You could say Rodger McBrydie and Dan Goodwin are experts in their field – as long as that field is a churned-up bog with barely a blade of grass showing.
Alan Hoffman could’ve been excused some chest-thumping and strutting as he watched New Zealand’s top kayakers take on the Tekapo White Water Course during the national championships over Easter.
Instead, as paddler after paddler came past raving about the upgraded venue, Hoffman – known widely by his nickname ‘Sarge’ – just smiled broadly, already plotting further changes to the course that is rapidly becoming world-class.
As the chairman of the Tekapo White Water Trust, Hoffman has been a driving force behind improvements to the venue, which was boosted late last with grants from the Community Trust of Mid and South Canterbury and Aorangi Trust to install high-tech timing equipment.
“It’s just taken it up another level,” Hoffman explained. “Before we had people with hand-held stop watches timing people but now we can track paddlers all the way down the course and show their results live on the internet. It’s pretty exciting to see the changes, especially after all the work that has gone into the facility.”
Olympic silver medalist Luuka Jones was so impressed, she’s agreed to become an ambassador for the venue, which operates around 30 times a year from controlled releases out of Lake Tekapo.
“I just love everything about it,” Jones said. “We’re out in the wilderness, the water’s a beautiful colour and the course itself is amazing. I also love the story behind the course as well – it’s been built out of a love for the sport and a lot of hard work from the locals.”
Jones collected her ninth New Zealand K1 title over the weekend, although the technical nature of Tekapo also bared its teeth for her, as she missed a gate in the C1 final and dropped to fifth.
Fellow Olympian Mike Dawson was equally as inspired, delighted to see the Hoffman’s reaction as much as the positive changes to the venue.
“This is his baby and his dream and I just saw his face when everyone rolled into town for nationals and he was just so excited,” Dawson said. “It’s really awesome being here for him – we don’t often get to come and race in Tekapo so it’s really exciting for me to come and check it out, plus it’s also in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, right down by Mount Cook.”
Hoffman was delighted to see South Island paddler Finn Butcher (Alexandra) come through and take the K1 men’s title, posting a video on social media with hilarious commentary throughout his final run.
Butcher, for his part, felt like he was paying homage to the course and its creator with his title win.
“I love paddling in Tekapo – it has to be my favourite course in New Zealand,” Butcher said. “I’ve been coming here since I was 12 and have loved seeing all the changes the team have made here over the years. The stuff Sarge has done to it has made it world-class, with the timing gates meaning we can now hold top events here. There’s also something about being able to race in the middle of the McKenzie Country as well – it’s just such a beautiful part of the country and it’s also not too far from home.”
The course is owned by White Water New Zealand and the trust’s role is to maintain, improve and promote the course and canoe, kayak and white water sport by providing a high quality venue for athletes, white water enthusiasts and the public to enjoy.
Luuka Jones has finished sixth in a highly-competitive K1 women’s final at the Australian canoe slalom championships in Penrith overnight.
Jones was the only Kiwi to progress to the finals on the second day of competition and her 112.09sec run left her 8.32secs adrift of home-town winner and reigning world champion Jess Fox.
Fox had a convincing win with a clean 103.77sec run, putting her 3.47secs clear of 2017 world championships bronze medallist Ricarda Funk (Germany).
Some of the biggest names in world slalom are contesting the championship at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium and it was the international paddlers who dominated the men’s C1 with Rio 2016 Olympic champion Denis Gargaud Chanut from France taking the win.
Chanut had a clean run and a finishing time of 98.68 that saw him 1.01secs ahead of Rio 2016 silver medallist Matej Benus (Slovakia). Slovenia’s 2014 C2 world champion Luka Bozic finished third.
Jones and fellow Kiwi Kelly Travers have made today’s semifinals of the women’s C1, while Callum Gilbert – who agonisingly missed the New Zealand senior men’s team in a tight selection battle – is the only Kiwi in the men’s K1 semifinals.
Jack Dangen retired from kayaking at the tender age of 17 to start a building apprenticeship but two years later, he’s carefully constructed a near-perfect comeback.
The Tauranga K1 paddler has been named in his first New Zealand senior canoe slalom team and will compete at world cup and world championship level this year with the likes of Olympians Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones.
He sealed his selection with a sublime fortnight during the national selection events recently, culminating in a seventh-place at the Oceania championships in Auckland.
Without Jones’ historic Olympic silver medal in 2016, however, Dangen could’ve been lost to the sport.
“I’ve always enjoyed paddling but after I finished school, I realised I needed to get a career and some money behind me so I started building,” the former Tauranga Boys’ College star said. “I had a good time and enjoyed life when I started my course but then I started missing kayaking when I saw other peoples’ results. Luuka getting silver was a big moment as it gave me a lot of encouragement and made me think I could really nail this.”
And nail it he did, after spending a year perfecting his paddling in Tauranga with former French C2 world teams champion Pierre Labarelle, training after work and heading to the Vector Wero Whitewater Park in Auckland on weekends. He was the fastest qualifier at the New Zealand Open in Manawatu, then headed off Dawson, Finn Butcher and Callum Gilbert at the Oceania titles.
The results pushed Gilbert out of the senior team by the slimmest of margins, with Dawson having already pre-qualified because of his superb world championship performance last year.
It came down to Gilbert and his good friend Butcher for the last spot, with Alexandra’s Butcher narrowly getting the nod. After making semifinals in every world cup in 2016, Gilbert is focused on the positives, which include selection in the under-23 world championship squad.
