Czech paddlers dominate NZ Open

Patrick Washer on his way to the C1 title at the New Zealand Open on the Mangahao River near Shannon today.
Czech kayakers Ondrej Tunka and Katerina Kudejova proved too strong at canoe slalom’s New Zealand Open today, while the national selection battle heated up on the Mangahao River near Palmerston North.
Tunka, the reigning K1 men’s world champion, had a clear 89.62sec run in today’s final to take the win from young Austrian star Matthias Weger.  Although Weger touched a gate and picked up a 2sec penalty, he was still 2.51secs behind Tunka, with Australian Lucien Delfour third another 0.14secs further adrift.
Kudejova, the 2015 world champion, wasn’t quite as dominant in the women’s K1 final, with her 99.04sec time just 0.26secs ahead of France’s Camille Prigent and 0.72secs in front of third-placed Kiwi Luuka Jones.
Jones took out the women’s C1 final, however, warming up for next weekend’s Oceania championships in style. Her 109.69sec time was more than 16secs in front of Hannah Thomas (Great Britain) with Australia’s Demelza Wall third.
“I haven’t done much race preparation so it’s nice to be doing some racing again,” Jones said. “I’m happy with the weekend overall – my K1 was solid on a tricky course and I was really happy with my C1, where I paddled pretty well, so I’m looking forward to next weekend.”
Both Jones and fellow Olympian Mike Dawson are exempt from selection battles, courtesy of their world championship results last year, but below them, the battle for the two remaining K1 spots in the national team went up a notch.
Tauranga’s Jack Dangen was the fastest qualifier on Saturday and followed that with a 10th in today’s final, while fellow Bay of Plenty local Callum Gilbert posted a fifth and a seventh over the two days. Alexandra’s Finn Butcher, meanwhile, picked up a third in qualifying yesterday and followed it up as the leading Kiwi, in sixth, in today’s final.
“It was a bit touch and go in the semifinal with four touches but I managed to scrape through,” Butcher explained. “The first weekend of selection is always a bit stressful so it was good to get it done. The final run was pretty good really – I had nothing to lose after qualifying in 10th so decided to give it a bit more.”
Patrick Washer won today’s men’s C1 crown, meanwhile, edging another Czech paddler Lukas Rohan in the final by just 0.01secs, after Rohan picked up a touch.
Ben Gibb was third, ahead of fellow Kiwis James Thwaite and Dawson, who missed the K1 final after a barrage of touches but showed his versatility in the canoe class.
Next weekend’s Oceania championships will see a big contingent of Australian paddlers competing, including reigning K1 world champion and former C1 world champion Jess Fox.

World champ heads NZ Open field

Photo by Jamie TroughtonDscribe Media Services
Czech paddler Ondrej Tunka returns to New Zealand for the first time since winning the Whitewater XL title in Auckland in 2016 for this weekend’s New Zealand Open in the Manawatu. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
World champion Ondrej Tunka will highlight the opening event of the international canoe slalom year, joining athletes from seven countries at the New Zealand Open on the Mangahao River near Palmerston North.
Czech Republic’s Tunka, who collected K1 men’s gold in France last year, heads a strong cast of paddlers, including top Kiwi Mike Dawson, defending champion Australian Lucien Delfour and Michel Smolen (United States) in the two-day competition.
Leading the women’s field will be Tunka’s compatriot Katerina Kudejova, who won the 2015 world championships in London in the K1.  Olympic silver medalist and top Kiwi Luuka Jones, 13th at the last world championships, will try and defend her K1 title, with another Czech, Veronika Vojtova, capping a strong top-three.
Jones will also line up in the women’s C1, alongside fellow Kiwi Kelly Travers, who beat her last year.
There is guaranteed to be a new champion in the men’s C1 event, with defending champion Frenchman Thibault Blaise not entering this year.
Kiwi Ben Gibb was third last year and will back his chances of taking top spot on the podium this year, as will Kiwi Patrick Washer.
The New Zealand Open carries ICF ranking points and will be used as a New Zealand selection event, as well as a buildup for next week’s Oceania championships in Auckland.

