Liam leads the way

Liam Lace currently leads the open men’s K1 standings after six rounds of this year’s Kayak Krazy Series. Ahead of the latest round – which takes place on Lake Karapiro on Sunday – we chat to the 20-year-old Cambridge-based athlete about his competitive efforts this winter and his paddling journey so far.

From launching his own clothing brand to putting together cool, and sometimes quirky, online videos Liam Lace is without doubt one of the intriguing personalities in the domestic paddling environment.

Yet despite his varied interests away from the water, his main priority remains paddling and as the current leader in the Kayak Krazy Series he hopes to finish his winter racing in style with a strong performance at the New Zealand 10km Championships in Rotorua on August 29 – which marks the climax of the Kayak Krazy season.

“I’ve been treating the series fairly seriously, it gives me extra race experience and the hope is to be pushed along by the other paddlers,” he says. “I’ve not been tapering (for the races in the series) but I’m happy with the performances I’ve put in. 

Raised in Whanganui, Liam was first introduced to kayaking on family holidays at Opoutere near Whangamata in the Coromandel and from the age of eight he paddled with the Whanganui Multisport and Club – where he was coached by Brian Scott.

Being a part of a club environment from such a young age gave him a good foundation in the sport and Liam fully acknowledges the key role Brian played as coach and mentor.

“I owe him so much for where I am today in the sport,” explains Liam of Brian. “He never pushed us too hard but promoted a sense of healthy competition. He has so much patience. He saw the potential in everyone and was willing to invest a lot of time in us to help us reach our potential. I’m very grateful for the influence he had on myself and so many others at the club.”

His paddling skills were further developed by playing recreational league Canoe Polo for four years but it was after being granted a car licence at the age of 16, which was to prove pivotal in his kayak development.

Now with the option of driving to training on a morning rather than taking a bike – he suddenly more than doubled his training sessions from “four to five to 11 to 12 a week” and he quickly saw the fruits of his labour.

“As I trained harder, I saw my speed improve and I got a bit of a dopamine hit,” he explains.

An impressive display at the 2017 Blue Lake 2 in Rotorua earned him a spot in the New Zealand Junior squad and the following year he made his international debut at GP2 in Sydney – winning K4 500m gold – followed by the Asia Pacific Cup in Adelaide.

Yet the highlight of not only the year but his career so far came when he competed at the World Junior and U23 Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

“It was phenomenal,” recalls Liam. “We spent five weeks in Europe and prepared for the event for four weeks in France, which was awesome. To have kayaking as the sole thing to think about was pretty amazing.” 

Liam featured as part of the men’s K4 500m team alongside Dylan Neal-Hill, Sam Ferkins and Jack Clifton – which failed to advance to the B Final – but he reflects on many happy memories of the event. 

“We all knew it was going to by hard battle against the top European athletes,” he adds. “We were extremely happy with the times we recorded and although we didn’t quite make it to a B Final, which was the goal, we were happy with what we did.”

It was all change for Liam in 2019 as he started a Bachelor of Business degree at the University of Waikato and he moved from Whanganui to live in Cambridge, where now is now coached by Scott Bicknell as part of the Karapiro Performance Hub.

Training up to 13 sessions a week, Liam, who lives with a group of high performance athletes from a range of sports including his former World Junior Championship crew-mate Sam Ferkins, insists his main priority is the K1 1000m but admits his main strengths lie with the longer distances – a fact borne out by his performances in the Kayak Krazy Series.

Last year he placed third overall in the open men’s division in the 10km winter competition and this year he is setting the pace after a fourth place finish in Bay of Plenty, victory at Mana and second spot in Hawke’s Bay.  

“There are still three rounds to go and the goal is stay ahead of the pack,” explains Liam. “The plan is to race Karapiro this weekend and then the final in Rotorua. Of course, if Max Brown and those HP Boys decided to compete they’ll be coming through me, and realistically I don’t think I can hold them off, but we’ll just have to see.”

Away from the water, Liam at the age of 16 – along with two friends boldly set up a clothing brand – Struth. Selling hoodies, t-shirts and shorts plus several other items the brand still has a website today and has been a positive experience for the young paddler.

“It has been a little bit of fun,” he says. “I’m not really seeing the profits as they are being re-invested into more stock,” he says. “It is a low-risk investment and gives me a buzz seeing people wear our clothing. If it takes off, it takes off.”

Liam, a keen mountain biker, has also put together a series of cool videos on his Instagram page @limlace – and he has not been afraid to put together a quirky video-  as seen by riding a mountain bike dressed as a T-Rex!

“One of my friends is into film and photography, I’ve picked up some things from him and enjoy putting the videos together”, he explains.

Yet whether editing films or designing t-shirts his main priority remains kayaking and he still has some big ambitions for the future.

“In the short-term I’d like to get into the New Zealand Performance Pathway Programme and use that as a stepping stone to qualify for the New Zealand Under-23 team in the next year or two.”