players or high school kids, or by steering a canoe. There are so many ways our paddlers have lived up to the meaning of Maia
- to be brave, bold and confident.