On the shores of the 13 Fishermen Monument, with the backdrop of the early morning sunlight, breeze, sounds of the waves, and the honks of the vehicles passing by, Fiji National Outrigger Canoe Team paddlers were seen resting after their practice run Wednesday morning.
The Fiji team consists of four paddlers, two men and two women, each partaking in the 500m sprints and in the 16-km marathon of the Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games 2022.
Anton Chung, manager for the va’a team, said that the course is professionally done up and that the conditions of the waters are similar back home.
The team collectively agreed that they deemed their top competition to be the Tahitian team who have won every va’a event in the 2013 Pacific Mini Games in New Caledonia.
Chung added that they are hoping to medal in any of the outrigger events that they are joining.
He said that Fiji was in strict COVID-19 lockdowns until December 2021 and their team finally had proper training in January of this year.
Duane Reiher, coach for the Fiji va’a team said in an interview, “The team has come together probably over the last five months, we’ve been training back home in Fiji. We started off with a group of maybe 12 paddlers, and slowly cut down to the final two men and women that we have with us here today through our national selection policies.”
“I think they’ve trained well together to come out here and compete well with the top paddlers from Tahiti, New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna. And hopefully, we can give them a good run for their money,” added Reiher.
When asked if any of the team members have been to Saipan before, he said, “It’s my first time here. I think it’s the first time for all of us, actually. I’ve been to a number of Games and the accommodation has been by far the best that I’ve experienced so far. The course is done really well. Canoes are state of the art. I guess, they’re the top canoes out there. I can’t complain about the facilities that we have in the accommodation, so it’s been good so far.”
The Fiji va’a team consists of Semesa Vilise, Clayton Horsfall, Krystelle Whippy, Elenoa Vateitei, and Chung and Reiher.
Va’a is the second most participated sport in the Mini Games after athletics.
Separately, volunteers were seen on site at the venue in preparation of the va’a opening games this Monday, June 20.
One volunteer, Joaquin Quenga, who is the volunteer manager for the va’a equipment and volunteers at the venue said that there are about 10 volunteers helping out with bringing in and organizing the canoes and that the venue is just about ready.
Mini Games Organizing Committee CEO Vicente “Ben” Babauta was also seen at the venue with the NMI women’s team who were waiting their turn to practice the course and said “you can see the excitement here because it’s roadside. The boats are ready, the paddlers, the teams are ready. And it’s just quite exciting to see everyone passing by honking their horns for the teams.”
Babauta then invited members of the community to watch the opening ceremony today, “inviting everybody for the opening ceremony. It will be spectacular. There’ll be a surprise show at the end, and also our performing artists both Carolinian and Chamorro groups combined.”