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New development programmes for local Samoan paddling

Paddling duo Amanda and Andy Wheatley are starting new development programmes for the sport with the aim of building long-term capacity and sustainable success.

Paddle Sports Samoa will introduce new participants to canoeing, while the Samoa Canoe/Kayak Olympic Development Program is intended to set promising athletes up for future Olympic Games.

Andy said conversations around the programmes commenced back in 2018 when Samoa became hosts of the Pacific Games the next year.

“The International Canoe Federation sent over delegates from the Oceania Canoe Federation looking to see if there were opportunities over here to start a home-grown development programme that they could support; what sort of infrastructure we had, what we needed,” he said.

The Wheatleys got the support to make their vision happen from the Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee, as well as the local paddling community.

Then they presented plans for what the programmes would look like to the Oceania Canoe Federation.

“How we were going to identify athletes, how we were going to utilise anything they gave us in terms of funding and equipment ,” Andy said.

Amanda said a lot of things just came together for it to become possible:

“You had Pacific Games I think that just brought all the partnerships and all the contacts, and getting to know everyone in government and in sport.

“It just happened really, a lot of things aligned and voila.”

The key priorities of the programmes are to create more elite locally-based paddlers.

“The gap was, previously all the Olympic kayakers were actually New Zealand-Samoans, so there was no one ever going from here,” Amanda said.

They will look to target 12 to 14 year-olds  and get them to the Olympics in the next two or three cycles.

“It’s not a short-term thing where we can just go to the next Olympics with an athlete,” Andy said.

“The whole aim, and especially the Prime Minister is a big believer in this, if we’re going to send athletes and spend the money, they’ve gotta be able to compete.”

But before any of that, those future stars will be coming through the recreational aspect of the plan – Paddle Sports Samoa.

“They’ll take kayaking to the schools, they’ll be the mechanism that goes around and shows what paddling is about,” Andy said.

Open to all, the programme will be about inviting people to try the sport and have fun.

“That’s how you’re going to get them hooked, just by getting on the water,” Andy said.

“Let’s just teach them how to paddle, water safety, how to swim, all those sort of things.”

He noted that there are not many junior paddlers in the sport’s current community of participants.

“It’s a change of mindset, taking the paddling out to the communities… running a lot of come-and-try days,” Andy said.

For the programmes, the Oceania Canoe Federation supplied 14 sets of kayaks, race paddles and life jackets, along with storage racks.

“Every year they’ll supply funding to either bring coaches over or to send coaches and athletes away to events, workshops,” Andy said.

“They’ve done it quite well in the Cook Islands, that’s the model we’re sort of following.

“It’s not just about athletes it’s about building the whole sport up.”

“Get some coaches trained up, accredited, sports administration people. We don’t know who these people will be but they’ll probably pop up, just with the interest,” Amanda said.

The Australian husband-and-wife pair have been heavily involved in canoe, kayak and va’a sports in Samoa since their arrival.

“We’ve been here six years, we just love paddling so much and giving back as well, and hopefully adding value to it,” Andy said.

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