Performance Development Thoughts

A number of promising, young athletes are part of the Canoe Racing NZ Performance Development Program. We speak to three paddlers who share their thoughts on the benefits of being a part of the program.

Kalani Gilbertson

The North Shore-based paddler (see image above) has only been kayaking since 2018 but such is his talent, his hard work was rewarded when asked to attend the Performance Development squad.

Emerging from a surf lifesaving background last year he made his international debut competing in the 2019 Asia Pacific Cup and following the 2020 New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships joined the Performance Development squad.

Based in Auckland, where he works as a builders apprentice, he divides his time training at Lake Pupuke under the coaching of Gavin Elmiger and every other weekend in Cambridge, where he is assisted by Canoe Racing NZ Development Coach Craig Mustard.

The combination has worked well and the 17-year-old paddler also feels he has made gains in his development by being given access as a PD squad member to the online workshops.

“I’ve been keen to gain some weight and muscle mass so I’ve done a few workshops on nutrition,” explains Kalani. 

“I’m burning a lot of calories combining building with training, but the nutritional workshops have caused me to tweak my diet. I went from eating four sandwiches on white bread with ham and coleslaw on a lunchtime to now having a big bowl of chicken salad with lettuce, strawberries and grapes. I take on board more calories now but I have better balanced diet. I try to have six decent sized meals every day rather than three huge meals. I’ve noticed the new diet has made a huge difference in that I’m not as hungry and not losing as much energy, which leaves me amped and ready to go for training.”

The Performance Development programme also gives him access to sports psychology support, which Kalani also believes has been of huge benefit.

Combining training with full-time work can often mean waking every day at around 4am and often not getting home until 7pm. Naturally this can be hugely demanding but talking to a sports psychologist has helped ease the mental strain.

“They taught me the importance of not rushing, focusing on the right amount of sleep and looking at the bigger picture,” he explains  “As a younger person you sometimes want to do it all, but I now have a full understanding I need to make certain sacrifices to achieve my goals.”

Sam Ferkins

Enjoying his second year on the Performance Development Program, the Poverty Bay paddler (see above) is reaping the rewards with his quality on-water performances.

The 19-year-old, who last year finished sixth in the B Final of the K1 1000m at the World Junior Championships in Romania, was called up the PD program after the 2019 National Championships.

As a part of the program he was able to experience some brief stints training alongside the high performance squad – which includes elder brother Zach, the 2020 New Zealand K1 1000m champion – an experience which proved useful in giving him a greater understanding about what was required to train at the top level.

“It was cool to see how the guys were training in because my goal is one day to push into the high performance squad,” he explains.

“I realised it was a bit of a step up and slightly different way of training compared to what I was used to.”

Following the 2020 Nationals in February, Sam moved full-time from Gisborne to Cambridge. The majority of Sam’s program is completed individually following a program set by Canoe Racing NZ Development coach Craig Mustard with a few sessions carried out with the Karapiro Kayak Club and the odd session with the senior men’s team, when the program allows for this.

Sam feels he has adapted relatively quickly to the training demands and believes he has made major gains technically since being a part of the program.

“I’ve been doing heaps of technical work with Craig via video and looking over the data such as stroke distance, stroke rate, heart rate etc,” he explains. “My technical side has definitely improved. We’ve also just started doing some specific work around races plans, which has also been really helpful.”

With a future goal to make the high performance squad he has no lack of motivation to reach that target.

“Seeing my brother Zach a part of it, I’m chasing him,” explains Sam. “We do have that sibling rivalry and I think I push him a bit too.”

Olivia Brett

Former World Junior Championship K1 200m A finalist Olivia Brett (see above) is a paddler of rich promise and as a Performance Development athlete, she believes the program has played multiple benefits in her career journey.

The 19-year-old Christchurch-based paddler believes the technical input, training advice and knowledge garnered through the workshops have all played an important role in her development. 

“The best part of the program has been attending the camps and receiving the extra coaching, particularly on technique,” explains Olivia, who is given the extra technical input from Canoe Racing NZ Development Coach Craig Mustard.

“It is nice to receive that extra support. Receiving that specific video feedback – which has helped break my technique down – has been a massive benefit. Initially, it allowed me to make quite big changes. As I’ve progressed as a paddler the technical changes have been smaller but they are still important.”

The knowledge gained from the training camps has also helped overcome her dislike of long paddles. Olivia has enjoyed the bulk of her success over the shorter 200m distance but being introduced to new concepts such as “energy systems” and “training zones” brought home the importance of the longer endurance paddle.

“I used to hate the long paddle but once I was able to understand the purpose behind them and why it was so important for racing, it had a big impact on my training.”

Coached by Rob Creasey at the Arawa Club, Olivia also fully appreciates the Zoom workshops – and set particular store behind the values workshop which emphasised the purpose of paddling. 

“I’ve had some ups and downs in my kayaking career but being able to solidify my values and regain my purpose for paddling, which I did lose for a time, through the workshop was a really positive thing for me,” she adds.