A "phenomenal" growth in the popularity of waka ama will see more than 1500 students from around the country converge on Tikitapu (Blue Lake) from today.
Some 482 teams from 90 schools will take part in the ActivePost National Secondary Schools Waka Ama Championship that runs until Friday.
Rotorua teams will have a strong showing including Te Kura Kaupapa o Ruamata, who last year took out the U19 500m Boys Championship.
John Paul College, Rotorua Boys', Rotorua Girls', Rotorua Lakes and Western Heights high schools and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Koutu will also take part.
Big crowds are expected to watch the action with free entry for anyone who wants to head along.
Waka Ama New Zealand chief executive Lara Collins said that despite only being around for 12 years, the waka ama championships had grown into one of the largest secondary school sports events in New Zealand - second only to the Maadi Cup.
"The growth in participants has been quite phenomenal really and I think the secret to its popularity is that waka ama really is quite simple for kids to take up.
"The atmosphere at all our race meets is electric - the paddlers are competitive but everyone has a lot of fun too.
"We get a real buzz out of hosting these championships and I can't wait to see who will take out this year's honours."
Waka ama involves six paddlers working together as a team over varied distances from 500m, 1500m to marathon races of 30km to 75 km. The ama or outrigger on the left-hand side balances the waka or canoe, helping it to speed through the water with each stroke of the paddlers.
For the secondary schools championships, schools will compete for national honours in one, six or 12 paddler teams over distances of 250 metres and 500 metres.
Spectators are always in for added excitement as teams competing in the six-person 500m classes have to navigate their way through a hairpin turn at the halfway mark.
In just 25 years, waka ama racing is now the fastest growing sport nationally.