Club Focus – Otago Kayak Racing Club

In the latest of our Club Focus articles we put the spotlight on New Zealand’s most southerly CRNZ affiliated community – the Dunedin-based Otago Kayak Racing Club.

Humble beginnings 

Formed ten years ago such has been the speed of progression at the Otago Kayak Racing Club, the Dunedin-based club are a firmly established organisation within the CRNZ community.

The club was founded by former GB paddler Brendan O’Neill, who was keen to service the needs of an influx of students at the University of Otago with a kayaking background.

At the time himself a member of St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club, Brendan explains: “We had a number of students who arrived in Dunedin to study, who had competed as kayakers from North Island clubs,” explains Brendan, who today serves as head coach at Otago Kayak Racing Club. “At the time the group had no access to a kayak club so we got eight enthusiastic people together to form an incorporated society and became a functioning club and that was how Otago Kayak Racing Club was born.”

Home Base

Later moving to their current base at the Owheo Paddle Centre on the Dunedin Marina, the club share the facility with the St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club and the Fire in Ice Outrigger Canoe Club (a Waka Ama club).

“We have joint clubrooms shared between two other clubs, which is quite unique,” adds Brendan.

The facilities offer storage, a communal room, showers and lockers with an area to run core exercise sessions – which includes a kayak erg.

Membership Growth

The club still retains a close affinity with its university roots, although membership has fluctuated over the past decade – chiefly because the students stay in Dunedin is often connected with the length of their studies.

“We have phases when we are very active and phases when just our core group remain but over the past ten years our membership has grown and we have become more structured. We have a chair person (Peter Schapp) who runs our committee and we have changed our focus slightly from being purely a sprint kayak club to embracing the passion for multisport down here.”

Current membership stands at around 60 with approximately half of those university students with the other half comprising locals aged from school age to “approaching 70.”

Training groups are also broadly split 50-50 between those principally interested in multi-sport and sprint kayaking. 

Training Approach

Paddlers meet for training at the Dunedin Marina every week day at 6.30am and from 8am on a Saturday with Sunday devoted to either a long paddle or a race.

“We are very lucky to have a good training base at the Dunedin Marina,” explains Brendan, who counts three-time Halberg Award winning Coach of the Year Gordon Walker as a mentor 

“The Marina is only about 250m long by 150m wide but it means we can train in any weather at any time of year. But mostly we get out into the beautiful Dunedin Harbour for training.”

Brendan says the club can also access around ten other potential training venues – all within a 20-minute drive of the city. 

Competitive Programme

The club have also made an active move to generate more competition in the area. The club helps organise a six-race Dunedin Winter Kayak Series with races between 10-20km in length. Meanwhile, the kayakers also compete in a summer series of six races, organised by a Dunedin-based Stand up Paddle Boarding club.

“There is also a Central Otago series of races and Invercargill put on a couple of races – so quite a lot is happening in the Southern half of the South Island,” adds Brendan.

A marathon series – 20+km in length and with multiple portages – has also been organised between Otago Kayak Racing Club, the Arawa Canoe club in Christchurch and a group in Twizel. The three-race series was staged in 2019 and will once again be held in 2020.

Club Philosophy

Brendan is personally invested in developing sprint paddlers in the region and has enjoyed success in this realm.

Ben Tinnelly previously competed as part of the men’s sprint kayak programme and Lucy Matehaere is currently a member of the Auckland-based women’s NZ sprint squad. 

More generally, Brendan insists the club operates a programme of “inclusiveness”.

“At the moment the training groups we have are quite small but we try not to make them cliquey,” explains Brendan. “We try to create an inclusive and a fun environment for the paddlers both on and off the water.” 

The future

Hoping to attract more youngsters to the club in the future, Brendan believes the club has proved successful in developing good athletes and providing more race. opportunities. 

But there is always room for improvement and he adds: “It would be nice for the club to grow its membership but to achieve that goal we need more equipment and more coaches,” he adds. 

“Personally, I’d like to take a step back and maybe take a less active role in running the club. In the past I’ve had a couple of assistant coaches but it would be great to get more coaches involved. But ultimately the goals is to grow the club, improve the facilities and produce some fun kayaking.”