Schoolgirl conquers Motiti solo swim

Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Tauranga’s Georgia Bavington embarks on her 11.1km ocean swim from Motiti Island to Papamoa. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Tauranga schoolgirl Georgia Bavington has created a little piece of swimming history, becoming the youngest person to conquer the waters between Motiti Island and Papamoa.
Just two days after finishing second in her agegroup at the national 10km championships at Lake Taupo, the 14-year-old went even longer, swimming 11.1km in 3hrs 48mins 11secs yesterday, finishing between the flags at the Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club.
Despite lumpy conditions churned up by a steady north-easterly breeze and having to swim the entire distance with only a chase boat and kayaker for company, Bavington was delighted with how her first big ocean swim had gone.Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
“It was a bit easier than I thought it was going to be,” the Mount College student said.  “I thought it was going to be a bit rougher than it was, that it would rain and the water would be colder than what it was but it was actually quite warm.  The worst thing was the little jellies going into my togs and making me itchy but apart from that, it was really good.”
The Motiti swim has been on her radar since her Team Shorebreak coach and former Cook Strait swimmer Sheryl McLay first mooted it in October.  There have been several recorded swims between Motiti and Maketu, beginning with Rotorua teenagers Stephen Joseph and John Haycock, who did it in 1969 after covering themselves in a mixture of grease and Vicks to ward off the cold.  They enlisted some local swimmers to accompany them in a relay and turned a seven-mile journey into a 10 mile, six-hour epic, raising $1411 which was enough to cover the mortgage on the newly-built Maketu surf lifesaving clubrooms.
Legend also has it two Maori made the swim to Maketu; once when an ancient fleet of Manaia waka washed ashore on Motiti during a terrible storm and other in 1831 when a fleeing Ngapuhi raider took to the waters to escape a cleverly-hatched Motiti Islander ambush.
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media ServicesHowever, it wasn’t until 2006 that a 10-strong group of local Tauranga swimmers took the slightly-longer route to Papamoa, landing at Taylor Rd Reserve.  Bavington’s journey covered yet more distance, taking her further down the coast to the Papamoa Domain, battling the swell and currents in the final third of her swim.
Having recently qualified as a lifeguard – her first day on patrol at the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service was on Sunday, sandwiched between her two epic swims – Bavington admits she’s loved the water ever since learning to swim as a 4-year-old.
And her summer of swimming isn’t over yet; her immediate sights are set on next month’s 3.3km Huka XStream down the Waikato River, followed by the 4.6km Rangitoto to St Heliers swim in March.
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
A typically warm welcome from Papamoa Surf Club patrol captain Shaun Smith, who supplied a towel and an IRB ride back out to the support boat.


Footnote from Pukehina surf lifesaving identity Boyd Harris:

There have been a couple other swims from Motiti, ending at the Maketu Surf Lifesaving Club, a distance of 12.5km.

  • Former Maketu lifeguards Donny Reid, Leanne Reid and Bronwyn Hamilton swam it solo in 1997, along with 15 others in relay.
  • In 2006 Donny Reid, Boyd Harris and Nathan Harris completed the swim as memory to Peter Harris, another ex-Maketu lifeguard who had sadly passed away.
  • In 2015 Todd Rowan, Donny Reid, Boyd Harris and Philip O’Reilly swam it solo, along with two relay teams from the Chiefs Super Rugby team and Te Puke Sports Rugby Club. This was a fundraising effort for James Reid to support some medical procedures he needed. This event was supported by Maketu SLSC, Maketu Coastguard, Maketu Fire Brigade and Maketu Waka Ama, along with many many local identities and people from the surrounding district.
  • There was another solo effort timed in with the Kaimona festival but unsure how that went.

