In the latest in our series focusing on a New Zealand club, we turn the spotlight on to the vibrant and thriving Taranaki-based Waitara Kayak Club.
The genesis of the Waitara Kayak Club can be traced back to 1986 when a group, which including predominantly wild water and downriver paddlers Bernie Fletcher, Andrew Martin and Mike Bassett along with local surf lifesaving enthusiast Ron Cole, started regularly meeting for training at the river.
The club was only formalised, however, several years later following a flood to the training shed of the Clifton Rowing Club – based on the banks of the Waitara River
“We helped them clean it out and the deal was if we helped them we could use half of the shed, he says. “We then formed the club and since then the two (Waitara-based) clubs have grown together,” adds Ron.
From wild to flatwater
During the 1990s and early 2000s the club chiefly specialised in multisport and river and wildwater paddling.
Carl Barnes snared the 2000 world junior wildwater title, however, over time the club has shifted more towards flatwater paddling.
“Flatwater really took off when Ron Cole took the initiative to develop this area, particularly when his kids – including former New Zealand kayak representative Rebecca Cole – started to emerge,” adds Waitara club coach Brendon Metcalfe.
Based in the small town of Waitara – around 15km north east of New Plymouth – the club has undergone significant changes since its inception. Initially starting out sharing a tin shed with Clifton Rowing Club, which had no lighting and a dirt floor, later the rowing club received funding for an upgrade in facilities. Today Waitara share the new shed with Clifton – which is home to 60 kayaks – located close to the road bridge in the township.
The Waitara River is tidal but it offers a good training base, according to Tara Allerton, another of the four club coaches.
“We have about 10km of flatwater on a high tide and then beyond that we have a section of rapids, which is really helpful for our multisport athletes,” adds Tara, who recently came on board as a coach along with Jo Brimelow to help local kids prepare to compete in kayak, which featured for the first time last year on the AIMS Games programme.
In addition to the Waitara River, the club also occasionally uses Urenui – some 20 minutes further up the road – as a training base as well as Lake Rotomanu and Lake Rotorangi.
During the winter months the club run three sessions per week while during the summer this steps up to five days a week with scope to also add in further sessions.
Currently the club has around 40 to 45 members with more than 20 junior paddlers – aged 12 to 18 – who are principally involved in flatwater.
“We have seen a reduction in the number of multisport athletes in recent years,” explains club coach Paul Randall. “In recent years we have looked to do a lot more with our junior programme in flatwater paddling and we are looking to do a lot more in terms of both participation and development.”
Brendon may lead the coaching programme, however, he is very keen to emphasise the club is far from a one man coaching band.
“Tara and Jo look after our junior and entry level paddlers,” explains Brendon. “While Paul looks after the strength and conditioning of the paddlers. We also rely on the input of other members such as Carl Barnes, Troy Burbidge and Gerry Callebaut while we also bring in senior members to help Jo and Tara on a Saturday morning to share their knowledge. A strong community club relies on far more than one person.”
Knowledge is power
As a club Waitara have also been keen to expand their knowledge base. Brendon regularly shares coaching-related conversation with Alan Thompson at Poverty Bay Kayak Club, Brian Scott at Whanganui Multisport Club and Ben Bennett at Hawkes Bay Kayak Racing Club.
Meanwhile, in an effort to enhance their junior development programme the club also sought the extensive coaching experience of Liz Thompson at the Poverty Bay Kayak Club.
“Liz has been coaching young kids for years and knows how to keep paddling engaging and fun,” explains Tara. “She was very forthcoming about the activities and games they do with their younger paddlers, some of which we have introduced into our programme.”
Tara adds that the sharing of knowledge between the regional clubs has also been expanded to the governing body with the Waitara club coaches receiving expert support last October from CRNZ Performance Development Manager Aaron Osborne, CRNZ Development Coach Craig Mustard, and CRNZ coach Jasper Bats.
“After CRNZ’s input our support went up another level – it was fantastic,” adds Tara. “It gave us some structure, which enabled us to have a much clearer pathway for our paddlers.”
The club is currently in good health as illustrated by the fact that it supplied the second largest contingent of New Zealand athletes at the 2019 Asia Pacific Cup. Meanwhile, later last year Waitara duo Fletcher Moles and Robson Old represented New Zealand at the World Junior Championships in Romania.
With the depth and breadth of paddlers at the club expanding and with the club securing $44,000 of funding over the past 12 months – Waitara hopes to use the money to buy more team boats and beginner boats to further aid its evolution for the future.
“Over the past few years we have strengthened our participation base and given the youngsters every opportunity to develop their paddling,” explains Paul.