“It was a really exciting selection series, super-close and it came down to the last day, which was awesome,” Gilbert said. “I’m still on the under-23 team and there are likely to be some spots available at a few of the world cups so overall the season won’t be too much different to previous years. I’m just as motivated and driven – if not more – than I was last year and looking forward to another European summer.”
Jones will lead the women’s team, pre-qualifying in both the K1 and C1 categories, with Jane Nicholas joining her in both disciplines and Courtney Williams rounding out the K1 team and Kelly Travers the C1 team for the world cups. Ben Gibb, Patrick Washer and Shaun Higgens have all been selected to race in the men’s C1 for the world cup series.
Dangen, meanwhile, is already back at work and planning for the upcoming season.
“I’ll keep the same goals as I had at the start of the season but will probably go back to a winter training block now, to get fit again and start peaking for Europe,” he explained. “I’ve got to see what the boss says but I’d love to do four or five of the world cups.”
Luckily he’s got his employer on his side; Belco Homes owners Mike and Kathy Bell are keen supporters of canoe slalom, with sons Charlie and Josh just named in the national performance squad.
Dangen – who is of Tuhoe and Ngati Porou extraction – has also had plenty of support from friends, family and the wider canoe slalom strategy; he picks out Tauranga locals MaryAnne Washer, Sue Clarke and Roger and Claire Gilbert – Callum’s parents – for special mention, having got into the sport watching older sister Haylee competing at school.
But his grandfather Clive Dangen is perhaps his biggest fan. Having just turned 84, Clive lives in Papakura in Auckland and has hosted his grandson most weekends, training at Vector Wero, and provided all his airport transfers.
Work commitments mean Dangen will miss the next big international event of the season – this weekend’s Australian Open in Penrith – although there’s still a strong New Zealand contingent attending, amidst some of the strongest fields assembled in the Southern Hemisphere.
The first world cup of the year is in Slovakia in mid-June, with rounds in Poland, Germany, Slovania and Spain to follow, while the world championships will be held in Brazil in September.
New Zealand canoe slalom teams:
World Cups squad:
Men: K1: Mike Dawson, Finn Butcher, Jack Dangen. Reserve: Callum Gilbert. C1: Ben Gibb, Patrick Washer, Shaun Higgens. Reserve: Callum Gilbert.
Women: K1: Luuka Jones, Courtney Williams, Jane Nicholas. Reserve: Kensa Randle. C1: Luuka Jones, Kelly Travers, Jane Nicholas.
World championship squad:
Men: K1: Mike Dawson, Finn Butcher, Jack Dangen. C1: Ben Gibb, Patrick Washer.
Women: K1: Luuka Jones, Jane Nicholas, Kensa Randle. C1: Luuka Jones, Kelly Travers.
Men: K1: Jack Dangen, Finn Butcher, Callum Gilbert. C1: Patrick Washer, Callum Gilbert, James Thwaite.
Women: K1: Courtney Williams, Kensa Randle, Claudia Paterson. C1: Claudia Paterson.
Men: K1: Zac Mutton, Damian Torwick, George Snook. C1: Jack Egan, Charlie Bell, Stewart Bloor.
Women: K1: River Mutton, Casey Hales, Lotte Rayner. C1: Lotte Rayner.
CSNZ National Performance Squad 2018:
Mike Dawson, Jack Dangen, Finn Butcher, Callum Gilbert, Zac Mutton, George Snook, Callum Atkin, Damien Torwick, Jack Egan, Alex Hawthorne, Ben Gibb, Patrick Washer, Shaun Higgins, Josh Bell, Stuart Bloor, James Thwaite, Charlie Bell, Oliver Puchner, Luuka Jones, Kensa Randle, Jane Nicholas, Courtney Williams, Claudia Paterson, River Mutton, Casey Hales, Jaimee Wilson, Lotte Rayner, Kelly Travers.
Six young kayakers are hoping to continue New Zealand’s proud paddling prowess at Olympic level.
Rotorua’s George Snook and Rivey Mutton, Tauranga’s Kahlia Cullwick, Finn Anderson and Oliver Puchner and Hawke’s Bay’s Henry Hall have been selected for the Youth Olympic Games qualifying event in Spain in April, with a ticket to the October’s Youth Olympics in Argentina at stake.
The paddlers will race both sprint and slalom, with Canoe Slalom New Zealand and Canoe Racing New Zealand joining forces to send the team, with help from the Olympic Solidarity fund.
Like their senior namesakes, the Youth Olympic Games are held every four years, with 28 sports featured on the summer programme. Athletes are aged from 15 to 18 and come from more than 200 nationals around the world. The games are used as a stepping stone for athletes, while also promoting Olympic ideals.
Canoe Slalom New Zealand spokesperson Sue Clarke said the selection of the six paddlers was a way of helping the next Luuka Jones or Lisa Carringtons achieve their Olympic goals.
“Most of these paddlers have come through the intermediate-aged AIMS Games ranks and some of them are already starting to feature at a national agegroup level so this gives them another clear step in the Olympic pathway,” Clarke said.
All nations must attend the qualification event in Barcelona, with spots in the Youth Olympic Games allocated on a continental quota basis.
Girls: K1: Rivey Mutton (Rotorua), Kahlia Cullwick (Mount Maunganui College). C1: Kahlia Cullwick.
Boys: K1: George Snook (Rotorua Lakes High School), Henry Hall (Taradale High School). C1: Finn Anderson (Tauranga Boys’ College), Oliver Puchner (Tauranga Boys’ College).