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Waka Ama Racing Helps Wellington Air Force Member Connect With Her Samoan Side

The thrill of waka ama racing helped Royal New Zealand Air Force Sergeant Kirrin Borgman connect with the Samoan side of her family.

By day, the Te Horo local works at Trentham Military Camp as part of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) Personnel Archives and Medals unit, processing Long Service Awards for RNZAF personnel.

When she’s off duty, Sergeant Borgman celebrates her Samoan language and culture as a member of Ōtaki Waka Hoe, a club involved in racing outrigger canoes.

Sergeant Borgman, who is of Samoan and Scottish heritage, grew up in Titahi Bay, Porirua.

She said there was a strong Pasifika presence where she lived and at Wellington’s St Mary’s College, where she went to school, but as a teenager she had a bit of an identity crisis.

“I wasn’t really Samoan and I wasn’t really Scottish and not really feeling like a New Zealander either.

“I played the bagpipes and was involved in Pipe Bands and Scottish events from a young age so I felt more comfortable with that side. I still have my bagpipes and get them out on special occasions.”

She joined the RNZAF in 1999; “My mum thought it would be a good idea!”

While on a posting to Singapore with her husband, who was also serving in the Air Force at that time, they got involved in waka ama.

“Because we were the new Kiwis someone came and asked, ‘Do you paddle?’ I had only done dragon boating before. We had one week training and then we were racing.

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“Once you race, that adrenaline, that camaraderie, just being on the water, it drew me back. I could remember being in a va’a (outrigger canoe) in Samoa when I was a kid. It felt like I was where I was meant to be.

“I soon learned how to paddle a single person va’a and bought my own when my Grandmother, Momotu, passed away in 2020. I named it ‘Feso’otaiga o Motu’, which translates to ‘Connector of Islands’.

“So now my va’a connects me to Singapore, New Zealand, Samoa, my Grandmother and daughter Arya Momotu.”

Sergeant Borgman said she’s accepted she comes from both cultures and she doesn’t have to know everything about them in order to keep them present in her life.

Seeing how my family can come together to support each other in good times and in bad makes me proud to be a Samoan. And watching my daughter learn Samoan at school. I’m so happy that she has that opportunity.

“I would describe my people as those who love me and those who I love back. Plus all of those who are related to me by blood or marriage, or circumstance, even if I’ve never met them.

“I think being from a Samoan background I naturally foster that ‘family’ aspect in my workplace. It made me a little bit shy initially as I tended to step back and not want to show others what I’m capable of.

“My view is that the Defence Force is all one big NZDF ‘aiga (family), and that we should be here to support one another.”

There’s excitement on the horizon for Sergeant Borgman; her waka ama team of six has qualified go to the IVF Va’a World Club Sprints in Hawai’i this year.

“It’s been such a big life journey for me as well as a va’a journey, from novice to attending Worlds.”

© Scoop Media

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