News & Updates

18 November 2021 • General

Sola energy reaps rewards

Shaka Sola (Photo: Solapower Throwing Academy)

The Sola Power Throwing Academy Annual Event has been granted Area Permit status for the first time in 2022. Steve Landells profiles Shaka Sola the larger-than-life personality behind the meeting, his remarkable athletics journey and the rise of the popular annual event.

Perhaps few people within New Zealand athletics community better exemplify how far an undiluted passion for the sport can gain extraordinary results than Shaka Sola.

The 44-year-old throwing titan from the Hutt Valley enjoyed a proud competitive career in the sport, represented Samoa at an Olympic Games, World Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Since retirement he has forged a successful throws academy to help the lives of dozens of youngsters and he has also helped develop The Sola Power Throwing Academy Annual Event – which next year for the first time has been awarded Area Permit status.

The boost in profile will unquestionably boost the Sola Power Throwers Meet and is rich reward for a man who has devoted so much time and energy to the sport.

“After I finished competing, I actively sought to set some high goals in terms of not only developing the academy but also the meet I organise,” he explains. “It is nice we have been recognised (with Area Permit Status) hopefully it can help take the meet to another level and help the throwers earn some more valuable points in the world rankings.”

Born in Samoa, Shaka relocated with his family to New Zealand at the age of nine. A gifted all-round athlete he featured for the Samoan Schoolboys Rugby team but after taking up athletics at the age of 12 and under the coaching of Phil “Taffy” Jones he started to make his mark in shot and discus. A winner of the New Zealand Secondary Schools discus title he faced a tough choice of which sport to specialise in but followed his heart and chose athletics – a decision he has not regretted.

“Immersed in the rugby culture where not everybody trained as hard as me, made my choice a little bit easier,” he explains. “I was also quite loyal to my coach and stood by him to continue with shot and discus.”

In 1996 he represented New Zealand at the Oceania Championships in Townsville and he would later snare national senior titles in discus and shot but switched allegiance to represent the country of his birth in 2002. It was a decision that took Shaka – whose shot put PB was 18.12m and discus PB was 58.82m – on a mind-boggling journey and in 2004 he represented his country at the Athens Olympic Games in the discus.

Two years later he competed for his country at the Commonwealth Games in both shot (he placed tenth) and discus (where he finished 12th) in Melbourne, however, his international exploits were perhaps best remembered when competing in javelin at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

After missing his flight from Palau – where he was competing – he arrived in the Finnish capital three days late. Unable to take to the start line for discus or shot he was entered by team management for the javelin – a decision which led to an unexpected journey and global media attention.

“I’d not picked up a javelin since I was at school,” he said. “And I later joked to interviewers, I only hold a javelin to spear fish. The day before (competition) and injured my knee in practise and then on the day I came out in the arena alongside the Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen and the defending world champion Sergey Makarov. Here I was with my shot put belly, two feet shorter than the others who looked like they’d come off a Calvin Klein ad,” he adds with his trademark booming laugh.

After a tentative first round throw of 38.31m – the best part of 50m behind the top qualification throw – an embarrassed Shaka passed his second round throw but decided after some arm twisting to attempt his third and final round throw. With the event staged in Finland “the home of javelin” the stadium commentators had picked up on Shaka’s heart-warming story and by the time of his final throw the crowd were keen to see the Samoan make one final attempt.

“The officials came over to say it was my final throw, and I was about to pass until Andreas Thorkilsen said, ‘C’mon mate these guys are clapping for you have another throw’. I thought this is the Olympic champion telling me this, so I should probably throw.

“When I got to the end of the runway and I start clapping rhythmically like they do in the long jump. Suddenly, 55,000 people in the stadium were clapping with me. I improved out to 41m and I started waving to the crowd, it was really funny. 

“It is a story I now always share to my athletes. I tell them sometimes things don’t always go right but sometimes you just need to ride the wave. I was devastated to have missed my flight and have missed my favoured event. But by using humour I took the competition much less seriously and I enjoyed it so much more because of that.”

Retiring from competition in 2007 he started coaching alongside his long-time mentor Taffy Jones but following the Welshman’s death because of cancer, Shaka sought to continue his legacy and in 2011 opened the Sola Power Throwing Academy in the Hutt Valley.

“I wanted to give an opportunity for the kids to excel and do well,” he explains. “Word of mouth spread, and I got about 15 kids come down to training. My vision was to make the sport affordable for anybody. We charge $60 per year per person and the only criteria to join the academy is to leave your bad ass attitude by the gate and come in willing to learn.”

Originally the training base was set up at the now demolished Waiwhetu School but in 2013 it later shifted to its current home on a horse paddock in Moera in Lower Hutt. Starting out by throwing off a piece of plywood, Shaka says over the past eight years it has now developed into a “world-class throwing facility” – and today boasts two concrete throwing pads – one for the shot and the other equipped with a mesh net for hammer and discus. Among the current intake of around 60-70 members – including his son, Kaleb, the 2020 national U18 javelin champion, and daughter, Mikayla, a promising shot, discus and hammer thrower.

Over the past decade, Shaka, with the help of his wife, Bronwen, ‘the backbone of the academy’ has helped dozens of young throwers and has also seen the development of senior throwers but running parallel to the academy has been his annual Sola Power Throws Meet, which first took place in 2012.

The inaugural event attracted a then young, up and coming shot put talent Tom Walsh as well as international discus throwers Siositina Hakaei and Te Rina Keenan.

Deemed a big success the competition has gradually built momentum and is a regular go-to meet for New Zealand’s top throwers with two-time Olympian Jacko Gill a regular competitor and huge fan of the annual meet. Meanwhile, other New Zealand internationals to have competed at the Lower Hutt venue are New Zealand hammer record-holder Lauren Bruce, Tokyo 2020 Olympic shot put sixth place finisher Maddison Wesche, national men’s discus champion Connor Bell and Paralympic shot champion Lisa Adams. Meanwhile, special guests (and supporters) of the competition include two-time Olympic shot gold medallist Valerie Adams, two-time Olympic 1500m medallist Nick Willis and Commonwealth hammer champion Julia Ratcliffe.

Never lacking ambition, Shaka has sought a higher profile for his event so when the Oceania Athletics Association recently granted approval for the 2022 edition to be awarded Area Permit status for the men’s and women’s shot and potentially the men’s and women’s discus – the former international thrower was elated.

“I love that feeling that big is good and I’ll always go big,” explains Shaka, who is also looking to establish a high performance arm to his academy. “I’m very excited we are now an area permit meet. It is nice that we have been recognised and the event is at another level. The meeting has a nice, relaxed atmosphere and I think athletes will thrive.”

With the spectators close to the action and an umu pit burning close by – the event certainly makes for something different.

“People who enter get a t-shirt, we have a feed, there’s prizemoney available and everyone goes home happy,” explains Shaka.

Area Permit status is huge recognition for his efforts, but he certainly does not see it as the end game for his much-cherished meet.

“I would love to see this meet become internationally known where throwers can come and experience something different,” adds Shaka. “In the future we would love to attract international athletes to the event.”

***The 2022 Solar Power Throwers Meet takes place on February 5.