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.