Hundreds of participants from close to 30 countries marched in the early hours of Saturday in Samoa to mark the official opening of the International Va’a Federation World Distance Championship 2023.
The parade and official opening concluded at the Tamaligi shores in Apia where guests were welcomed in an ava ceremony, entertainment, prayer, and words of encouragement from the Prime Minister, Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa.
“We are fortunate to be your host for this international sports event and we extend a warm welcome to all of you athletes and supporters,” said Fiamē in her opening remarks.
“The world distance championships are proudly supported by our Government and across the wide range of our community stakeholders.
“Thank you for contributing to and lending your support to this important event.
“The Government of Samoa and its people are very proud to have taken the lead role in supporting this significant event through the support of six-man vaa from Tahiti as well as the locally produced one-man vaa seen out on the ocean today”.
The World Distance Championships will have three distance categories of 12, 16, and 24 kilometres using two types of outrigger canoes.
The one-man outrigger canoe is known as V1 and the six-man vaa is known as V6. There are two formats of the world championships hosted by the International Va’a Federation. The tournament will commence on Monday 14 August 2023.
Meanwhile, the visiting teams from overseas countries were moved by the cultural welcome ceremonies as well as entertainment by the Don Bosco College students spotlighting unity amongst participating countries.
It was estimated that more than a thousand people were in the town area on Saturday to mark the official opening of the international tournament.
Samoa Outrigger Canoe Association (SOCA) president, To’aigaoaloalii Matthew Wendt said this is Samoa’s first time to host the event which was originally scheduled for 2021 but plans fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This will be the third long-distance tournament since its inception in 2017. The first one was held in Tahiti in 2017 and Australia in 2019.
About 29 countries in total were expected to participate and because there are many categories, a little over a thousand paddlers will be attending.
The SOCCA hopes that they can use the event as a springboard to highlight and find solutions to improve the marine environment. They are thankful to the sponsors who have come on board including the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
“As we all know, for a small island like ours, the ocean is our livelihood so we need to protect them,” he said.
There will also be para-athletes attending. The Samoa Fire and Emergency Services Authority (SFESA), the Police, Samoa Red Cross, and health officials will also be present for the duration of the international sporting event. The 35 competing nations and territories include Australia, American Samoa, Argentina, Brazil, California, Canada, Cook Islands, Fiji, Germany, Great Britain, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Panama, Rapa Nui, Samoa, Singapore and Tahiti.