Facing huge challenges in the wake of the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Gabrielle early this year, Poverty Bay Kayak Club and Hawke’s Bay Kayak Racing Club – could have been crushed by the traumatic experience.
Yet 6 months on, thanks to their stoic resilience and the generosity, love and support shown by the wider kayaking community in Aotearoa the two clubs not only survived but continue to thrive, and can look forward with confidence to the future.
In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle both clubs have faced unique challenges. For the Poverty Bay Kayak Club the physical damage was significant. As the banks of Waimata River burst almost two metre high of water poured into the boatshed, destroying 20 boats, sets of roller doors on the riverside and the roadside, the jetty and a coach boat.
“It was quite unprecedented,” explains PBKC president Matt Cairns. “We’ve got a few club members who remember Cyclone Bola in 1988 which caused flooding which went one rack high in the boatshed. We tried to prepare (for Gabrielle) by getting two racks worth of boats on to higher ground. But we couldn’t prepare for everything. The water came in so fast it had reached head high and the silt was chest high.
“Probably half of our club owned boats were destroyed as were many of our boats for under-12 paddlers. We faced a huge challenge.”
Kayak community rallied to support the clubs
Fortunately help was at hand. CRNZ quickly launched a Give a Little page to aid the cause of both clubs, contributing $2000 to get it started. The Kiwi kayaking community answered the call and $4000 was donated to PBKC to support their post-cyclone recovery. Yet there was also huge backing from other clubs offering boats and calls from individuals prepared to help.
“It was awesome and humbling to receive that level of support from the paddling community,” explains Matt.
In the wake of the cyclone, the Hawke’s Bay Kayak Racing Club faced a different challenge. While the club sustained some water damage it was the emotional fallout for club members who had either had homes or livelihoods destroyed which presented the most immediate threat.
“After speaking to CRNZ we made it clear we needed an outreach programme to make sure we were working with the families who were impacted,” explains club chair Lionel da Silva.
“Our main challenge was to work with the younger community to keep them in the sport and to make sure those families pulled through. We set up one on one meetings with paddlers and their parents. The way the community pulled together was amazing. We had so many heroic stories. Our junior coach Barry Coleman had silt up his driveway and when he went to get some groceries club members rallied around and removed the silt.
“The Keane family lost their home but five club members worked solidly to clear out the house.”
As club chair, however, Lionel recognised that given the trauma many members were experiencing in the wake of the Cyclone this would present a huge obstacle for some to return to the sport.
So to avoid such an outcome, Lionel used the $2000 donated through the Give a Little appeal to support members financially. The club covered the subs for one youngster and paid the flights for another to attend an Asia Pacific training camp at Lake Karapiro.
“With the donated money we could ascertain where the need was and we could back off on charging families certain fees. We could also subsidise transport costs for nationals. It went far as a gesture of support.”
Returning to the water
The other great challenge facing both clubs was getting paddlers back on the water and thankfully both received immeasurable support.
Matt explains: “Following the cyclone we faced a situation, which could have gone one of two ways. It was either this is getting too hard or we find a way out of this. Fortunately our active paddlers kept going.”
The Clark family had a small lake – Manutuke – on their land which could be regularly accessed for training with the Waimata River still in recovery mode post-Cyclone. The lake may only measure 300 or 400m long but it gave club members the precious opportunity to paddle on decent water in preparation for nationals.
With the Clive River still in recovery mode, HBKRC welcomed the use of a 1km long lake – Bridge Pa – on the Glazebrook Farm to allow regular training to continue.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Thanks to the durability of both clubs – Poverty Bay and Hawke’s Bay – they not only sent a strong contingent to the NZCT New Zealand and Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships on Lake Karapiro in April but thrived, winning a slew of medals despite facing the most challenging of build ups.
More than six months on and the recovery process is still ongoing. The Poverty Bay club is still operating without power and the Waimata River is “quite unhealthy” according to Matt.
Yet in the wake of the cyclone and showing great resilience Matt prefers to dwell on the positives.
“In a number of areas we are in a good spot re-building,” he explains. “Yes, we lost some gear but the new boats that are arriving are more modern which will allow us to better engage with schools and grow as a club. We have a dozen singles ordered and six doubles. The doubles are neat because they can be steered from the back allowing the youngsters to have a go while the more experienced paddlers can coach and steer from the back.
“Traditionally we have been a sprint kayak club but we are working with local suppliers to have Nordic Kayaks, which will allow paddlers to sit on top of the water and are more versatile out in the ocean.”
There has also been initial talks with Gisborne District Council for Poverty Bay Kayak Club along with the local rowing and Waka Ama clubs to move to higher ground and a new facility.
“It is nice to know there is good collaboration,” adds Matt.
HBKRC too faces its challenges in the future. The river mouth on the Clive River has not properly recovered from the cyclone. Paddlers can only now train on high tide and in bad weather the river doesn’t wash properly.
Yet out of the disaster shafts of light are definitely present. Besides the financial boost from the CRNZ community , Sport Hawke’s Bay have also been a rock of support with plans to donate the club a new 20ft container for storage. The intermediate and junior squads are as large as ever and the club boasts around 37 active paddlers.
“It has been a humbling experience and we have rallied together with not only the assistance of CRNZ but the whole paddling community who have shown a great deal of empathy,” adds Lionel.
Thank you to the CRNZ Community for the support shown to these clubs in their time of need. If you would like to continue to help the clubs in their rebuilding, please reach out to them.