Bronze for Kiwi kayaker at worlds

Finalists in the extreme slalom (from left) Mike Dawson (NZ), Boris Neveu (France), Vavrinec Hradilek (Czech Republic) and Vit Prindis (Czech Republic) drop into the Pau course. Photo by Balint Vekassy/
Kiwi kayaker Mike Dawson has capped a successful canoe slalom world championship in style, grabbing bronze in the event-ending extreme slalom final in Pau, France, overnight.
The 30-year-old battled through five rounds of intense head-to-head racing, eventually finishing behind 2012 Olympic K1 silver medallist Vavrinec Hradilek (Czech Republic) and Frenchman Boris Neveu in the four-boat final.
It was the ideal way to end an incredible world championship for the boutique 10-strong New Zealand team, after Dawson (seventh) and Luuka Jones (fourth) had both made their respective finals in the K1 slalom, leaving Dawson buzzing.
“All the dreams came true – it’s just a wicked end to an amazing world championships here in Pau,” Dawson said. “To stand up there with Vavra and Boris – guys that I’ve raced together with for so many years – and share a podium at the world champs with them was insane.”
It’s the first time extreme slalom – which features four paddlers racing together in plastic boats down a modified slalom course – has been held at the world championships and it’s an event nearly tailor-made for Dawson.  He’s spent 13 years competing overseas, using the thrills and prizemoney from extreme racing to bolster his Olympic canoe slalom campaign.

Photo by Balint Vekassy/
There’s now talk the sport’s governing body – the International Canoe Federation (ICF) – may push to include it in future Olympics.
“After a lot of work with the ICF, it’s awesome to see extreme slalom as a recognised event. We’ve had World Cups with it but this was the first world championship and it was an amazing presentation of what white water kayaking is all about. It’s just going to keep growing and growing and to hear officials say it could be an Olympic discipline in the future is really exciting stuff.”
After 10 world championships since his first in 2005 and two Olympics, it’s also exciting for Dawson to see the depth in the sport in New Zealand growing.
“It’s just going from strength to strength, with Luuka winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games last year, to have two finalists here in the canoe slalom events and to come away with a medal in the extreme slalom shows that we’re in such a wicked place. The support and backing we’ve had from High Performance Sport New Zealand is doing wonders and it’s created an amazing team and given us the opportunity to deliver what we can on the world stage. We’ve got amazing juniors coming through who performed exceptionally at the junior worlds this year and have the likes of Finn Butcher and Callum Gilbert who came so close to making the semifinals here. We’re contenders and we’re now able to compete with the best in the world.”

Fourth for Jones at worlds

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A season of slog and split-focus has come up trumps for kayaker Luuka Jones after she added to New Zealand’s greatest canoe slalom world championship campaign in France overnight.
A day after missing out on the C1 final, Jones made amends in the K1, reaching the final and finishing fourth. It’s the best finish by a New Zealander at the championships – edging Donald Johnstone’s fifth-place in 1987 – and followed on from Mike Dawson’s seventh in the men’s K1 final a day earlier.
“I was gutted not to make the C1 final yesterday but it was so cool to see Mike make the final yesterday and I took a lot of inspiration from that,” Jones said. “I was happy to get back into a good headspace to make the final, after a really competitive semifinal, and was stoked to finish fourth.”
Australian Jess Fox scraped into the final in 10th spot but then set a withering time of 97.14secs, which ultimately proved unbeatable. Slovakia’s Jana Dukatova was more than four seconds back in 101.76, with 2017’s overall World Cup winner, Germany’s Ricarda Funk, third in 102.62.
Jones picked up two 2sec penalties, finishing 10.06secs behind Fox in 107.20, but was pleasantly surprised by her placing.
“I didn’t think I would be fourth with the run I put down but lots of girls make mistakes – I think they were trying to push and match Jess’s time. I was disappointed with the quality of my run, as I had two touches and felt like I was fighting the water a bit, but fourth is a great result.”
The result showed her silver medal at last year’s Rio Olympics was no aberration and bolstered her ambitions to target both the C1 and K1 in Tokyo in 2020.
It’s been a tough season, trying to balance K1 and C1, but Campbell (coach Campbell Walsh) and I have been experimenting with a different style of training to cater to developing both classes and I think it is working. We based in Pau to give ourselves the best chance of doing well at the worlds and it’s worked out.”
Both Jones and Dawson will now line up in the extreme slalom divisions tonight on the last day of the championship.Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.04.25 AM

