Hītori | History of Waka Ama

Waka ama, or outrigger canoes, are part of the culture of Pacific peoples - from Hawai'i in the North, Rapanui in the East, Tahiti in the Centre and Aotearoa New Zealand in the South.

After Aotearoa New Zealand was settled by the first Polynesian voyagers, waka design and use went through a number of evolutionary stages. The different rākau (tree species) available in Aotearoa and their huge size meant that waka in this country eventually became single-hulled and did not need an outrigger float, or ama, to keep their hulls upright.

Gradually, over hundreds of years, waka ama went into decline in Aotearoa.  But during the 20th century, Māori travelling to Pacific islands such as Hawai’i and Tahiti observed the continuing tradition of waka ama racing and in the mid-1980s waka ama began to be revived here.

Hosting the world championships in Aotearoa in 1990 rekindled the flame, and the sport has grown to the extent that many people from different cultures are now sharing in this special part of the history and traditions of their ancestors.

Initially called Tātou Hoe o Aotearoa, the waka ama association comprised just two founding member clubs,  Ngā Hoe Horo in the North and Mareikura on the East Coast.  From these small beginnings, the national association, since renamed Ngā Kaihoe o Aotearoa / Waka Ama New Zealand, has expanded to include six regional associations, with a growing list of clubs in each region.

The week-long National Waka Ama Sprint Championships, with upwards of 3500 competitors each year, illustrates how the sport has grown.