Commercially rafting is a huge tourist attraction in New Zealand with around 100,000 people each year doing guided raft trips. Sports rafting, historically, has been limited to the Rotorua and Kawerau area and hence there are a few competitive teams based in that area.
However, since New Zealand won the bid to hold the 2013 World Rafting Champs in the Rotorua region, the interest in sport rafting has grown there and there has also been a good number of youth teams starting up through schools in the South Island. There is also an awakened interest from those who are in the Masters categories.
The BTA Masters team will be participating in the Pre-Worlds and we asked Grant South to chat to us. – “The BTA team (stands for Been to Africa) is represented by: Bob (BWB – Big Water Bob) at steering right back, myself Grant South (Southy) at back left, Jay Bennet, Paul Eames and two new comers – Todd Jago and Pete Simpson”
Tell me about the competitions you have participated in outside of New Zealand?
“We competed in the Australasian Champs in Japan on the Tone River, Minakami, in 2000 to qualify for the Camel White Water Challenge in Zambia 2001 on the Zambezi River” – say Grant, “In Japan we came first in the Downriver, first in the Sprints and 2nd in the Slalom. In Africa we won the Slalom, third in the Sprints, middle of the field in the Downriver and third Overall.” – So a great success on the Zambezi River.
The kind of racing one faces on the Zambezi River leaves an unforgettable impression, one they remember well: “We are training in BTA (name of the raft they raced in Africa in 2001) and even dragged out the original set of race paddles.” – say Grant. Memories are a great inspiration for training.
The new Masters category is a fantastic opportunity to bring the old crew together again, an opportunity to travel the world again, to see some new rivers and to compete and socialise.
New Zealand has also begun to work with the young people, especially in the junior category. On the social side raft racing in Kawerau is very strong and this is what has produced competitive teams. However their dominance is threatened as recently a strong youth side is developing on the South Island.
New Zealand have had Open men’s and women’s teams competing at the IRF R6 World Rafting Champs since its development in 1998 and prior to that at the Camel White Water Challenges. They have missed only two World Champs since then – Bosnia in 2009 for the women, when they could not get funding to go; and the men missed 2007 in Korea. They do not get enough funding for teams to compete in competitions outside of New Zealand and due to the global nature of the country being so far from other countries it is often very expensive for them to attend events.
So the local teams are relishing the opportunity to compete at the top level but on home turf !