Dawson delivers with top worlds finish

Mike Dawson has finished seventh at the canoe slalom world championships in France. Photo by Martina Wegman
Mike Dawson’s long and colourful kayaking career reached new heights overnight, breaking through for his best-ever international result.
The 30-year-old finished seventh in the K1 final of the canoe slalom world championships in France, 12 years after making his debut at that level.
It’s also New Zealand’s greatest world championship result in three decades, since Donald Johnstone’s historic fifth-place – also in France – in 1987.
“I’m stoked to do this for the sport and it’s an awesome result for me and something I’ve been so close to for so many years,” Dawson said.
Having finished 10th at last year’s Rio Olympics and with a couple of ninth-placings at World Cup level, Dawson squeaked into the final with a 95.35sec semifinal run, grabbing the last qualifying spot by just 0.38secs.
He was on track for a dream final run too, until a bubble of water pushed him outside the 15th gate; he lost time there, then clipped the subsequent gate to pick up a 2sec time penalty and drop him to 98.80secs and seventh overall.
Ahead of him, Czech Ondrej Tunka – who won last year’s Whitewater XL title in Auckland – grabbed a shock gold medal in 91.84 after Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer received a late penalty, with Tunka’s compatriot Vit Prindis finishing just 0.02 seconds behind for silver.
Olympic champion Joe Clarke (Great Britain) was a spot ahead of Dawson in sixth.
Dawson believes the work he and coach Campbell Walsh have put in this season in Pau has paid dividends.
“The course was really good and we spent a lot of time here and know it well.  If you’re technically good, it’s going to be great for you as a paddler but in saying that, it’s always really tight racing so you’ve just got to put it all on the line.”

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This result has further rejuvenated the New Zealand veteran, who turns 31 next month but is showing no sign of slowing down.
“It’s been a wicked offseason since the Olympics – going to Pakistan and doing a few extreme kayaking missions around the world is something I’ve wanted to do for a few years.  To be able to do that and come back and compete with these guys at a world champs and step it up is pretty cool.”
Meanwhile, two penalty touches meant Luuka Jones finished
out of the finals in her new C1 division, finishing in 124.82secs, just 2.17secs outside the top-10.
Great Britain’s Mallory Franklin squeaked through in 10th spot but turned it around in the final with a dream run to take gold, posting 109.09 and watching three-time world champion, Australia’s Jessica Fox, run into trouble with three gate touches.
Jones is back in action tonight in the K1 semifinals, with Jones, Dawson and Callum Gilbert lining up tomorrow’s extreme slalom competition.

Jones continues world champs form

Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Luuka Jones has qualified for her second semifinal at the canoe slalom world championships in Pau, France. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
Kiwi kayaker Luuka Jones has continued her strong form at the canoe slalom world championships in France overnight, qualifying for the semifinals of the K1.
Jones, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, was comfortably inside the top-20 who progressed automatically from the first heat at the course in Pau.  Even with a 2sec penalty for clipping gate 19, she was 12th-fastest with a time of 90.65secs.  Without the penalty, her raw time would’ve placed her in the top-five.
Her K1 showing came a day after she also qualified 12th in the C1 discipline and Jones was delighted to have minimised a busy week by not having to go through the repechage rounds.
“It was a solid run but nothing fancy – it’s just great to get the job done without exerting too much energy in a second run,” Jones said.
New Zealand teammates Kensa Randle and Courtney Williams were 47th and 51st in their first runs amidst a quality field and though they improved slightly in the second round, still missed a place in the semifinals.
Patrick Washer was the best of the Kiwi C1 men, meanwhile, finishing 48th in the first round while teammates Ben Gibb and Shaun Higgins missed gates, with Washer 20th in his second run with a 90.75sec effort, just 3.17secs off progressing.

