This year, thanks to an Australian Sports Outreach Programme grant, Fiji Outrigger has been able to roll out a dedicated introductory programme to outrigger paddling for children aged 10 to 19 years old. Through the Fiji Outrigger Junior Development Programme so far over 150 children in Suva, Lami and Pacific Harbour have had the chance to try out outrigger paddling and get involved in races and competitions.
This Saturday 27th September the junior paddlers will have a chance to showcase their new skills on the water in the V1 (one-person) and V6 (six person) canoes at the inaugural Fiji Outrigger Juniors Sprint Regatta 2014. There will be prizes up for grabs at 250m and 500m distances in the V1 and at 250m, 500m and 1000m distances in the V6.
The juniors have been paddling in long-distance and sprint races all season building up to this final regatta and have been trained under the supervision of coaches from local clubs Taf?aga, Takia, Kaiwai and Pacific Harbour. Through the Australian grant Fiji Outrigger has been able to support the training and professional development of a group of dedicated coaches from these clubs for the junior programme. The coaches have completed the Fiji Red Cross Society First Aid training and the Fiji Surf Association Surf Rescue Certificate, amongst other training specialised to the sport of outrigger paddling.
The junior paddlers have been participating in the Fiji Outrigger organised training sessions three afternoons a week since March this year. The training sessions are run by the junior coaches and the junior development programme has also provided lifejackets and junior-sized paddles to make it safer and easier for children of all ages to participate. Even though it is a requirement that participants must be able to swim, lifejackets are still essential and are worn by all paddlers aged 14 or under. For the older age groups the lifejackets are placed inside the canoes and secured so they can be used in an emergency.
Fiji Outrigger is aiming to develop the junior paddling base through the establishment of this Junior Development Programme. The programme will run until April 2015 with funding from the Australian grant and then will be self-sustained with budget coming directly from the Fiji Outrigger annual budget. The aim is to send junior teams to compete in the 2016 World Sprints on the Australian Gold Coast.
Fiji last grabbed a junior world sprint medal when the World Sprints were held in Suva in 1998. On that occasion the Under 16 Girls team took gold for the host nation. However since then there has been limited participation in World Sprints at the junior level with just two junior paddlers representing Fiji at the 2010 World Sprints in Noumea and none travelling to Canada in 2012 or Rio de Janeiro this year. The aim will be to reverse this trend and send competitive junior teams and individual paddlers to the 2016 event.