Introducing Toby Brooke

We find out more about the versatile 22-year-old paddler from Whanganui Kayak Club, who has more recently switched focus from kayaking to surf ski racing.

Early beginnings

Paddling was a part of Toby’s life for almost as long as he recall. Family camping trips would be spent paddling on plastic sit on tops in the surf or river. From the age of ten his parents would take him on annual multi-day canoe trips down the Whanganui River.

A keen footballer at the time, he first tried out at Whanganui Kayak Club at the age of 12 on the recommendation of a friend.

“I remember a mate (Lachie Cromar) and I were put in a K2 and we spent more time swimming than paddling,” he recalls of his first session. “Five years later we won the U18 K2 1000m together at the national championships.”

Great guidance

Under the coaching influence of Aaron Cox and Brian Scott, Toby enjoyed a great foundation in the sport and made the New Zealand team to race at the 2013 Grand Prix in Sydney. Aged 15 he had no clue how he would perform but swept to triple success in the U16 K1 200m, 500m and 1000m.

Yet he owes so much to Aaron and Brian for his career development.

“Both had different styles which complimented each other,” explains Toby. “Coxy came from a downriver background and Brian from surf lifesaving and both had different styles that helped me develop as a paddler. I always remember them smashing the masters K2 1000m at the first few regattas I raced at. Both not just giving us good advice but leading by example.”

Still coached by Brian today, Toby credits the Whanganui coaching guru for much of his success.

“Brian is a great coach,” he explains. “I tend to have lots of questions and want to understand what I’m doing whether it is technical, in the gym or the programme design. Brian is great at having discussions around this.”

International breakthrough

Toby continued to excel sweeping to victory in the junior men’s K2 1000m at 2014 nationals with Lachie and the following year tasted victory in the U18 men’s K1 1000m at New Zealand nationals.

He also has many vivid memories of finishing second in the B Final at the 2015 World Junior Championships in Portugal.

“I got an idea of the level of competition internationally but I also learnt to have confidence that I could compete at level,” he recalls.

Injury blow

After the rich promise of his junior career, he was dealt a huge blow in his first year as an open paddler after sustaining a back injury in the countdown to 2016 nationals. He continued to race on the injury but the problem only became worse.

“It was a slow recovery process and I had to pull out of the U23 worlds team that year,” he explains of the injury which was never properly diagnosed but was likely to have been a spinal stress response in the mid-back. “Twelve months later I still couldn’t sit in a K1. At that point I started paddling an old ocean ski, so I could get out on the water without any pain. And since then have engaged in a very slow increase in loading to avoid any flare ups. I learnt a lot during the couple of years I was out injured about training load management and injury recovery.”

Kayak return

Toby only returned to sprint racing at the 2018 nationals – two years after first picking up the injury. Later last year he impressed at Blue Lake 2. Teaming up with 2019 ICF Open Canoe Sprint World Championships representative Max Brown the pair claimed victory in the K2 race in the Whanganui club boat.

“I thought we had a pretty good race, although there was lots to improve on,” he explains. “We were undefeated at that point in the season.”

Toby went on to the 2019 New Zealand nationals and clinched a K2 200m medal alongside Ethan Moore in the K2 200m – an event he does not regard as his strong suit. He was also pleased to bank silver in K4 500m with the Whanganui team.

Ski focus

Since competing at New Zealand nationals, he has focused his attention of surf ski racing. At Auckland’s King and Queen of the Harbour race in April, he romped to victory in the U23 division and also claimed a podium spot in the open race.

Then in USA he claimed 13th in the Gorge Downwind Champs in July before claiming a respectable 16th in the U23 race on his debut at the ICF Canoe Ocean Racing Championships in France in September.

But why turn his attention to surf ski racing?

“I really enjoy the freedom I get racing and training in ocean ski,” he explains. “I get to set the challenges I want and race in different places around the world. I also enjoy the added challenge of the strategic racing and that the race course is always different with the unpredictability of the ocean.”

Training regime

Fitting training around working two part-time jobs – as a building science analyst and some work coaching – can sometimes be challenging but he aims for a session each day. Combing a mixture of ski, K1, gym and bike training the elixir seems to be working.

“If its windy I’ll be on the ski or if it’s glass I’ll be keen to paddle the K1”, he adds. “I’ll try and train twice a couple of days a week. I’m really enjoying racing at the moment so I like to support local races and it’s always fun paddling new water and racing so I work my programme around those. Preparing for the ski I try to get a couple more sessions out on the ocean and have replaced my K1 with my ski for a few sessions. For K1 training, I tend to get a lot of base fitness work in, so it transfers over to longer distance racing.”

Love of the sport

For Toby the long-term goals are simply to continue enjoying the sport – and surf has been a great addition to his paddling diet.

“I love getting out on the ocean to try to improve my skills in different conditions,” he explains. “Nearly every time I get off the water I feel better than when I got on it. If it is a 5km float, 30km downwind or downriver run I just love getting out there and paddling. Even if I didn’t race, I’d still be paddling all the time just for the joy of it.”