Introducing Gavin Elmiger

Canoe Racing NZ Coach of the Year Gavin Elmiger has been at the heart of life at the North Shore Canoe Club for the past decade and a half. We chat to the coaching devotee to find out more about his kayak journey.

Whether North Shore Canoe Club Coach Gavin Elmiger will one day become kayaking’s answer to athletics’ iconic nonagenarian coach Arch Jelley is not yet known but the desire is certainly not lacking.

For those who may not know, Arch was the lifelong coach of 1976 Olympic 1500m champion Sir John Walker, who at the remarkable age of 93 successfully guided Kiwi Hamish Carson to the men’s 1500m at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Of course, only time will tell if Gavin will be coaching a further 45 plus years from now, but the passion to his craft is such that at the moment that is the aim.

“I want to coach until I’m at least 90,” says Gavin, 43. “So long as I’m improving, I would want to continue coaching.”

Born in Taupo and later a member of the Opotiki Surf Club in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, Gavin progressed from an enthusiastic surf ski racer to competing on kayaks around the age of “14 or 15.” 

He developed into an international paddler competing at three open World Canoe Sprint Championships from 1997-1999, highlighted by an eighth place finish in the A Final in the K4 500m final at the 1998 edition. 

Hoping to compete at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the K4 1000m crew, his dreams were to be denied as they missed out on qualification by one spot and a heartbreaking margin of four thousandth of a second.

Hugely disappointed he wrapped up his international career and moved north to study osteopathic medicine in Auckland.

During his time in the “City of Sails” he remained connected with the sport. In the mid-Noughties he fulfilled a series of management roles with Canoe Racing NZ but found his true calling after taking up a formal coaching position with the North Shore Canoe Club in 2007. 

“I really enjoyed helping out (as a coach) and over time it developed into something I started to love,” he explains. “I was very fortunate to work with a lot of talented athletes coming through such as Lisa Carrington, Teneale Hatton and Scott Bicknell. 

“I was not the best coach in the world but I was around talented athletes and I was lucky to learn along the way,” he explains.

Soaking up information from leading coaches such as Gordon Walker, Ian Ferguson and Alan Thompson he is fortunate to have picked up knowledge from the wisest minds in the sport.

But he has always remained humble with a constant thirst for knowledge, a fact which has underpinned his coaching philosophy.

“Every day I strive to be better than I was the day before, which is something I also try and instil in my athletes too,” explains Gavin. “I want them to have the same philosophy and try and improve each stroke, each session. I’m very critical of my programme and adopt an athlete first approach. For me, the performance is important but only as long as the paddler has enjoyed the session. If they’ve grown then I’m happy.”

Working 30 hours a week as a coach at the North Shore Canoe Club, Gavin coaches paddlers from the age of eight up to 72. He may have worked with a stellar cast of athletes such as Lisa Carrington, Teneale Hatton, Kayla Imrie, Caitlin Ryan, Briar McLeely, Rebecca Cole, Jamiee Lovett and Scott Bicknell but he is just as happy helping a complete novice to a masters athlete achieve their goals than working with an elite athlete.

“As a coach it is important that the environment is positive and that the kids want to come down and be a part of what we do,” explains Gavin who last December was awarded the Canoe Racing NZ Coach of the Year award for the second time. “Who knows what champions will come out of the programme? The platform is there for paddlers to achieve their personal goals.”

Blessed to simply be given the chance to coach positive people every day he could not be happier in his current role.

So why would he encourage others to make the same move into coaching?

“Anyone that wants to do coaching, should do so because they want to help others share what they’ve learned,” he explains. “I’d say to any coach, never be afraid to try something new and make a mistake. Making a mistake is a not a problem, so long as you learn from that mistake.”