Raising Kiribati’s profile through rowing
Martin Tamoaieta is the first rower to have represented the Central Pacific country of Kiribati at a World Rowing event. Tamoaieta started rowing in 2015 for St. Johns College in Hamilton, New Zealand. A self-proclaimed naughty teenager, he says that rowing was the best opportunity to say out of trouble. It has also led him to discover his cultural heritage.
“Funny story,” Tamoaieta says, “I have actually never been to Kiribati. It was only in recent years where I fully acknowledged my culture and took interest in learning traditional dances and languages. Rowing has enabled me to connect more with my heritage.”
Tamoaieta was born in Tauranga, New Zealand, and was raised there. When he started rowing, he realised that being from Kiribati provided opportunities.
“To put my country out there amongst the rowing communities nationally and really address issues like climate change affecting the Pacific,” says Tamoaieta.
Tamoaieta realised that he would be able to spread his country’s name around the world. He competed at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, where he was also the flag bearer during the opening ceremony.
“It was one of my highlights as it really opened my eyes as to how important this is to me, my family and my nation. It made me extremely proud to bear the flag of Kiribati to an audience of millions and of some whom never knew we existed, but now do,” Tamoaieta says.
Kiribati is a conglomeration of 32 atolls and reef islands located in the Central Pacific. There is a population of approximately 100,000 people, but climate change poses a serious threat as water levels rise.
“Families are worried about their history being swept away under the ocean,” Tomoaieta says. He hopes that bringing awareness to the situation through sport will help create change.
While Tamoaieta currently trains in flat-water shells at Waikato Rowing Club in New Zealand, he believes in a future of coastal rowing in the Pacific Islands.
“Coastal Rowing would be perfect and hopefully that will be the beginning stages of developing the sport in the Islands, as people of the pacific are practically surrounded by it. Seeing more Pacific people competing at such a high level is what my dreams are set to be,” Tamoaieta says.
He hopes that his performance inspires more people to be interested in rowing, just as they have inspired him to race harder.
“At the start of a race, I think I am not just there to race 2000 metres as fast as I can, but to really show the Kiribati youth and many others that if you have a passion for a sport you admire, there are doors which lead to opportunities where you can fulfil your dreams.”
The 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships are on the horizon for Tamoaieta. His goal is to improve his rank, of course always aiming for a medal. Tamoaieta will also attempt to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games through the Asian Qualification Regatta in Korea. The more events he goes to, the more opportunities he has to spread the word.
“Being able to meet so many different people is also why rowing has really become a passion. It’s awesome to hear from other rowers saying Kiribati as they read it off my row suit when I am wearing it at overseas regattas,” he says.