Waka ama world champ Kacey Ngataki chasing path to Olympic dream

Ngāti Tamaoho canoe sprinter Kacey Ngataki has spent most of his life on the water.

After years competing in waka ama, the talented athlete is turning to canoe sprinting - looking to make his Olympic dreams come true.

He developed his paddling skills on the Tāmaki River in Tāmaki Makaurau as a schoolboy.

"I always love coming back... just to reconnect and touch base."

The sport gave rangatahi like himself a positive outlet.

"I grew up in Clendon, Manurewa. This was kinda my thing when I was a teenager."

In 2022 Kacey became the first Māori to win the men's 500-metres race at the Waka Ama World Sprint Champs.

Waka ama is one of the fastest-growing water sports in Aotearoa. Kacey believes it's a pathway for talented paddlers to get into the Olympic sport of canoe racing.

"In waka ama, we've got a lot of athletes and a lot of talent."

Ngāti Tamaoho canoe sprinter Kacey Ngataki.
Ngāti Tamaoho canoe sprinter Kacey Ngataki. Photo credit: The Hui

With the move from waka ama to canoe racing Kacey has shifted not only his focus but also his home.

He's moved to Cambridge to live and train full-time, supported by High Performance New Zealand and Canoe Racing New Zealand.

"Athletes do get support, but, compared to if you're working full time, it's definitely not like that," he said. 

"It was never about finances for me - this is just enjoying what I love."

When he needs inspiration he turns to Ngāti Porou and Te Aitanga a Māhaki Olympic legend Lisa Carrington. She's won five Olympic gold medals in canoe sprint.

"I was lucky that when I first started, she helped me out a little bit with some training sessions - she's a great role model," he said.

The other important woman backing Kasey is his mum, Hinekura Ngataki. She is one of his biggest supporters.

"The mahi he does on water but also off water - it's lovely to see that," she said.

While qualifying for his first Olympics in Paris this year isn't guaranteed for Kasey, his proud mum and whānau believe he has a long career ahead.

And he's keen for other waka ama paddlers to join him on his journey.

"If they can come over to the sport [of canoe racing] and they can go to the Olympics that'd be great."

Made with support from Te Mangai Pāho and New Zealand on Air.