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Samoa Overcome Challenges, Unites Polynesia in Vaa Championships  

After 6 months of intense preparations, Samoa is gearing up to host the International Vaa Federation (IVF) Long Distance Championships in just 10 days.

This event is expected to provide a significant boost to the Samoan economy and tourism industry, attracting over 2000 paddlers and spectators from over 25 countries.

The journey to this moment has been anything but smooth sailing, as head coach of Samoa’s Junior 16s and 19s outrigging teams, Tutasi Schuster, can attest.

Head Coach of Samoa Junior 14s and 19s, Tutasi Schuster (L) and Vaa Championships Event Director/SOCA President, Su’a Jay Ah Fook Schuster

With eight divisions – including men’s, women’s, juniors, and multiple Masters categories, there was a challenge in ensuring local representation across all groups.

However, creativity and resilience played a key role in overcoming this hurdle. A collaboration with paddlers from New Zealand and Hawaii was established, with New Zealanders constituting 30% to 50% of Samoa’s teams.

Tutasi explains, “We reached out to our brothers and sisters in New Zealand and Hawaii to help us fill in some gaps.”

An innovative approach is underway for the Junior girls’ team, where four members train locally and the other four in New Zealand.

These teams will merge upon arrival in Samoa, creating a unique cultural and sporting synergy.

“This arrangement also provides opportunities for our local and international paddlers in the Samoa team to exchange technical and cultural knowledge so this is going to be very positive for our young junior team’s development experience” said Tutasi.

The majority of the Samoan paddlers participating in the event are relatively new to the sport, some with only two years of experience.

For many – from the kids to the adults – this will be their first international race. Despite these hurdles, Samoa has home-field advantages.

Local paddlers are well-adapted to the heat and adept at riding the ocean waves, unlike some international teams used to lake paddling.

“Our local paddlers are used to the heat and that is something that other international paddlers may struggle with, also we are used to paddling in the ocean and know how to ride the waves while other teams paddle in the lake” said Tutasi.

“However all the strong teams like Tahiti and Hawaii are already paddling in the heat so that won’t be too much of a factor. New Zealanders may struggle with the heat but they are very strong especially since they have competitions every week.”

According to Tutasi the ultimate goal for the event is not just about victory.

“Our honest goal for this event is just to showcase this beautiful sport to people and inspire our young kids to realize how cool this sport is and they should be taking it up,” she explained. “We are Polynesians and it’s instilled in us, we are born with it in our DNA, we are people of the water, we are navigators.”

This year’s championships will also feature a paraplegic team, further reinforcing that age or physical conditions are not barriers in Va’a and Tutasi hopes to encourage people of all ages and walks of life to take up the sport.

“It doesn’t matter about age. As people will see the age categories in this event goes up to include people in their 80s” she said. “I’m really hoping that our people who are 50 years and above will see the benefits of being out in the ocean and see what paddlers look like as seniors. They are so healthy and fit.”

In a bid to inspire local paddlers, the championships are also encouraging cultural exchange, particularly among the young participants.

“We have to bring the best here to Samoa in order to develop and inspire our kids. With our partnership with the New Zealand High Commission who will be supporting the young teams from New Zealand, the goal is for them to show our young people more skills and knowledge.”

“However it’s not just us that will be on the receiving end, the young people coming over from New Zealand will be learning about our culture and our pride from the young local paddlers.”

While winning a medal is enticing prospect, Tutasi emphasizes that their goal is not about winning.

Instead, it’s about Samoa putting on the best tournament experience, showcasing their culture, and boosting their economy and the sport.

“If we get a medal it will be amazing but the journey we took to get there has been very difficult with a limited support and resources for our paddlers” explains Tutasi. “However we are going to give it our all. The gold medal for us is showcasing Samoa as the most beautiful place, culturally and spiritually.”

  • This content is made possible with funding support from the No1 Currency, a sponsor of the Samoa IVF Vaa Long Distance Championships

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