Saying YES opens up my world

Jan, first time in V1 rudderless waka

At 67 saying “Yes” is really important and I’ve been saying “YES” a lot more lately. I am constantly amazed at how my world opens up when I do. It changes everything, I feel better about myself, I meet more people, I go more places and I am generally happier and more confident. I am definitely fitter.

Saying ‘Yes’ doesn’t always mean happy and confident, sometimes I’m terrified

In November this year I competed at the waka ama regatta, ‘Waka Te Tasman’, hosted by the Motueka Waka Ama Club. I decided to race my one man waka (OC1) in the Senior Masters Womens race on the Friday night. (There was no Golden Masters womens section.) The conditions were very challenging for me. I prefer mill-pond calm conditions and these definitely were not. There was a washing machine going on out there, especially through the entrance to Kaiteriteri and the waves were much higher than I had ever been in.

I was very grateful that they had shortened the course from 10km to 5km for us older women. I talked to myself all the way around the 5 km course, telling myself it might not look pretty technique-wise, but I was still upright (well leaning left more than a bit on occasions) and I would finish the course. I finished 3rd without falling out and was very proud of myself. It would have been very easy to give up and go back as I was terrified at times. Actually going back might have been just as difficult if I really think about it. I arrived back on shore, adrenaline pumping, my legs shaking and with a grin on my face, so proud that I had actually made it around the course. Next year maybe I will be able to do it with a little more grace and better technique!

I said “Yes” to waka ama sprint racing

In February this year (2017) I said “Yes” to being part of a golden masters women’s crew training for The Waka Ama Sprint Nationals at Lake Karapiro in January 2018. I didn’t realise what a change it would make in my life. For a start I live in Nelson. For sprints I am paddling for a club in Queenstown (Wakatipu Waka Ama Club). This is because there aren’t many women in our age group (between 60 and 70) who are prepared to put in the time and commitment to train to this level. Traditionally, South Island paddlers have been long distance paddlers. Sprints are just starting to gain popularity down here. I have never sprinted before, in-fact 3 of our crew are new to sprinting, while the other 3 are seasoned sprinters and have been to several World Sprint Championships.

Our golden masters waka ama sprint crew is spread from North Cape to Bluff

We have a sprint crew of 6 women which started out as a South Island crew, but as the training got more serious we lost some along the way and gained some more. Five of us are over 65 and one is turning 60 this year.

Our crew now consists of 1 paddler from Invercargill, 1 from Queenstown, 2 from Nelson, 1 from Whangarei and 1 from Pungaru in the very Far North. Essentially, we are spread from the North Cape to Bluff. It makes getting together for training quite an effort and very expensive. So far we have had 2 training sessions in Queenstown, 1 in Nelson, 1 in Christchurch and 1 in Whangarei. I am definitely seeing a lot of the country.

So the commitment is more than just time and effort, it is a considerable amount of money as well (especially for those of us who just have the National Superannuation as our income).

Golden Masters Womens Waka Ama Crew for Sprints

Our Crew – Tahu nui a Rangi: Marg – Whangarei, Jan – Nelson, Rongomai – Nelson, Francie – Queenstown, Eva – Invercargill (not present Rei – Pungaru)

2018 IVF Va’a (Waka Ama) World Club Championships, Tahiti

We are heading for the World Waka Ama Sprint Championships in Tahiti in July 2018 and so the training will continue after the National Waka Ama Sprints at Karapiro in January. This means getting together once a month to train in Queenstown and doing our own training in between times both on and off the water.

Waka ama sprinting for 6man waka normally consists of 2 races. A 500m straight dash; going as fast as you can keeping within your lane (so as straight as you can) and a 1000m race. The 100m course is a 250m with three 180 degree turns. The turns win or loose the race. Its very fast and all over in 5 – 6 minutes.

I am really lucky to have my Buddy, Rongomai, to train with here in Nelson. Our team manager for Tahiti, Carmel, also lives in Nelson. Carmel is training a crew of open women for national sprints so they include us in their training when they can. It stretches us going out with these fit young women in their 20s and 30s. And it gives us really good training opportunities that the rest of our Wakatipu crew don’t have. I am really grateful.

During the winter Rongomai and I were helping one of our club members train for a long distance race in Hawaii and so we were regularly paddling between 25km to 44km on a Saturday morning. It is quite a different style of paddling. Sprints are flat out and over in around 5 to 6 minutes for 1000m. Long distance paddling is more about conserving your energy for the long haul. The long distance training has shown that we have the stamina. What we need now is the high cardio fitness. I go to boxing one night a week and boot camp another night to get some more cardio work going. The boxing is really good for my upper body and core strength and both are great for cardio fitness and strength training.

