Introducing - Zach Ferkins

Author -  Karen Simpson

We find out more about the 20-year-old World U23 Championship-bound paddler from the Poverty Bay Kayak Club.

Introducing - Zach Ferkins

We find out more about the 20-year-old World U23 Championship-bound paddler from the Poverty Bay Kayak Club.

Zach Ferkins.jpeg

We find out more about the 20-year-old World U23 Championship-bound paddler from the Poverty Bay Kayak Club.

Farm Boys

Born and raised on a crop farm just outside of Gisborne, Zach (note, the "h" on the end of his name) is the older brother by two-and-a-half years of rising U18 talent Sam Ferkins, who won five gold medals at the 2019 New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships.

Coming from a rural background formed the foundation for his future sporting excellence with Zach adding: “I think carrying out that farmhand work definitely helped build strength and neither Sam or I are people who give up easily.”

Surf style

Engaged in a multitude of sports from as long as he can remember. Zach was a top six finisher in the AIMS Games as a mountain biker and multisport athlete. Later around the age of “12 or 13” the self-confessed “beach bum” was introduced to surf club.

After several years in the sport and keen to improve his ski racing he took up kayaking at the Poverty Bay Kayak Club at the age of 16 under the coaching of double Olympic champion Alan Thompson.

“I did my first nationals (canoe sprint) champs as a last year under-18 and won all the K2 and K4 races,” he explains. “Later that month I went to the national surf club championships and won the U18 ski and double ski events but that same year I made the New Zealand team for the junior worlds. I then went to the Czech Republic to compete at the Marathon World Championships and because I thought I can be good at this and I like kayaking more, I kept going.”

Minsk memories

Aged just 17 at the time he made his New Zealand debut at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Belarus. Describing his experience as “cool” he performed solidly in Minsk. Eliminated in the semi-finals of the K2 1000m alongside Ashton Reiser – whom he will paddle with at this year’s World U23 Championships in Romania – he was “stoked” with his performance.

“I had a great sense of pride competing for my country and it was cool to say I’d been to Belarus because not too many of my friends can say that!” he adds.

Heart issue

When competing in the K1 1000m at the 2017 Blue Lake a in Rotorua he experienced what he describes “a weird feeling in his heart” and stopped at halfway. He has been feeling unwell for some time and doctors later discovered he had a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson syndrome – which can cause rapid heartbeats and in some cases heart failure.

Zach has a slightly different version of Wolff-Parkinson to New Zealand women’s international kayaker and fellow Poverty Bay paddler Alicia Hoskin and has opted to manage the issue without undergoing surgery.

“If I over-train it can bring about an episode, so I try not to overcook it and I’m very aware of it,” he explains. “Ahead of 2018 nationals I trained at 80 per cent so had no real expectations but I was pretty happy with my performance (he finished fifth in the open men’s K1 A 500m final, sixth in the K1 1000m final and eighth in the K1 200m final). It gave me heaps of confidence.”

Cambridge calling

After spending two years under the coaching of Alan Thompson, of whom Zach praises for giving him a “great start in the sport”, he moved from Gisborne to Cambridge in March last year keen to experience new horizons and train with a larger squad.

Initially coached for six months by Scott Bicknell alongside fellow New Zealand international Hamish Legarth in October last year he underwent testing and was accepted on to the New Zealand elite squad under the coaching of Fred Loyer.

“It has made a big difference training with a bunch of like-minded people and it is great to always have other athletes to push you,” he explains.

“The big difference since joining Fred’s group has been an improved technique but also mindset towards training. I’m now more focused on getting the best out of myself in every area. When I was living back home I wasn’t that focused on nutrition. I would train and then go straight to work without eating but now I am a make sure I recover properly.”

World Cup opportunity

At the 2019 Nationals on home waters on Lake Karapiro, Zach performed solidly to finish fifth in the K1 200m, eighth in the K1 500m and ninth in the K1 1000m.

However, to then be given the chance to paddle for the New Zealand team in the K4 500m in the World Cups in Poznan and Duisburg was an “awesome” opportunity for the young paddler who works part-time as a yard hand at a John Deere dealership.

“It was unreal,” he says. “I didn’t feel a lot of pressure and it was so nice to work with the other guys in the team and to bounce ideas off each other,”

Finishing 8th in the B Final in World Cup 1 in Poznan and the following week missing out by one spot in the B Final in Duisburg proved a huge learning experience.

“Every race we improved together to the point by the time of the (world) under-23s we should be able to put together a much better race,” he adds. “Working in the K4 boat really helped me grow as an athlete.”

World view

Competing at the World U23 Championships, which take place in Pitesti, Romania in August, Zach has won selection in not only the K4 500m boat but also the K2 1000m alongside North Shore’s Ashton Reiser.

“Competing in two events is going to be fun but the main focus is the K4,” he explains. “In the K4 event we’d like to make the A Final and we’ll see what Ashton and I can put together, but I think we can also make the A Final.”

The Hurt Locker

With the long-term target to qualify and compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Zach is confident that if he continues to work hard he has the attributes to excel.

“I’m super-motivated and I’m always ready to race,” he explains. “I love the hard sessions and just like getting stuff done. I’d say I’m an all-rounder in that I’m no better at the 200m, 500m or 1000m but I like the 1000m best.

So why the 1000m?

“I like to hurt,” he says. “I just enjoy it. I love paddling (in training) with Max (Brown) because we push each other hard.”

Introducing - Zach Ferkins

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