Exciting Kahawai concept explained

Kahawai is a new competition concept designed to be a fun and engaging entry into paddling, and potentially a route into flatwater, ocean, surf and river paddling. Via our Q and A format below we explain more. 

Q: Could you please tell me more about the Kahawai concept?

A: Over the past several years CRNZ has received consistent feedback from our community asking us to introduce paddling into schools. We agree with our clubs’ and community’s view that school paddling will be key to driving greater participation numbers in paddling, and giving many more kids the opportunity to try this awesome sport. 

In considering possible options for school paddling, we identified several barriers to entry. The greatest of these are accessibility of equipment (not only availability but also the challenges of paddling a K1), availability of coaching, and places to paddle. There are many places around NZ that don’t have flat water suitable for sprint paddling, so any national paddling program has to work across a wide range of conditions and waterways. Our hope is that Kahawai will address these issues and create a new learning and competition pathway, particularly for schools. 

Q: So how does Kahawai deliver these needs?

A: There are two main aspects to the Kahawai project. Firstly, we are introducing a new kayak rule. Second, we will promote a range of competition formats that are fun and challenging for competitors, and also easy for event organisers to run. 

Q: Tell us about the new kayak rule… 

The most obvious feature of the Kahawai boats is the surfski cockpit. This makes the design suitable for beginners, and also enables paddlers to go out in much more challenging conditions without fear of sinking.

A traditional, enclosed kayak like a K1 is difficult for learners as it fills up with water when they tip out. This causes a lot of wasted time for coaches and beginners as they spend large parts of their first sessions swimming to the shore to drain their boats. 

The other great thing about the surfski cockpit is that paddlers will feel happier challenging themselves in a narrower boat or rougher conditions. Knowing that you can tip out and then jump back on your boat and keep paddling makes the whole experience more enjoyable. Paddlers can enjoy getting out there in small waves, chop or river rapids, or racing in groups, without having to worry about a long swim to shore if they fall out.

Q: What are the specifications of the boat?

A: The Five2 (single) is a maximum 5.2m long with a minimum weight of 12kg. The Six5 (double) is a maximum of 6.5m in length and has a weight minimum of 18kg. We wanted to do this to match the rules in place for the K1 and K2 boats, so that a paddler could turn up to a sprint event with a Kahawai kayak and compete on a relatively level playing field against existing enclosed sprint kayaks. Current rules specify that sprint kayaks must have enclosed cockpits, however we are prepared to adjust this rule for NZ domestic racing.

Q: Why did you go for the term Kahawai?

A: The name and logo were designed by Jamie Boynton. Kahawai is the Māori name of an iconic native fish. Kahawai are found all around Aotearoa’s coastline and are renowned as being strong, active swimmers. They can cover vast distances quickly because of their strength and speed. They are a schooling fish – their young prefer shallow coastal waters while adults can be found in open water. We feel this is a great metaphor for paddling!

Jamie’s own words about the logo/pattern:

Central to the Kahawai design is the koru representing the mauri (life force). Seen in many traditional Māori patterns, the koru mirrors the movement of energy. Flowing, swirling and spiralling like water, the koru conveys a sense of perpetual motion. The koru promotes well-being, growth and expansion, while the inward curl suggests a return to ones point of origin. For the people of the pacific this connects us to ‘Hawaiki’, the place where our spirits eventually return.

The central koru in our design symbolises the ngaru (wave). The rippling curved lines, or ra invoke radiating vibrancy and the expansion of energy through the water. These stylised symbols reflect an ancient wisdom, connecting our past to the present through the element of water – wai. The pattern as a whole conveys a sense of connection and flow.

Q: Are the boats currently widely available?

A: There are a few boats already available from Nelo, Star Kayaks, and Think Kayak that meet the Five2 (single) rule. Think also already make a double that meets the Six5 rule, and Nelo have a double on their production schedule. Our decision not to make the rules too complicated was a deliberate move to encourage innovation and enable the kayak industry to be engaged. We’d love to see lots of manufacturers designing boats and really pushing this concept. There’s also nothing stopping schools and paddlers from building their own boats! The minimum weight of 12kg for a single kayak means there is no real advantage in designing a super hi-tec boat, so we’re expecting that costs can be kept fairly reasonable.

Q: The boats can be used in sprint racing and long distance racing events but the most innovative Kahawai format is the Paddler-X racing you have devised. Can you tell us more?

A: The format is pretty close to the surfski format used in surf lifesaving. We see this as an enjoyable format of racing in which the races are relatively short (between two and five minutes) and that kids who have never paddled before can comfortably complete the distance. Competitors will be racing head-to-head with other boats which will be fun, challenging and multi-faceted. Paddlers can wash ride and manoeuvre around and marker buoys, which will reward different skills and make it much more than a purely physiological challenge. The short length of the races will allow for heats, semis and finals. 

We believe that paddlers who make their start in Kahawai will get a great intro to a range of paddling skills and hopefully fall in love with the sport. They’ll also be well equipped to progress into other paddling disciplines, whether on the ocean, rivers or flat water.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure involved in putting on such regattas; a few marker buoys, for example, is far less onerous than lines of lane ropes as for a traditional flatwater sprint regatta. The design of the boats and compact format means events can be run on any lake, river or reasonably sheltered beach.


Q: How do you hope to engage with the schools?

A: We will run a pilot schools event in the second quarter of 2021 for kids aged 11 to 18. We’ll be releasing details of this event very soon. We don’t believe it will be difficult to get people involved and engaged. It doesn’t need a lot of practise and training and they are already plenty of young paddlers (in sprint kayak, surf ski, surf lifesaving) and can kayak through their schools. So we are not starting from zero.

Q: Do you see Kahawai as a replacement for sprint kayaking?

A: No, it is not a replacement. We see Kahawai as a great vehicle to introduce Kiwis to paddling with the possibility of them progressing to other areas of the sport; river paddling, sprint paddling, surf ski etc. Kahawai is very much complimentary to sprint paddling. 

Q: Can Kahawai become a success?

A: Definitely. We hope to see a number of events sprouting up all over the country and we think it compares well with other popular sports in schools. It will be much cheaper than some other watersports (like rowing) and have a lot in common with other successful and accessible sports such as surf lifesaving, multisport, river paddling or sprint paddling.