Making Choices

I normally paddle for Maitahi Outrigger Canoe Club. Having said “Yes” to sprinting I am finding I am paddling less and less with my home club as the heat comes on for training. I do try to get in one social paddle a week to maintain the connection with my club which I think is really important. They are the ones who support me on a day to day level. They are very encouraging and supportive. I am seeing more people starting to become interested in sprinting and competing in sprints which I think is very good for the club. So the skills I am learning I can bring back into my home club.

My “Yes” started with Outward Bound for my 65th birthday

I have been saying “yes” for a few years now. I think the biggest “Yes” was when I went to Outward Bound to do the 21 day masters course in mid winter. That definitely challenged me and started opening me up to new possibilities. When I am struggling for breath and my muscles are screaming during training I remind myself what we were reminded at OB, that “there is always more in you“.

A role model for positive ageing

One of my biggest goals in going to Outward Bound was to be a role model for positive ageing. I didn’t realise that I would go on saying “Yes” after the course had finished. The whole experience opened me up to the satisfaction which comes with overcoming my fears. I want to show others that age is not necessarily a barrier to starting something new, accepting new challenges and keeping active. I believe it is vital for me to keep making choices, to keep saying “Yes” to things that take me out of my comfort zone. That’s what keeps me delighted to be living.

Recently we went over to Kaiteriteri to help out when Lee-Anne from Waka Abel Tasman took out the Age Concern staff from Nelson. We swopped stories in the waka. The Age Concern staff were blown away by what we are doing at our age. That is not what they see in their interactions with people of our age.

As my fellow crew member, Rongomai, puts it

Our main goal and driving motive for taking on this mammoth journey is to show that Age is not a Barrier or an Excuse and to serve as role models for our peers. 

Looking forward to Masters 70

At 67 I am nearing the time when I can paddle in the masters 70 grade. I am delighted because there is less competition up there. I am eyeing up a new “yes”; paddling a rudderless one man waka (V1) where the steering comes from how you paddle. I won’t be paddling V1 at Lake Karapiro this January as I can’t stick to a straight course the couple of times I’ve tried it out. However, by next year I hope to be proficient enough to give it a go. By the next world sprints (2020) maybe I will be able to compete in masters 70 V1!

Jan, first time in V1 rudderless waka
Jan, first time in V1 rudderless waka


  • Naera Komene

    If you are ever looking for a paddler I would be interested. I have been paddling for 5-6 years with Hauraki and Turangawaewae,. Positions 1,2,4, 5, I’ll try any seat. I have competed in the regionals and nationals in the masters and senior masters w6. However, you tend to be overlooked at times when there are a lot of younger women coming in at the last minute therefore, you tend to be moved along which is ok. That’s when I decided I would love to find a team of golden masters women. I am 61 this Feb 2019 and have been looking for a team in golden masters, senior masters who need another paddler. A team that has determination and commitment and the willingness to train independently which your team has. If each one of your team is willing to travel distances to get together and train once a month I take my hat off to you all. I look forward to a reply, a comment or even a team of women who would love to have a go.

    Naku noa

    Naera Komene

  • Naera Komene

    Kia ora Jan,
    I know what it is like to turn 60. 61 this Feb 2019 and no team to paddle with as you are seen to be old and unfit. How ever, I would give any 40-50 yr old a good work out. We have some women interested in paddling senior masters and one or two for the golden masters but, not prepared to commit and do the hard work. I will continue to work out at the gym like I have for the past 15 yrs and hope a team of committed women like you and those who travel to make it happen. If you need a paddler let me know. I have paddled for the past 5 yrs with Hauraki and Turangawaewae. I now have my own single which I believe is the way to go at this stage.

    • Hi Naera
      I am just back from National Sprints where I competed in my V1 for the first time. My intent was to stay in my lane! I surprised myself b getting into the semifinals so there is hope for us grannys taking on new challenges. Yes, I completely understand your challenge and singles seems to be it for me at the moment. I have both a V1 and an OC1 and am tending to like the V1 best. My V1 is off the water for maintenance now that sprints have finished so the OC1 will get a work out. I don’t know what the answer is. I am hoping to be at LDNs in either a 2 man or a single. A two man could be a way to go for distance racing if you can’t get a crew together. Keep paddling and good luck. cheers Jan

  • You are an inspiration to me Jan and I miss you, and Rongomai, a great deal.

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