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Keeping safe and active on the water

People in an inflatable boat, used to support waka taurua, prepare their support ropes

How do you grow a love of the sea, and keep active at the same time? By learning how to sail traditional waka, people of all ages are discovering skills and a passion for the environment they never knew they had.

The team at Ātea a Rangi Educational Trust share a love of the ocean, and being out on the water in small traditional sailing waka. The smaller waka taurua can be constructed at about a third of the cost of the modern-day paddling waka ama, which can make sailing them more accessible to the community.

The Trust was established to run educational programmes and events based on traditional Māori and environmental kaupapa, and they wanted to bridge the training gap between the smaller waka ama and the big sailing waka like Te Matau a Māui, which is based in Ahuriri. To do this, they needed a safety boat and trailer to help keep all the sailors safe with the ability to also tow, if needed.

They came to ECCT for funding to help get a boat and trailer that could be taken to wherever they were sailing. The total cost was approximately $30,000 and ECCT contributed $10,000 towards it.

Trust administrator Michelle Smith says they’ve got big plans lined up for this year.

“As well as holding wānanga to build and sail waka for schools and community groups, we have the Tuia 250 commemorations coming up this year, and the waka are going to be used for a number of cultural events in Hawke’s Bay, Mahia and Gisborne. It’s essential that this is done in a safe environment.”

The team have brought eight community groups and whānau into the waka building process, to teach them how to build and sail their own waka taurua. The builds are currently being completed by the Ātea a Rangi Educational Trust.

The plan is to teach other schools and community groups how to sail small tradition waka like these over the next few years.

“Teaching tamariki and rangatahi to sail in crafts like their ancestors once did can be very empowering culturally,” says Michelle. “They also learn water safety, how to read tides and the weather, and it gives young people the chance to take turns at commanding others, so they develop leadership skills.”

As well as Māori and Pacifica peoples, Michelle says many families in general will also benefit from learning to sail these waka, and they’re able to travel to accessible waterways. “The waka can be carried on a standard sized trailer, so we can run cultural and educational sessions anywhere,” she says.

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