Introducing – Lucy Matehaere

The 20-year-old NZ Kayak squad member is one of crop of young, emerging paddlers. We take a look at Lucy’s kayak development and hopes for the future.

Sporting chance

Born and raised the eldest of three sisters in Dunedin, sport has been an important part of her life for as long as Lucy can remember. Her father, Brent, is coach to National Basketball League team Otago Nuggets, while Lucy joined St Clair Surf Life Saving Club from the age of six. She later represented Otago as an age-group basketball representative but at the age of 14 she decided she wanted to pursue a new sporting avenue.

And given her standing as a national ski medallist in the sport of surf lifesaving, kayaking was a logical choice on several levels.

“I wanted to do something individually, where I could really test myself,” she explains. “I wanted to do something on the water and I felt kayaking really suited these requirements. I liked the fact that it was all on me, that accountability really attracted me to kayaking.”

Big splash

Lucy recalls it was a challenge initially adjusting to life in a K1. In the early months she took a regular drenching and recalls one embarrassing incident in front of the watching two-time Olympic kayaker Erin Taylor.

“Erin, who was studying at Otago University at that time, come down to the club and I was super excited,” she recalls. “Because of the cold I was wearing a wet suit, although all I was thinking was, please don’t fall in, Erin Taylor is here. I went to tuck my wet suit down the side of the kayak and then, of course, I tipped straight out of the boat!”

Early competition

Recalling it took more than three minutes to complete her first K1 500m race at a low-key South Island regatta in 2016 she made her maiden appearance at the New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships.

Making finals of the U16 K1 200m and K1 500m events acted as a confidence boost, although she laughs at the memory of meeting current NZ Kayak Squad members, Alicia Hoskin and Danielle Watson for the first time.

“I remember being in awe of Alicia and Danielle, I paddled past them and asked both ‘how long have you been paddling for’? I just wanted an excuse to talk to both girls.”

International breakthrough

Under the coaching of Brendan O’Neill – of whom Lucy describes as being ‘fundamental in taking me from a complete beginner through to New Zealand team level’ – the Otago Girls’ High School Deputy Head Girl made steady progress.

Adopting a more structured training programme with greater focus and motivation she was recruited as part of the Otago Academy of Sport – which gave her access to more quality high performance sport resources.

In 2018 she was called up to compete for New Zealand at the Asia Pacific Cup in Adelaide, where she enjoyed a breakthrough performance in the K1 500m.

“I set a significant PB, which felt really quick,” she says.

Global gains

Later in 2018 she secured selection for New Zealand to compete at the Junior World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Describing the achievement as “an honour” and something she had been working towards from a young age she relished the experience of being part of a global competition.

“I found the scale of the event was awesome,” she says. “Typically, I feel nervous the night before a regatta but in Bulgaria I felt comfortable and relaxed because I was part of such a good team environment – which was definitely credit to my team-mates and the whole squad.”

Competing alongside Alex Bermingham, Pieta Luthi and Brooklyn Saunders in the K4 500m the team reached the semi-finals but did not progress. While disappointed not to advance to a final, Lucy believes she coped very well with a late seating change.

“I ended up being moved from the back to the front of the boat the week before the regatta, even though I’d never paddled at the front of a boat – not even in a K2. That could have mentally thrown us but we coped well.”

In fact, Lucy was so motivated by her Bulgarian experience she adds: “After the regatta, I didn’t want to go on a break, I just wanted to keep on training.” 

Asia rising

In 2019 she took up an academic scholarship to study a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biochemistry at the University of Otago. Living in the halls of residence and close to both the gym and harbour for training she continued to progress and won a sackful of five medals for New Zealand at the Asia Pacific Cup at Lake Karapiro – a location close to her Māori whakapāpā (ancestory).

“My marae is just down from Lake Karapiro and my maunga (mountain) overlooks the lake.”

Elite squad

After earlier this year placing seventh in the K1 200m and sixth in the K1 500m at the New Zealand Nationals she was called up to join the Auckland-based New Zealand women’s squad, which includes two-time Olympic champion Lisa Carrington.

Lucy transferred to the University of Auckland – where she continues to study a Bachelor of Science specialising in Biomedical Science – and while juggling her academic and sporting commitments can be challenging she is delighted to be given the opportunity to train in Lake Pupuke.

“It can sometimes feel like eat, sleep, train, study, repeat,” explains Lucy of her demanding daily life. “But being part of the elite squad allows me to do far more quality training with far greater precision. I’m coached my Jasper (Bats) but with coaching input from Gordon (Walker) and Nathan (Luce) – there is always something to work on.

“To have that support from other girls is awesome. I remember Caitlin (Ryan) helping me out in the gym and pointing out I was doing an exercise with my arms only and I that I should also use my body. She talked me through physically how I should be doing the exercise.

“Let’s be honest, if you are a kayaker the best place in the world to be is here in New Zealand.”

Future ambitions

Boasting good natural strength with an “attention to detail”, Lucy continues to go quietly progress. Living for much of lockdown with her training partner, Danielle Watson, she has some clear goals for the future.

“It is hard to know what is going to happen internationally in the future but I’m chasing some big PB’s at nationals next year.”

In the longer term the 2024 Paris Olympics is the target. 

The all-rounder

A natural busy person, Lucy is also helping out on an Otago University research programme for Maori Communities and Climate Change while she also has passion for music.

“I’ve always written my own songs since I was young, and more recently I’ve produced about eight songs,” explains Lucy, who plays guitar, flute and piano. “I use the song writing as an emotional outlet and when something comes to mind to write, I just go for it!”

Image Credit: Sharron Bennett