John, a man of many words

Head announcer John Herbert has called races at all but two of the past 34 Waka Ama National Sprint Championships. Photo: Jeremy Smith

John Herbert has commentated on so many races he’s been called the voice of waka ama.

The Waka Ama National Sprint Championships head announcer has only missed two years in the event’s 34-year history, calling “thousands” of races in that time.

He missed one when he shifted to Australia about 12 years ago, the other was because of covid-enforced restrictions in 2021.

He now flies back from Perth each year to lend his voice to the championships.

“I’ve lost count of how many races it is now,” John said when speaking to The News from the commentary booth on Sunday.

“But it’s an incredible job. If the racing gets exciting, I can’t help but get excited too and let loose.

“People often chuckle about how much they hear that in my voice.”

This week, as the 2024 national championships unfold at Lake Karāpiro, there are more than 300 races to add to John’s commentary resume.

He has a team of eight commentators around him to share the race calling load.

“It’s absolutely teamwork these days, I couldn’t do it without them.”

John first started paddling competitively in 1988 for Nga Hoe Horo o Pawarenga Outrigger Canoe Club in Northland.

It was one of only three waka ama clubs in New Zealand – but the sport was booming when he
commentated at the nationals in 1992.

More than 3000 paddlers from around New Zealand and offshore are expected at this week’s nationals.

From his vantage point, the commentary booth at the “world class” Lake Karāpiro, he can only remember two dead heat finishes during his time at the nationals.

“And that’s incredible, because these we have cameras on the start line capable of a thousand frames a second.”

John’s commentary journey has taken him worldwide.

One highlight among likely hundreds, he said, was commentating during the International Va’a Federation sprint championship, held at Dorney Lake in Windsor, England in 2022.

Competiotrs cross the finish line in one of the last races on Sunday. Photo: Jeremy Smith


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