Imrie’s inspire Ethan’s paddling journey

Ahead of the 2021 NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro we put the spotlight on Ethan Moore – a recent invitee to the men’s national kayak squad.

It may be impossible to definitively conclude that if Ethan Moore’s father was not good pals with James Imrie – dad of 2016 Rio Olympian and three-time World Championship medallist, Kayla, and Tokyo-bound K2 1000m paddler Kurtis – the Hutt Valley raised paddler may never have made the men’s kayak squad.

But what is undisputable is that connection has played a huge role in Ethan’s sporting pursuits and one which has recently earned him the chance to train on a daily basis with the country’s top sprint kayakers.

Raised in the Hutt Valley as an only child to dad, Paddy, and mum, Trena, he says the family forged a deep connection to the Imrie’s and he describes Kurtis and Kayla as “like an older brother and older sister.”

It was Kurtis and Kayla’s dad, James, that first introduced Ethan to surf lifesaving and later kayaking. So after the 22-year-old earned an invite to the New Zealand men’s kayak squad last month he fully acknowledged the key role the Imrie family have played.

“They introduced me to kayaking and I probably wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today without them,” he explains. “A lot of thanks does go out to them for their support and what they have done for me.

“I was just so happy and relieved to win a place in the squad and that are the stresses and challenges I have faced has been worth it,” he explains. “Now I am finally part of the squad, it is a massive weight off my shoulders.

“I’m stoked that Kurtis (see picture below of Kurtis and Ethan together) is a part of the squad too. Kurtis said ‘I’m so happy for you little bro. I know how hard you have worked, it is time to boogie again’!” 

An enthusiastic sportsman for as long as he can remember, Ethan was a keen rugby half back – although it was the Imrie’s who steered Ethan in the direction of water sports. 

At the age of 14 he first sat in a kayak at the Mana Club, although he recalls not initially being overly enthused at the prospect. 

“At first I protested because all I wanted to do was to play rugby,” he explains. “But I went along and came under the coaching of Mark Watson. He took me under his wing, pointed me in the right direction and that’s where my career started to take off.”

Ethan has not an overnight superstar and recalls experiencing regular drenching’s in the Porirua Harbour.  But training with a good group of mates he started to make progress and suddenly a pathway opened up.

He started to win age-group national medals and in 2016 he earned his maiden international experience competing for New Zealand at the Oceania Championships in Adelaide.

There he won K2 200m silver alongside Jake Koekemoer. It was a moment to cherish.

“It was amazing, a dream come true,” he adds. “I’d always grown up dreaming of wearing the Silver Fern. To finally achieve that goal – there was no better feeling.”

Later that year he won selection for the World Junior Championships in Minsk, Belarus – where he made the semi-final of the K2 200m paddling alongside Jake. 

Twelve months later he appeared at the 2017 World Junior Championships in Romania, where he featured in the semi-finals of the K4 500m and K1 200m. While he admits to being “blown away” in the latter event – his international appearances proved positive for the then teenager.

“It opened my eyes to what the sport has to offer, the amazing experiences I could have and the life I could possibly be open to,” he explains.

His progress continued at 2018 nationals – where Ethan secured K2 200m silver alongside his long-time pal, Kurtis, as well as K4 200m and K4 500m bronze medals yet his progress came to a shuddering halt when in April of that year he was forced to undergo elbow shoulder.

For the best part of a year he barely paddled and he considered walking away from the sport.

“After surgery I was at my wits end,” recalls Ethan. “I was honestly on the cusp of saying, I’m done with the sport, it is time to just live life.”

Despite limited training he competed at the 2019 National Championships – where he snared a K4 500m silver medal – but the following month came to the realisation he wanted to once again re-engage seriously with the sport.

“I really missed seeing my mates and being out on the boat in the flat water,” recalls Ethan of what prompted the decision.

Ethan relocated to Christchurch for several months to train  alongside Jake under the coaching guidance of Paul Fidow. 

He enjoyed his brief period based on the South Island but after Paul opted to move away from coaching, the Lower Hutt raised kayaker was on the move again and opted to join Scott Bicknell’s coaching group – which included Taris Harker – based at Lake Karapiro. 

“Jake and I both decided the best option for us for to be around the boys and to be part of a good squad,” explains Ethan. “Under Scott the training was a lot more specialised and I improved in all areas. My 500m went up, I improved in both the gym and 200m.” 

At the 2020 New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships, Ethan enjoyed a good all-round performance. Winning gold in the K4 200m and K4 500m (see image above) he placed sixth in the K1 200m final and won the B final of the K1 500m – a performance gave him the belief he had made the right decision to train at Lake Karapiro.

Enjoying the benefit of a full winter’s training under Scott, Ethan emerged for the 2020-21 summer campaign in great shape. 

At Blue Lake 1, the powerfully-built paddler impressed, featuring in the triumphant K4 200m boat and also finishing sixth in the K1 200m.

Two months later at Blue Lake 2, he claimed K2 200m silver – alongside Taris – K4 200m silver and an eye-catching fourth in the K1 500m A Final – claiming the scalps of a couple of men’s kayak squad paddlers.

“I was shocked and I was beyond over the moon,” adds Ethan. “After having the elbow op and having the best part of a year out of the sport these guys had a massive jump on me (in terms of training). In the back of my mind I always wondered whether I could ever be competitive with the top boys. To be able to do this was a massive weight off my shoulders.”

On the back of their performances at the Blue Lake regattas, Ethan was invited alongside Taris to join some training sessions with the men’s kayak squad.

Then after further impressing at trials the muscular paddler was invited to join the national squad.

“When I was younger I remember telling my dad how I didn’t want to go to training but he said to me ‘one day when you make it, you’ll see what I mean?’ The day I got the phone call from Tim Brabants, I knew exactly what dad meant,”  explains Ethan. 

Revelling in an environment in which he can learn from more experienced paddlers, Ethan praises the role CRNZ coaches Tim Brabants and Craig Mustard have played in welcoming him to the squad.

Believing his main strength is the 200m he admits it was “gut-wrenching” to hear the Olympic Games had removed the 200m distance from the programme beyond Tokyo. 

However, he insists he is an adaptable team boat performer he is now looking forward to this week’s National Championships. 

“I just hope to perform the very best I can and leave everything out on the water,” he adds. “As long as I give it my all every single race I can have no complaints.”

In the longer-term he would love to feature at the World U23 Championships later this year – should the opportunity arise – and in the future he would relish featuring in the open men’s K4 team.

Yet for now, Ethan is happy to take his career development one step at a time – where, of course, he can lean on the experiences of his close buddies since childhood – Kurtis and Kayla Imrie.

While training with Kurtis every day is something he natural enjoys he also has huge admiration for Kayla. 

“She has been through a lot of heartache in her career but achieved so much,” he explains. “I love to pick her brain when I get the chance. She has some awesome gems. She has said so much to me over the years it is hard to pick one piece of advice but the biggest thing she has taught me is to turn up every day and try your hardest. If you do that, then the results will follow.”