Andy Hay catches up with the New Zealand Under 19 squad after their first  week at Lake Karapiro ahead of the U19 Worlds in Paris in August.

 

It’s 3.30pm and you’re walking a nearly new black Filippi down to the water at the national training centre of one of the world’s best rowing nations.

Yesterday you had a squad session out on the water with the elite New Zealand crews, testing your U2 work alongside Olympic champions and world championship winners.

You get two of these sessions a week before the elites go into another phase of their build-up at the end of the month.

It’s blowing pretty hard down the racecourse at Lake Karapiro but by the time you get past the pylons your boat is mirrored on still water for as far as you will need to row.

This is the reward.

For someone like Maxim Ericson in the boys’ quad, the opportunity to train at Karāpiro is huge.

“It's awesome, especially coming from Wellington, we're on the ergs all season,” he says.

“I don't think we've ever really warmed up on the erg in Wellington cause it's always just the work. Up here, we get to go on the water every day.”

Maxim echoes a famous anecdote that’s probably grown in the telling over the years when West End Rowing Club stalwart Wyn Wrathall was opining about the difficulties of finding good rowing water in the capital.

He famously baited the Wellington Secondary Schools Association which was pitching to host a Maadi Regatta there many years ago.

“You’ve told us where you’re going to hold it if there’s a northerly,” he taunted. “You’ve told us where you’ll hold it if there’s a southerly as well. You’ve told us where we can race it in an easterly, and where we can race in a westerly. But what you haven’t told us is where you’re going to race it if it’s not blowing at all.”

The boys in the quad are from all corners as well. Maxim’s a Year 13 at Wellington College, Justin Smyth (Hillcrest High) and Jack Clark (Hamilton Rowing Club) are the Waikato locals and Marley King-Smith’s the only South Islander (Wakatipu High).

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U19 Men’s 4X STROKE TO BOW: Justin Smyth (Hillcrest High School), Marley King-Smith (Wakatipu High School), Maxim Ericson (Wellington College) and Jack Clark (Hamilton Rowing Club).

The girls’ eight is split between four Rangi Ruru rowers plus their cox Annabel Wynn-Williams and Wellington students Emma Bagrie, Nico Daly, Kate Barham and Zola Kemp.

It’s helped them hit the ground running as they were able to break into fours after they returned home after selection in April.

But the real ice breaker was a self-funded weekend camp at Lake Ruataniwha a couple of weeks back, says women’s eight coach Logan Keys.

“The cool thing about that was it was just real team building. Sitting by the fire, playing cards, van trips,” says Logan.

And rowing. The two eights got five on-water sessions.

So by the time they assembled at Karāpiro last week, they’d already clocked a few miles together.

Logan thinks that will only add to their potential.

“We probably have more time together than other nations. We might be one of the smaller crews I imagine but our advantage is time together and time to perfect the movement and the synchronicity.

“We want to be the most skillful crew possible. I've been pretty excited with what we've seen so far. And of course, I've got six weeks to make it faster.”

THE U19 NZ SQUAD SHOWING OFF THEIR CREATIONS FROM THEIR DINNER COOK OFF DURING THEIR CAMP AT LAKE KARĀPIRO:

Coach Dale Maher has already set his benchmark for the boys’ eight. He’s aiming to go under the world junior record of 5:33 in France. He likes giving his crews tangible targets and some GPS tracking already tells him it's achievable.

“The way they're going just in the first week, it's been incredible. We've got an absolutely outstanding group of boys. Erg scores are up with any of the best in the world recently. We've got the kids to do it and hopefully I've got the skills to get them to the level they need to be at.”

The men’s eight was incredibly stable and almost frighteningly relaxed as it headed up to the corner by the waterski club on their Thursday afternoon row.

On the way home, the women’s eight had that same air of calm. They were seamlessly pulling off square blade pieces despite just having tandem rigged the boat that day.

The quad had gone off ahead, but we got the thumbs up from the boys and coach Martin Simoncelli as they docked. Girls’ reserve Milly Farrell from St Margaret’s went past at one stage in her single, looking like she’d been rowing it a lot longer than four days. She’s being coached by Anna DeLong, who also has boys’ reserves Logan Spencer and Charlie Poulter finding their feet in a pair.

They are already a tight unit.

Video: Andy Hay. The New Zealand Under 19 squad during their first week at Lake Karapiro ahead of the U19 Worlds in Paris in August.

Dale talks about shared hardship as the best way to get to Paris for the worlds.

“If everybody that hits France, doesn't matter what boat they're in, girls’ boat, boys’ boat, quad, eight, whatever, if they've all done the same work, they can support each other: ‘I can support him/her because they have done just what I've done’. No one in the team's getting a free ride. They all know exactly what we're all putting in. So that shared hardship is a real link.
“It's a bit of a glue that gels the whole thing together.”

That mentality means a lot to someone like boys’ eight stroke Oscar Clatworthy from Cashmere High. The school is only in its eighth year of rowing and Oscar’s selection is a huge boost for the programme.

“Being the underdog and coming up here to the New Zealand trial and making it in the team was just a dream come true,” he says. “It's just a fantastic experience. Couldn't be any happier.”

“It's a whole different sort of animal stroking this big eight, but I really like it. I'm loving having the power behind me. It's a big monster to pull down the course, but yeah, it just flies. Just flies.”

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.