Jones, Dawson through to semis

Luuka Jones has qualified for the C1 semifinals at the canoe slalom world championships in France overnight. Photo by Martina Wegman
Olympians Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson have made strong starts to their individual campaigns at the canoe slalom world championships in Pau, France, overnight.
A day after teams racing, Jones kick-started her busiest-ever world championships with a solid C1 heats run, qualifying for the semifinals in 12th spot with a time of 101.67secs.
That put her 6.15secs behind Great Britain’s top qualifier Mallory Franklin, despite Jones picking up a touch and 2sec penalty on gate 18.
Getting off to a good start was doubly important for Jones, considering she may have to race every day of the week-long championship.
“My goal was to qualify in the first rounds to eliminate a few runs over the week,” Jones explained.  “I’m racing six days in a row – it’s a pretty busy schedule racing C1, K1, K1 teams and the boatercross (extreme slalom).  It was a good day at the races – so far, so good – and hopefully I can qualify in K1 on the first run tomorrow as well.”
Fellow Kiwi Kelly Travers was 35th after her first run, picking up five touches, and was on track for a fast time in her second run but picked up another 14secs’ worth of penalties.
Dawson, meanwhile, had to battle a record field of more than 100 paddlers in the men’s K1 heats but put together a clear 81.02sec run, leaving him just 3.12secs behind top qualifier and Olympic champion Joe Clarke (Great Britain) in 16th spot.
“The course we raced on wasn’t super-difficult which meant the times were extremely tight, there wasn’t a big margin for error and everyone was just going for it,” Dawson said.  “I’m really, really happy to qualify through to the semifinals and I was pretty stoked with how I went today.”
A single touch kept fellow Kiwi Callum Gilbert out of the top-30 who automatically qualified, with his 84.56sec run just 1.64secs adrift, while Finn Butcher picked up two touches to lie 54th after the first round.  The pair struggled in their second runs too, with multiple penalties, although they were in good company, with Poland’s Mateusz Polaczyk, a two-time World Championship silver medallist, and Michal Smolen (United States), the bronze medallist at the last world championships, also missing the semifinals.
“It just showed how tight the racing was and touches probably cost them but they’ve both got so much potential and they’ll be back stronger next year,” Dawson said.
Jones, meanwhile, will line up in her K1 heats tonight, alongside Kensa Randle and Courtney Williams, with the men’s C1 also featuring Patrick Washer, Shaun Higgins and Ben Gibb.

Kayakers bank on doubling up at worlds

Photo by Jan Halmoka/
Mike Dawson celebrates New Zealand’s first World Cup canoe slalom medal in Prague. Photo by Jan Homolka/

