Logic would tell you that the islands of Guam and Cook Islands must be teeming with canoe athletes, given these tiny specks in the Pacific Ocean are surrounded by thousands of kilometres of water.

“There’s no flatwater on Guam, we don’t have any lakes or anything that remotely resembles flatwater” says Raina Taitingfong, a canoe sprint paddler from Guam who is hoping to get to the Paris 2024 Olympics next year.

“We do Va’a. A couple of times I have been paddling in Guam, you’re on the ocean and trying to go on a kayak and not like a surfski. We just hope for less windy days.”

If Taitingfong succeeds in getting to Paris she’ll be Guam’s first Olympic sprint paddler since 2008, and only the second in the island’s history.

It’s a similar story for Andre Tutaka-George, a paddler from the Cook Islands who has fallen back in love with canoe sprint after a few years away.

“I actually started in Va’a, but then an opportunity came up to have a go at canoe sprint, because it was an Olympic sport,” Tutaka-George said.

“This is my first time back in a kayak since 2017. It’s great to be back. Just being back in this environment brings back great memories. I was actually here in Duisburg back in 2012 as part of the world championships.”

The Cook Islands have had three athletes compete in canoe sprint at the Olympics. In Tokyo they had two starters, while their other paddler took part in London in 2012.

Taitingfong and Tutaka-George have been part this week of an ICF Talent Identification Program (TIP) camp, giving athletes from countries where facilities and access to top level coaching is scarce, a chance to learn from the best in a world-class environment.

The 31 athletes from 23 countries around the world have not only been benefitting from the insights of top canoe sprint coaches, but they’ve also had the chance to share training space and lunch tables with Olympic and world champions at the Duisburg regatta course.

Among the countries represented are Sao Tome and Principe, Trinidad and Tobago, Vietnam, Honduras, Belize, Angola and Estonia.

Taitingfong is hopeful she will be able to take her experience in Duisburg back to the 160,000 people of Guam and convince them to throw more resources at canoe sprint.

“It’s been great, just being around all the pros, and all the Olympic hopefuls,” Taitingfong said.

“We walk past Olympic gold medalists, it’s crazy that we are with them, it’s really really cool.”

“In Guam it’s mostly just Va’a. I’ve been trying to start sprint programs, trying over and over again. The Oceania Canoe Association has tried to send boats, but they’re all really old. It’s really hard, so a lot of the kids and older paddlers do Va’a, because that’s where the racing and the funding is.”

The TIP training out of the way, the athletes will now got the chance to take on the best at the 2023 ICF world championships. Who knows, some of them may even secure that highly-prized ticket to Paris next year.

Canoe Sprint