Visitors to the Turangawaewae Regatta will see waka kopapa racing along the mighty Waikato River.

It takes a back seat in the waka world, left stranded by a thriving hunger for modern outrigger paddling.


But for a few days a year, visitors to the Turangawaewae Waka Regatta at Ngaruawahia get to see the best waka kopapa racing in the country.


"We say it's the waka kopapa national championships," said waka race coordinator Ikimoke Tamaki-Takarei.


"It's only because the Turangawaewae Waka Regatta is the only place you'll see waka kopapa racing."


Tamaki-Takarei likesn waka kopapa - single hull paddling canoe - to classic cars.


They might be a nod to a bygone era but for enthusiasts, there's nothing better.


"When you get to paddle in a waka ama, it's like a limousine compared to a Morris Minor that's the waka kopapa," Tamaki-Takarei said.


Since 1981, when waka ama was revived in New Zealand, it's thrived but it's taken away from the tradition of kopapa paddling on the Waikato River.


It's that tradition Tamaki-Takarei wants to keep alive.


"Through waka kopapa, we can track back through our whakapapa of Waikato and of Kingitanga. Waka kopapa was the most essential transport for our tupuna."


And to keep the waka kopapa form of paddling alive, Tamaki-Takarei has been spending the days leading up to the 2017 regatta teaching the old traditions to primary school children at the Waikato River to prepare for racing on Wednesday and Thursday.


"The weather hasn't been too nice but the kids are keen, the school is keen and the river is calling to us," he said.


Primary school waka kopapa races are on Wednesday with intermediate school races on Thursday.


The main regatta day is on Saturday, March 18 at Turangawaewae Marae, Ngaruawahia.

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