Hamilton-based Matthew Arnott is used to following his own path in life. The accomplished athlete is one of the few canoe slalom competitors in the region. He remains fully committed to his sport, despite the lack of support, finance and training partners.
Every morning and evening while most of us are tucked up in bed, a lone athlete carries his kayak down to the river, gets changed on the bank, and trains, for hours, by himself.
Matthew Arnott has no fear of hard work and is determined to make it, even though at times it seems he’s paddling upstream (pun fully intended).
He’s the first to admit it isn’t easy being an athlete in a sport which receives almost no funding, and is for the most part, unheard of in Waikato. However, that’s exactly the situation Matthew is in. Fortunately he is self motivated and driven to succeed.
The competitive canoe slalom athlete is taking matters into his own hands and is on his way to the top.
Growing up in the small South Island town of Alexandra where extreme adventure sports are the norm, Matthew and his friends started kayaking pretty early on in life. Gathering his mates, he would adventure off and ‘play’ on the river. Over time this developed Matthew’s passion for the sport of canoe slalom.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Matthew vividly recalls falling out of his boat and ‘swimming’ more often than rowing when he first started, most memorably at his first competition when he was 10. On that day, he adds “it happened to be snowing.”
For that reason, he advises anyone wanting to get into the sport, that it’s probably a good idea to start in summer.
The big move
Matthew is now well and truly hooked on the sport. After finishing high school, he made the move to Hamilton to study at Waikato University. Currently in his second year of a three-year degree, studying towards a Bachelor of Computer Graphic Design, Matthew jokes, “my friends in Alexandra have no idea what I’m studying, because we never had graphic design at school, so it was a bit of a gamble choosing a course and moving up here.”
A deciding factor in Matthew opting for Waikato University was the lure of the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship available. Having been a part of the programme for two years now, he is hugely grateful for the support that the scholarship provides him with.
“The financial support, gym membership, motivational speaking engagements and mentoring programmes are incredible. The scholarship has been a bit of a lifesaver for me,” he said.
Lack of support
Unlike Europe where canoe slalom is well known, New Zealand is considered a ‘small’ nation for the sport, which means funding and support is minimal.
In fact, Matthew is one of only two athletes from Hamilton taking part in the sport competitively, which provides some significant challenges.
Like most sports, it requires a lot of training. Most of this he does alone. With many of the best canoe slalom athletes and coaches based overseas in the Czech Republic, he only receives ‘long distance’ coaching via email.
While the Waikato River is Matthew’s training ground, it’s quite different from the facilities that other canoe slalom athletes have access to across Europe and around the world where artificial, completely man-made rivers and courses with proper gates are the norm.
With a vast amount of river but no dedicated place to train, there are no gates for Matthew to properly practise the technical side of the sport.
In typical form, Matthew has taken matters into his own hands.
“I strung up some gates over the river myself so I could train, but someone came and burned them down which was pretty annoying,” he says.
And just like that he is back to square one with no training facilities.
Although it seems like an uphill battle at times, Matthew has an incredible drive to succeed. His optimistic personality means he always makes the best out of any situation.
Matthew does two training blocks each day in the morning and evening. These alternate between being on the water, paddling, or being at the gym to build strength. He also runs to keep up his fitness and endurance.
His efforts are paying dividends. Matthew has represented New Zealand twice in the Junior World Championships, in Wisconsin in 2011, and Slovakia in 2013. Early last year he placed second in the U23 section at the NZ Open held at the Mangahao power station in Palmerston North.
Any spare time is spent studying and updating his website (www.matthewarnott.com) and blog with the added bonus of highlighting his graphic design skills.
His next big goal is for a top 10 placing at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Until then it is a matter of relentless training, staying motivated and honing his craft.
Canoe slalom – what is it?
Canoe slalom is a competitive sport which sees paddlers negotiating obstacles called ‘gates’, as they make their way down a 300m white water rapid, racing against the clock. Gates are essentially poles which can be coloured red or green, to determine the direction paddlers must maneouver through them. Paddlers incur a two second time penalty if they touch a gate, and a 50 second time penalty if they miss a gate completely. These time penalties are added to the time it takes to complete the course, which gives an overall score and determines placings.
While physical strength is obviously a deciding factor, canoe slalom is also a truly technical sport. The natural flow of the river creates rapids, waves, stoppers and eddies which paddlers must read, negotiate and adapt to as they complete their run.
How to get involved in the sport?
If you’ would like to have a go at canoe slalom, contact Matthew Arnott directly via his website or Facebook page. Matthew is willing to connect with anyone thinking of getting into the sport and is happy to give lessons or share advice.
Quick Questions with Matthew Arnott
What you love most about your sport?
That feeling when you skim across the top of the water into an upstream while in control in the middle of a large rapid. I also love the kayaking family and community which I’m surrounded by and have been brought up with.
What are your most memorable personal achievements?
1st U23 New Zealander at the NZ Open held in January last year. Receiving the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship for the first time at the University of Waikato.
Selected to race in the Junior World Championships held in Sydney as part of the NZ Team.
Who makes up your ‘support crew’?
My family, friends and coaches who are always there supporting me. The Hillary Scholarship is also great to have on board. My sponsors Hillary Foods are hugely supportive of me and my endeavors.
What are your hobbies outside of your sport?
Creative design and new technologies, art, skiing, biking and swimming.
What is your favorite food?
Muesli and smoothies after training
What is your favourite quote?
“It’s better to live one moment as a tiger than a lifetime as a mouse.”