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Karmen Wallace
  • * Karmen Wallace: stoked to have a mokopuna competing at the TWoA National Waka Ama Sprint Champtionships this year, making them the third generation of her family to compete.

The biggest buzz for Karmen Wallace at this year’s waka ama nationals is that a mokopuna has been competing in the midgets’ section, making them the third generation of her family to take part.

Karmen, 53, a former TWoA waka kaiako from Wellington and a current Wānanga tauira, has now been attending the nationals as a paddler or volunteer official for more than 20 years, having gone to her first event in 1999.

So why is she back at the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Sprint Championships this year after such a long stretch of involvement?

“He tangata, he tangata, he tangata – I can’t be any more concise than that.”

Karmen (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Apa and Ngāti Hine) says events like waka ama are how her people thrive.

“This is about us as a people valuing one another. It’s about kaitiakitanga...being a waka whānau.”

Her current demanding volunteer role is co-ordinating the loading bay where thousands of competitors board their waka every day.

The job involves such key tasks as ensuring people have the right numbers on and safely getting them on and off their waka.

“Many of the tips happen at the loading bay!”

She also ensures that all tikanga is followed, helps elevate the competitors’ wairua or assists them to relax as appropriate, and encourages whakawhanaungatanga between the paddlers.

Karmen says that unity is a key to her enjoyment of waka ama.

Besides the buzz of her mokopuna competing this year, she says family had learnt many skills and gained positive experiences through waka ama – for example, her daughter broke a paddle and a rival loaned her’s and said ‘go win that race’.

Her sister Charmaine Matiaha, also involved with TwoA, had got her into waka ama in the first place.

“This is like a whānau reunion to me,” says Karmen.

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Published On: 20 January, 2021

Article By: Stephen Ward



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