Max and Kurtis headline 2021 Nationals

The eagerly anticipated NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships will get underway at Lake Karapiro on Friday (May 14) as competitors chase the prestige of national honours in the sport’s premier domestic event.

The star turns at the three-day regatta – which was originally scheduled for February but was postponed because of Covid restrictions at the time – are Tokyo-bound K2 1000m duo Max Brown (Whanganui) and Kurtis Imrie (Mana).

Brown and Imrie were formally selected for the Tokyo Olympics last month after enjoying an impressive past couple of years both domestically and on the international stage.

However, the duo will face a strong challenge from CRNZ men’s squad training partners Hamish Legarth (Hawkes Bay) and Ben Duffy (Arawa), who claimed the scalp of Imrie and Brown at the Blue Lake 2 regatta in December.

Beyond the race for national titles and personal bragging rights, the open men’s K1 200m and K1 1000m events will have the added incentive of featuring as part of the selection process for both the open World Championships and the World U23 Championships.

The latter event, which takes place on Friday, has up to a dozen genuine contenders – which is a further illustration of the growing strength in depth of the men’s canoe programme.

Brown and Imrie will be among the key contenders in the K1 1000m. However, other names to watch for include defending champion Zach Ferkins (Poverty Bay) and the minor medallists from the 2020 edition; Duffy and Legarth. Another danger is the 2019 national champion Quaid Thompson (Poverty Bay) while others challengers include Ashton Reiser (North Shore) and recent invitees to the New Zealand men’s kayak squad – Ben McCallum (Waitara), Ethan Moore (Karapiro) and Sam Ferkins (Poverty Bay), younger brother of Zach. 

Another interesting entrant is versatile paddle ace Tupu King (unaffiliated), who makes his canoe sprint debut this week. The Papamoa-based athlete has previously starred as one of New Zealand premier waka ama paddlers but on a journey to learn and experience other paddling disciplines in only his third ever surf ski race landed the national surf ski title last month in Whakatane. Talented U18 paddler Kalani Gilbertson is entered in the open race and will seek to make an impact.

The men’s K1 200m (heats, semis and final on Sunday) is similarly competitive lead by Reiser, who is seeking a hat-trick of national open men’s K1 200m titles. Among his key rivals will be Taris Harker (Karapiro) – another who was recently invited to join the national men’s squad – two-and-a-half years after being decarded following heart complaints.

Now fully recovered from his medical issues, Taris claimed top spot in the open men’s K1 200m at the Blue Lake 1 and 2 regattas earlier this season and finished just 0.03 adrift of Reiser in a titanic tussle at 2020 nationals.

Brown, Imrie, Legarth, Duffy, Zach Ferkins, McCallum and Moore are also expected to feature in what could prove one of the most closely-fought battles of the championships.

Both the open men’s K1 200m and K1 1000m will act as part of the selection races for the 2021 World Championships and World U23 Championships.

CRNZ coach Tim Brabants said of the paddlers in the national men’s squad: “Everyone is thankfully in good physical shape and looking forward to racing, One of the benefits of having nationals later in the year (following its postponement in February) is we don’t have crew boat trials after the championships, so this allows paddlers to jump into club boats with team-mates, which allows the paddling community to come together. 

“We have a strong group of ten or 11 athletes at the top end with no big gaps in between performance levels. Hopefully this will enable the strength of the group to continue to improve.”

With the key Tokyo contenders in the New Zealand’s women’s squad competing at Olympic Trials on Lake Pupuke, Auckland this week expect some new names to emerge in the medal picture at the open women’s events in Cambridge.

Three-time World Championship medallist Aimee Fisher (see pictured above) is hard to oppose in both the women’s K1 200m and 500m events.

Fisher (Hawkes Bay) impressed at her most recent competitive outing, finishing less than a second down on double Olympic champion Lisa Carrington in the K1 200m and tying for second alongside Caitlin Regal in the K1 500m at Blue Lake 2.

A strong group of under-23 paddlers will also seek to make their mark in the open women’s K1 200m (Sunday) and K1 500m (Friday). Olivia Brett (Arawa), a former World Junior K1 200m finalist, is a paddler with hugely exciting potential. Lucy Matehaere (Otago) and Samalulu Clifton (North Shore) both claimed A Final berths in the K1 200m and K1 500m at the 2020 New Zealand Championships and will once again look to make an impact. Alex Bermingham (Poverty Bay) – who has recently joined the New Zealand invitational women’s squad – is another strong challenger.

Emma Kemp (Mana) has been a regular fixture in national A finals over the K1 500m in recent times is another paddler to be respected.

Both the open women’s K1 200m and K1 500m will also form part of the selection process for the World U23 Championships.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing this younger group of women perform and put on a good display,” adds CRNZ coach Jesper Bats. “They’ve put in a lot of work over the last year and they’ll all be looking forward at the opportunity to compete again for the first time in a while. Both the K1 events and the crew boats should make for some highly exciting racing.”

The action in the U18 division will be no less competitive as the leading paddlers pursue national glory.

In the men’s K1 200m and K1 1000m watch out for Arawa duo Thomas MacGibbon and Alex Hickman while Daniel Brown (Hawkes Bay) – an impressive winner at Blue Lake 2 in the K1 1000m – is also expected to contend. Leon Fuller (Eastern Bay) is another likely to be prominent.

The women’s U18 division is also very strong led by Waitara duo Julia Padrutt (see pictured above) and Scarlett Old. Look out too for Tara Vaughan (North Shore) and Emma Brownlie (Poverty Bay), although such is the quality in the age-group expect up to ten women to contend.

CRNZ development coach Craig Mustard said: “The U18s could provide some of the most competitive racing in the championships. The development of the younger paddlers has been hugely exciting and is testament to the great work the club coaches are putting at a club level.”

The national championships also represents the first phase of selection for the World U18 Championships programme. The second phase of K1 selection and the crew boat trials takes place at Lake Karapiro on May 26-30.

Also in action in Cambridge will be Arawa’s Scott Martlew (see pictured above), the two-time World KL2 200m medallist. The Para-canoeist will be using the championships as preparation for the 2020 Paralympic Games later this year. 

The three-day programme will offer national titles for novice, U12, U14, U16, U18, U23, open and masters divisions for both men and women over a range of distances; 100m, 200m, 500m and 1000m.

To follow the results over the course of the championships download the Canoe Racing NZ app or click on the link here

For race timetable go here

For full lane draw go here