CRNZ Blog

Introducing Max Brown

Author -  Karen Simpson

We chat the men’s elite squad member to find out more about his fascinating story.

Introducing Max Brown

We chat the men’s elite squad member to find out more about his fascinating story.
Max Brown.jpg

The 23-year-old New Zealand kayak ace has proved perfectly in-tune both on and off the water. We chat the men’s elite squad member to find out more about his fascinating story.

Musical youth

Born and raised in Whanganui, Max’s first love was music. With one grandfather an opera singer and the other a member of the New Zealand Male Choir, it was almost inevitable he would pursue music in some guise.

As a Year Four student he started playing piano before later graduating to guitar – his favourite instrument.

“My parents were very interested in music and whenever I came home from school they’d be listening to anything from Sting to Deep Purple, Pink Floyd or The Bee Gees,” recalls Max.

“I was obsessed by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton but my dad didn’t want me to start playing guitar until my hands were bigger, so I started playing as a Year Six student.

Kayak Beginnings

Keen on adventure sports such as skiing and mountain biking in his youth, Max’s introduction to kayaking came after three friends, who were members of the Whanganui Kayak Club, urged the then 15-year-old to give the sport a go.

Keen to try his hand he was, however, no instant superstar in a kayak.

“I kept falling out all the time and I was probably the worst guy in the club,” he explains. “But I really didn’t mind as I was having fun.”

Unperturbed by his early experiences and adopting the same qualities of determination and persistence to canoe racing that he had honed as a musician he spent his first winter in the sport doggedly pursuing the senior kayakers at the club in training.

Physical well-conditioned after a full winter’s training he enjoyed success in his first full competitive season and his passion for the sport was ignited.

International Breakthrough

After making an impact on the national age-group scene, 2013 proved a memorable year for Max as he made his bow at the World Junior Championships in Canada. Describing his maiden global championship appearance as “scary and exciting” his K4 1000m crew just missed out on a place in the A Final by one place and less than half-a-second.

“I didn’t leave disappointed,” he explains. “It left me hungry for more.”

Max also competed at the Sydney Youth Olympic Festival that year, finishing sixth in the K2 1000m, but took much from the experience.

“I was amazed how fast some of the countries were but in the big picture to reach that level required not just one year of hard training but five hard years of hard training,” he explains.

Musical roots

After taking time out to visit the great US music venue such as New Orleans, New York and Boston, Max was inspired to study a Bachelor in Music majoring in jazz performance at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington from 2014.

Yet juggling the demands of both training as a kayaker and studying for an intense music degree took its toll.

“It was very hard to commit to both fully as studying for music requires up to ten hours work a day,” he explains.

Under the strain he slipped a disc in 2015 – an injury which caused persistent problems for the next two years and badly compromised his training.

Mr Fix-it

After graduating in 2016 he moved north to Auckland the following year to be part of the men’s elite kayak squad. Struggling with the back issue, which left him crippled in pain after just ten minutes of driving, he also found it difficult adapting to life in New Zealand’s largest city.

Numerous physios had failed to fix the issue and he considered whether to continue with the sport only for Auckland-based chiropractor Dr Jason Berry to successfully identify the problem in late-2017.

“He did amazing things for me,” says Max. “He looked at my biomechanics and from that point on the back was a lot better.”

The Fred Factor

Fully fit again and rejuvenated after the men’s elite squad relocated to Cambridge earlier this year, Max is now a different athlete. Happier in the quieter Waikato environment he teaches music to around 30 clients to make ends meet and is thriving under Fred Loyer, the Canoe Racing NZ men’s elite coach.

“Previously I was over-analytical of every movement but with Fred breaking down my technique in a more simplistic way this has really helped add a lot more distance per-stroke. “When I first joined the squad, I was just spinning and not really grabbing the water but now I have one of the better distance per-strokes in the squad.”

World Championship hope

In this final appearance at the World U23 Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria earlier this year, Max finished fourth in the B final alongside Kurtis Imrie in the K2 1000m and fourth in the K4 500m B Final but he saw much room for optimism with his efforts.

“This year we were racing to win,” he explains. “In the K2 semi-final we were winning until the final 250m when we were overhauled due to our lack of race experience.

“We also just missed out on the K4 500m (semi-final) after leading until the final 100m. We paddled a faster than what HPSNZ had set us as a target, it was just our placing did not quite reflect how we performed.”

Future ambitions 

Rating his overall fitness and technique to be his strength he also revels in the buzz of competing in team boats “I’ll do anything for my mates in the boat” and he has big aspirations both on and off the water.

“At nationals (2019) I’m looking to break some K1 PBs and I know I need to make a massive improvement but it would be great to qualify the K2 for World Cups and World Championships (in 2019) with the long-term aim to compete at the Tokyo Olympics,” adds Max, who now competes in the open division.

“My main priority while my body is still young is to make an Olympic Games because I know in the future I can still carry on with my music. My long-term dream is to be a session musician and to play on stage with the likes of John Mayer.”


Introducing Max Brown

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