Tupuria King’s success at IVF Va’a World Distance Championship 2017, and learning the Tahitian way.

Getting second place to Tahitian, Kevin Jerusalemy, is a massive achievement. It further validates Tupuria as one of the very best paddlers in the world.

Tupuria (Tupu) has been competing in Tahiti for the past five years where he has paddled for one of the island states’ most popular teams, Paddling Connection. Tupu says Paddling Connection spends a lot of time training off the water as opposed to other teams. This means running up hills, swimming, and going to the gym. It’s this off water training that helps mix things up and keep them fresh.

Through his experience in Tahiti, Tupu learned more about technique, mastering the feeling of paddling on surf in a single canoe, and also in the V6. Tupu says a big part of the win was his improved surfing ability.

“Just having fun and getting that the feeling of the ocean, means you never work too hard”.

Tupu speak a lot about “finding that feeling”, we asked him his thoughts on this.

Finding that ‘feeling’ is when you go through the stroke motion without forcing the blade through the water with strength. Instead, as a team, the precise application of the paddle and total synchronization with one another allows the boat to move with as little energy as possible. Everyone applies the same force instead of conflicting each other. Staying relaxed allows the boat to flow smoothly through the water, and allows you to feel the bumps and waves of the surf which inevitably dictates when the stroke rate goes up or down. The more energy saved, the better. Energy is preserved through efficient technique. Using the body, core muscles, and trunk is much more effective than sitting upright and paddling with your arms.

It’s that feeling that coach Wilfred Ah-Min works on with his crew. Tupu says Wilfred does not paddle nearly as much as the rest of them, but he can jump in the V6 and will be just as strong as anyone of them. It’s this sense of feeling the flow from the canoe, and being one with the ocean that makes Wilfred a great paddler and makes them so competitive.

Tupu speaks of coach Wilfred Ah-Min saying,

“He’s really generous. He saw that I had a stroke that could possibly fit Paddling Connection, so he invited me to a race and I’ve been with them ever since”.

Coach Wilfred talks highly of Tupu.

“He is a good guy, hard working, accepting of change, and enjoys learning. That why he’s at this level now. Congrats to him”.
Wilfred Ah-Min Coach — Paddling Connection Tahiti


Tupu graduated from the University of Waikato with a degree in Sport and Leisure Studies. He is now undertaking a Master’s degree in Sport, Health and Human Performance Studies with the hope of focusing his research on the physiology of Waka Ama.

Some of Tupu’s achievements include being a member of the New Zealand Elite Men’s V 500 Waka Ama Team and winner of the 2016 Māori Sports Team of the Year award. An award the New Zealand team achieved last year by earning gold at the International Va’a Federation World Sprint Championships against world champion Tahitians. A remakrable feat considering it has been more than 12 years that another country has beaten Tahiti for the world championship title — a massive achievement in the sport of Waka Ama.

Author’s notes

In covering this story, it was great to hear and learn about what is going on in Tahiti. It’s really special that Wilfred included Tupu in his crew, an outsider and non-Tahitian. It’s obviously having a massive impact on the world stage.

We were fortunate to see great bonds made, knowledge sharing and cultural exchange. It is opening the door to future relationships between the New Zealand and Tahiti, and hopefully more countries to follow. This will only strengthen the sport and help it expand further international.

Congratulations to Tupu for his great achievement. The future is bright for this young athlete. Thank you to Wilfred Ah-Min for sharing his thoughts and time.

Thank to Frank Tetard, VRC member for co-ordinating this piece and the great pictures.

Franck and Tupu
Watch the Race Replay here (Start at the 3:30 mark)
“The precise application of the paddle and total synchronization with one another allows the boat to move with as little energy as possible.” Photo Credit Va’a News TAHITI

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