WRC 2013 host nation – NZ’s U19 men’s team!

New Zealand are planning to have teams in every category (8 teams) at this World Champs. For a country that nearly always has to pay the most to travel to the World Champs it is great to see them taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity of a home event.

NZ y 2We have Rob Sperling the U19 men’s team coach to tell us more about the team and give us some fantastic advice on what to see in NZ.

The team members are: Patrick Washer, Dan Munro, Luke Robinson, Jack Dustin, Cole O’Connor Stratton (captain), Andre Sperling, Regan August and along with a very interesting combination of coaches, twin brothers Rob and Ray Sperling, who have been in the industry for over 30 years as raft guides, instructors, swift water training and with raft company management experience. Rob has been coach/teacher in charge of kayaking at Tauranga Boys College for 15 years, where most of the New Zealand men’s’ Canoe Slalom team over the past decade started kayaking.

So Rob, tell us something about history of the team?

“The team of 16-19 year olds entered the trials competition, first as a bit of fun and second to hopefully represent NZ in another sporting discipline. The whole team have slalom backgrounds from the champion Tauranga Boys College Kayaking past and present teams, with some world class extreme Creek Boaters, Freestylers and a Life Saver from our local Mt Maunganui beach in the mix. Most of the team have many kayaking “road trips” in Rob’s 69 Kombi Deluxe, and later in his Ford van around the country behind them and are really good friends on and off the water.

NZ y 1Team member Regan August is from Kawerau (where the Sprint, Head to Head and Slalom races for the U19 will be held) but moved to Tauranga to complete his College time and race for the Tauranga Boys College Kayaking Team and now attends the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic as an automotive student. After winning the trial series, having fun is still their main reason leading up to the Worlds. They all decided learning to be a raft guide by the twin brothers Rob and Ray may help with overseas work later in their careers so this has become part of the training program.”

What are you doing besides rafting?

“Most of the team train all year round for slalom or coach junior paddlers, so getting 6 guys in a raft was always going to be a mission for the coaches.

Three of the team even travelled to Australia and Europe in August to compete in the 2013 Junior Slalom World Champs so were not available to train with the team back in NZ, and if it rains some are off Creek Boating down flooded rivers around the North Island.”

How does your team prepare for the competition and on which rivers are you preparing?

“These young men have a huge amount of whitewater experience and this shows when they do come together, learning the finer aspects of rafting quickly. Improved team communication skills are starting to show through when we put them through their paces on the Senior Kaituna course where they rafted down without a guide on their first time. With a rescue boater accompanying them and the Sperling brothers running down the riverbank to each major section to set up rescue, the team did an amazing job of it. This turned out to be a good move by the coaches as it got the team listening intently during the pre-run instructions. As this is their home creek boating and slalom river, they are a bit disappointed they will not use this during the U19 competition in November. Patrick, Luke and Dan have fitness and weight training sessions as part of their slalom programme so that works for the rafting.”

How long have the team members been in rafting?

“As this is the first time most of the team have been in a raft, Coaches Rob and Ray have been slowly introducing rafting techniques that complement the boys Canoe Slalom C1 and C2 skills.”

Do you have any expectations related to the result…. and what are your expectations generally?

“This is a very young team with most of the boys aged around 16 years old. The NZ Rafting Trials was the first time the team has competed at a major event, so expectations at the Worlds will be simple- look good on the water as a team, give it 100%, meet some new friends and have a few laughs along the way. Racing against the other teams over the next month at our training camps will give the team a better indication as to where they are at right now”.

NZ y 3Which disciplines does your team like? Are there some of you might say that you are good at Slalom, Sprint…?

“The team is looking forward to all 3 events and hopes to be competitive in all, if they can get enough training in before November. Having said that the Tarawera River near Kawerau is one of our local slalom sites, so the boys now what conditions to expect in the U19 Slalom event.”

Do you see an advantage in the fact that you are compete at home in front of the home crowd or will the pressure be negative?

“Jack and Luke play rugby for Tauranga Boys College so they can’t wait for the Head to Head races where they are able to mix it up with the other rafts. The team is definitely hoping to utilise our home river advantage with the added advantage of the locals making some noise when we are racing.”

What would you recommend to do to those who are coming to New Zealand?

“There is just so much to see when our overseas visitors arrive for the other rafting worlds. Tauranga has one of the best beaches in the world over at Mount Maunganui which is great for freestyle paddling and surfing. If your crew have a spare day, try chartering one of our local boats for an offshore fish, where you are almost guaranteed to catch something to put on the BBQ.

If you are in the Bay of Plenty a week earlier than the Worlds, you might like to head to the Wairoa River, which because it is diverted for hydro power is only open 27 days of the year. Its our closest bit of Grade 5 Rafting water and is world renowned having 14 major rapids which take a raft of customers around an hour and a half to descend from top to bottom. Back in the 80’s and 90’s all the raft guides would get together once a year and race down the Wairoa. Entry was a tray of beer with the winner taking all. A fit crew of guides can get down in under 20 minutes to take the win and of course all the other competitors would sit down afterwards and help the winning team drink the prize. During the days of bucket boats these races involved flipping the raft on purpose to get rid of the water inside quickly after a major rapid before continuing. Some guys would be still bailing water out as the raft was going down some of the grade 5 rapids. The Wairoa is only 20 minutes drive from the centre of Tauranga where all of the U19 team live. Whenever the Wairoa is open over the summer, the team try to get up to paddle it and its because of the Tarawera, Rangitaiki, Wairoa and Kaituna Rivers only an hours drive away, the best Creek Boaters in the world come from this area such as Mike Dawson, Ryan Lucas, Louise Jull, Ben Brown, Louise Urwin and the Sutton brothers just to name a few. If you were to live in Rotorua as a river guide, you would learn your trade on the Rangitaiki River, then move up to the Kaituna, then finally they will be good enough to handle the Wairoa River, all within an hours drive.

Our local Kaimai Canoe Club decides on the dates it wants the Wairoa River to open and this information is relayed to the power company to diarise it in for the season. We decided to have Sunday 10th November on the weekend before the Worlds as one of the 27 days incase some of the overseas raft enthusiasts want to give it a go. Sunday the 24th is also booked for flow. Rafting companies use the Wairoa River with most customers getting a taste of the exhilarating team orientated type of rafting, wanting to go straight back up to do it again.”

NZ y 4Sponsors that you want to thank?

“We would like to thank our sponsors to date: Easy Gates – who has kindly sponsored a vehicle to use when the team travels to train, which is amazing. They even gave Cole a job as well.

Auckland University Kayaking Club- for lending us a raft similar to those we will use at the Worlds to train on in the Tauranga harbour and streams.

Kaimai Canoe Club for helping us with applications for funding.”

There is joy and pressure with a competition that is at your own home. We hope they will, above all, enjoy the WRC and wish them luck. Be persistent and we hope to see you at future World Champs as well.


Article by Nada