Things have come full circle for Kiwi kayaker Mike Dawson, who will embark on his 10th world canoe slalom championship in Pau, France, this week.
The 30-year-old is the veteran in a 10-strong New Zealand team at the championships, having first been to the worlds as an 18-year-old in Australia in 2005.
For most of his lengthy paddling career, which has seen him attend two Olympics, Dawson has successfully combined canoe slalom with creek and expedition paddling, subsidising his Olympic campaigns with extreme race prize money.
Now organisers have come to the party in Pau. For the first time, the ICF has added extreme slalom to the world championship disciplines, where four boats race down the course at once.
After racing the previous nine world championships solely in his K1 boat, being able to break out his plastic creek boat at the worlds is great news for Dawson.
“It’s definitely cool that extreme kayak has been included in the programme this year – it’s something Kiwis have always been traditionally really strong at, it’s a lot of fun and the spectators love it,” Dawson explained. “I’m really happy to get the chance to race in that discipline.”
Dawson’s best world championship finish in the past came in 2014, when he finished 12th in the K1. He was the fastest qualifier for the semifinals a year later in London but eventually finished 28th.
This season, racing extreme for the first time, he collected New Zealand’s first-ever World Cup gold medal at the opening round of the season in Prague, added bronze a week later in Germany, then picked up silver in Spain last month at the season finale. Fellow Kiwi K1 paddler Callum Gilbert will also line up in the extreme slalom this week, with Finn Butcher (K1), Shaun Higgins, Ben Gibb and Patrick Washer (men’s C1) completing the New Zealand men’s contingent.
Luuka Jones, meanwhile, will have her own twin-boat ambitions when the Rio de Janeiro silver medalist lines up in both the K1 and C1 this week.
After her break-out Olympic result in the K1 last year, she took up the C1 class this season to develop her all-round water skills but has quickly found her C1 results overtaking her traditional strength.
She made three World Cup finals this year, including finishing fourth in Germany in the second round of the series, adding sevenths in Italy and Spain. Her best K1 results, meanwhile, were a pair of 12ths to open the season.
“If you’d told me then I would make all but one C1 final I would have been very happy,” Jones said. “There have been a few challenges but overall I’m thrilled how it’s gone so far and I think I am more naturally talented in C1 than K1. There are some things I do more naturally in C1 and there are definitely learnings I can take from C1 into K1, with some of the lines I naturally take, which I could be taking in K1.”
She’ll have young paddlers Kensa Randle and Courtney Williams for company in the K1 class, with Kelly Travers also lining up in the C1.
Dawson said the New Zealanders had learned a lot from their Rio campaign and had applied it to the world champs.
“Luuka, myself and a lot of the Kiwi team have spent a lot of time here building up for the event – it’s something we saw worked really well in Rio so we’ve tried to capitalise on that by making Pau our home base ahead of the worlds,” he explained. “I’m loving paddling here and really enjoying my time on the water – it’s awesome to be in a sport that after 13years you can still have an amazing time at the events.”
Competition starts on Tuesday night (NZ time) at the venue, with most members of the New Zealand squad in action in teams racing, before the men’s K1 and women’s C1 get underway on Wednesday night.

NZ team: Men: Callum Gilbert (BOP), Mike Dawson (BOP), Finn Butcher (Otago). C1: Shaun Higgins (BOP), Patrick Washer (BOP), Ben Gibb (BOP).
Women: K1: Luuka Jones (BOP), Kensa Randle (Otago), Courtney Williams (BOP). C1: Jones, Kelly Travers (Auck).

Kayaker Jones seventh in Spain

Kiwi kayaker Luuka Jones has capped a solid World Cup season with yet another final, finishing seventh in the C1 at La Seu d’Urgell in Spain overnight.
It was her third final C1 of the year, coming in the final World Cup event of the season.
Jones was remarkably consistent in her two runs, clocking 115.93secs in her semifinal to qualify seventh, with one penalty touch, then 115.98secs in her final, again with one touch.
She was 7.61secs behind the winner, local paddler Nuria Vilarrubla, who showed she is almost impossible to beat on her home waters by defending the title she won on the same course last year.
Australian Jess Fox picked up four seconds in penalties, which put her 2.52 seconds behind Vilarrubla, with Austria’s Nadine Weratschnig third, but Fox comfortably wrapped up the overall World Cup crown.
Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer posted one of the closest wins of the season in the men’s K1, his time of 86.96. a mere 0.04 seconds ahead of France’s Boris Neveu in the men’s K1 at the La Seu dÚrgell course.
Czech Vit Prindis finished sixth in the final, enough to secure him the overall 2017 K1 title.
Jones and her fellow New Zealand paddlers will now head to France to prepare for the world championships later this month.