In praise of the kayak

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As one of the sit-on-your butt sports which New Zealand seems to be so good at, kayaking rates up there with rowing, cycling and equestrian, as one of our most successful sports on the global stage.  In fact the record for the Kiwi with the most Olympic medals remains with a kayaker; Ian Ferguson.

In 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics, Ian and his team mates were as dominant as it gets in sport and the legacy of their success must quietly hang over the current crop of paddlers. Smart bet is they’re using it as a motivator.

A women’s K4 crew boat recently made New Zealand sporting history in qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games, and you must have been living under a rock not to recognise that one of the glowing hopes for Olympic gold sits with the formidable Lisa Carrington in the K1. It would also be remiss not to mention the tough nut counterparts in the less flat water version – Rio will be Luuka Jones’ third crack at Olympic glory rushing down a man-made slalom course on rapids.

According to a Sport NZ survey into sport and active recreation, kayaking ranks inside the top 13 most popular sports (beaten to the post by hunting and netball for men and women respectively).

Given, this type of kayaking is most likely in a semi flat bottomed plastic version big enough to carry your coffee plunger and creamed rice in the hold. However the agelessness of kayaking and its appeal as a family activity are the likely contributors to this heartening statistic.

Like cycling, the various versions; flat water racing, white-water, canoe slalom, sea kayaking, and one, two or four person versions add to its accessibility.

In Waikato, as well as boasting the Canoe Racing NZ high performance athletes who live and train here, the successful Karapiro Kayak racing club trains out of a clubhouse adjacent to the High Performance Rowing Centre.

What started as a humble group of like-minded paddlers enjoying a Sunday morning jaunt which ended at the Boatshed café with brunch, has now grown into a local sports club boasting around 35 members.

“It is a good mix of family and individual members. The family members tend to attend more often, and we have more active young (U16) members than adults,” says club lynchpin Imelda Marnane.

“If you fancy giving kayaking a go there are some very enthusiastic and well organised coaches here to help”.
The Karapiro kayak racing club can be found at kkrc.squarespace.com

White water kayaking and kayak/canoe slalom are two very different prospects.  The white water kayaking version is a recreational sport albeit incredibly athletic and gutsy – the you versus Huka Falls kind of idea – while kayak/canoe slalom (formerly known as white water slalom) is an Olympic sport also not for the faint hearted. It involves negotiating 25 slalom gates within 300m of churning and monumentally fast water without missing a gate, which by the way, could be upstream or downstream, all inside 90-110 seconds.

Sea kayaking has its own national body in NZ (www.kask.org.nz) where you can find a club, find plans on how to build your own sea kayak and illustrated instructions on how to rescue another kayaker. Pretty useful all round then.  And if you’ve never kayaked the Abel Tasman National Park you haven’t lived.

So for a sport which provides opportunities for all levels, intensities, ages and abilities, it would have to be said that kayaking ticks its fair share of boxes.

The National Canoe Racing championships are being held on the last weekend of February at Lake Karapiro. If you have ever wanted to see grassroots sport at its best with some Olympic level athletes thrown in the mix, then this is it. Only the flat water version though unfortunately; apparently the river on the other side of the dam is ripe for a white water course though…

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