Gutsy, tenacious, and tough were just some of the words used to describe the junior paddlers who took part in the Canoe Racing event at the 2022 Zespri Aims Games at Mount Maunganui on Tuesday, back after a 2-year hiatus.
An “unlikely” (according to locals) southerly breeze from the snow-covered Central Plateau made for an incredibly cold day at the beach, but that did not deter the intermediate school Aims Games participants, who all showed great strength of character in the challenging conditions.
Over 80 year 7 and 8 students from 21 schools took to the water in the new CRNZ Kahawai event format, representing their school in short, round-the-cans racing off Pilot Bay Beach. All paddlers completed 2 rounds of heats and then a finals round in the individual Paddler-X racing, followed by team relay events, which really got the school spirit firing.
There were a range of abilities, from paddlers very experienced in sprint or oceanski, to canoe slalom or canoe polo specialists to others who were very new to paddling. All participants did so well, challenging themselves and achieving just by getting around the course.
Waiting on the finish line to give a celebratory high-five, an encouraging word or a supportive hug was Tokyo Olympian Alicia Hoskin. She was there for every race, occasionally pausing to take a photo with the kids or sign one of the NZ Kayak Team Olympic posters that all participants were given. Joining her on the beach was fellow NZ kayakers Max Brown and Hamish Legarth, helping the kids to carry and get fitted with boats, holding them steady on the start line or keeping them moving and warm.
It was so special to have these High-Performance athletes there to support and inspire the next generation, and the kids were treated to a Q&A session during the lunch break.
Choppy conditions in the heats favoured those who had experience on the sea and in surfskis but there was some very close racing all throughout the day, especially in the final round.
In the Year 7 girls, Claudine Meerlo from Taradale Intermediate (Hawkes Bay) had a perfect score sheet, winning both her heats then taking out the final race. Havelock North Intermediate’s Mia Parker was 2nd overall, followed by Kaia Hall (Taradale Intermediate).
In the year 7 boys division, Dominic Rowland from Whakatane Intermediate was dominant and lead from start to finish in the final to take home the gold. In 2nd place was Kohimarama School’s Lucas Oomens, who only started paddling in February this year. Noah Elmiger, son of the legendary Gavin
Elmiger, was in 3rd place representing Whangaparoa College.
Local favourite Isla Frazer from Mount Maunganui Intermediate stood on top of the podium in the Year 8 girls, ahead of Taylor Newman from Ilminster Intermediate (Gisborne) in silver and New Plymouth’s Emma Iceton (Highlands Intermediate) in bronze position.
Murray’s Bay Intermediate School took a clean sweep in the Y8 boys category, with Jake Botha taking the title over his school mates and training partners Lucas Gilberd (2nd) and Rory Orman (3rd) .
Shortly after, Murray’s Bay Intermediate once again proved their skills with a dominant win the three-paddler team relay in the Y8 boys division. Mt Maunganui Intermediate won the Year 8 girls, Taradale Intermediate took out the Year 7 Girls and Whakatane Intermediate won gold in the Year 7 boys.
In all races, there was great sportsmanship and support of fellow paddlers which was a great credit to the kids, and by the end of the day, the wind had swung east and it was very pleasant at the Mt.
Congratulations to all the paddlers who took part and to all the medal winners. Everyone should be very proud for representing themselves and their schools so well.
Thanks to all the officials, volunteers and helpers on the day who made the event run so smoothly and making it a special day for the kids. We look forward to growing this event and making it bigger and better for the future of our sport.