The Hawkes Bay Kayak Racing Club won the Club of the Year Prize at the 2019 CRNZ Sports and Recognition Awards. We find out more about a club that has produced New Zealand international paddlers Aimee Fisher and Hamish Legarth.
Formed in 2005 the Hawkes Bay Kayak Club was initially formed by local surf lifesaving clubs that wanted the opportunity to affiliate to the national kayak racing body. Over the past decade-and-a-half, the club has evolved beyond the surf community and now boasts around 30-35 active members – many of whom are aged 18 and under who come from a range of paddle sports.
“Unlike other clubs, we don’t have any veterans or masters, so we are pretty much a student-based club,” explains club chair Darren Brown whose son, Daniel, started paddling at the club in 2017.
The club boasts modest facilities, operating out of three old containers on the banks of the Clive River. The river is far from a perfect location due to mud and high silt levels and training can be impacted by the tides.
But as Darren adds: “We have good, long straight options (to train on) and in the winter season we are able to host a 10km event which is part of the CRNZ winter 10K series.”
At the very core of the club are its coaches led by Ben Bennett, who has coached many Hawkes Bay paddlers during his time including Olympian Aimee Fisher and 2019 New Zealand World Cup representative Hamish Legarth. Today he leads a strong team of U16 and U18 paddlers, who are all enjoying national success.
“Ben sets a really good programme, which is done in periodised training blocks,” explains Darren. “They get their programme three weeks in advance through Training Peaks and all training is recorded through Garmin watches.”
Darren also points to the crucial coaching work carried out by the clubs novice coach, Barry Coleman, who has a genuine passion for the sport and gives his time generously, as well as Aimee Fisher’s father, Chris, who coaches a younger group of kids and instils in them a rock-solid technical foundation for their future development.
Over the past year, Darren says the club has reached out to the community in an effort to increase its profile. For the first time canoe sprint took place within the AIMS Games and the Hawkes Bay Kayak Racing Club have helped guide 10 paddlers from Taradale Intermediate School who competed at the event.
“We worked with them with the aim of getting them ready for the Games,” explains Darren. “The kids did really well, they won more medals than any other school at AIMS Games. We were able to use our senior paddlers, who were able to give back to the sport they love by mentoring these younger paddlers.
“We managed to retain a number of the paddlers who competed at the AIMS games, who have since become a formal part of the club. As a club have only got so much room for equipment with the facilities we have, and we have run out of space to extend and now have paddlers on a waiting list.”
The club has also worked hard on developing a communications strategy. Hawkes Bay have improved their website content and taken the time to celebrate their successes via their Facebook and Instagram pages. A recent Hawkes Bay Today article on the growing success of the club and a future Newstalk ZB radio interview will continue to raise the club’s profile, however, Darren concedes for the club to grow it must expand their facilities.
“We would like to be able to build a purpose-built storage shed and the extra space would allow us to increase our boat fleet,” he explains. “This will allow us to take on more paddlers and take on more coaches.”
The kids’ club
This year six paddlers from the club have represented New Zealand – Aimee and Hamish as well as rising star Jack Wilkinson and K2 partner Daniel Brown, who along with U18 paddlers Brooke Cheyne and Reuben Rorrison were selected to represent New Zealand at the Asia Pacific Cup in May.
Yet despite the international success, the club has enjoyed, Darren has a more modest goal for the future of the club.
“To develop, grow and promote the sport of kayaking within the Hawkes Bay Region,” he says. “We just want to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to be competent paddlers and to enjoy the sport.”