Paddling to worlds

London-bound: Queenstown waka ama paddlers Leon Williams and Frances Piacun

Out of the depths of a Queenstown winter, a local couple are competing in the world waka ama sprint champs in London next month — however, they certainly won’t be out of their depth on the water.

Frances Piacun, who’s in the women’s masters 70-plus category, and golden masters men’s 60-plus competitor Leon Williams have already competed in four and five world champs, respectively, and won umpteen medals.

Maori-Croatian Piacun, 72, founded the Wakatipu Waka Ama Club in 2014, the year she arrived in Queenstown, and has been president ever since, while Williams, who’s also of Maori descent, came a year later and was immediately roped in as club captain and coach.

Ironically, the partners, who met at a waka ama regatta in Dunedin, originally lived a stone’s throw of each other in the Far North.

He took up the sport — based on Pacific people’s traditional outrigger canoes — about 30 years ago, while Piacun, a one-time New Zealand under-21 netball rep, only  discovered it in ’06 while organising an event on the Far North’s Ninety Mile Beach.

At the worlds, at Olympics rowing venue Dorney Lake, Piacun will tackle the 500-metre solo and, with Auckland teammates, the six-person 500m and 1000m sprints and, with another six-person crew, the 500m double-hull sprint.

Williams is racing in the six-man 500m and 1500m sprints with an Auckland/Far North crew, and also in the 500m double-hull sprint.

Piacun’s training’s comprised at least four 90-minute sessions a week on Lake Whakatipu — often starting at 8am in minus-2 temps — and two 90-minute gym sessions at Body Hub.

‘‘When you’re out on this lake, every thing else disappears.’’

As she ages, she says training’s no harder, but you have to be fitter — ‘‘and it comes down to strength’’.

‘‘You just have to be water-fit, more than anything.’’

Both she, Williams and their fellow crew are coached by Tauranga-based guru Corrina Gage.

Besides the sport’s special manaakitanga values, they most enjoy coaching the younger generation, including high school and primary school students.

‘‘I’ve had a lot given to me over the years, in terms of waka ama, now it’s time to start putting it back into the kids,’’ Williams says.

[email protected]

- Advertisement -