Two schools from the south of the South Island were the delighted recipients of a new single at the recent Aon Maadi Cup at Lake Ruataniwha.

And it was fitting that the winners of the two under-17 single sculls titles at the Aon Maadi Cup are among the most promising young rowers in the country.

Pipi Horan won the
girls’ title for Dunstan High School, while Marley King-Smith of Wakatipu High School bagged the boys’ crown. Each of them secured a brand-new Laszlo single scull for their school, courtesy of regatta sponsors Aon and Laszlo Boats New Zealand.

The significance of the win was not lost on their coaches.

“It’s a huge asset,” Dunstan coach Simon Smith said. “We’re a real grassroots club, and to have a boat like that in our shed as a result of the efforts of a young athlete is absolutely massive to our programme. It’s a world- class race boat and can only be an asset for us and for the young single scullers coming through.”

Indeed, Dunstan High School has no boats of its own, but its links with the Dunstan Arm club ensure that this is no impediment to young rowers. All the boats the school uses belong either to the club or to Smith himself.

“It’s a huge thing Laszlo and Aon are doing for the young rowing community. Boats are an expensive asset, and to donate two singles to the community each season is very generous. It’s helping add to the development of young athletes and I think it’s fantastic,” Smith said. To add to the drama of finals day, Horan had just recovered from a bout of Covid.

Was Smith confident Horan would get the job done? “If you’d asked me that question three weeks ago, I’d have said she’d win by 100m. Then she got Covid the week before Maadi. She came out of isolation on the Saturday before the regatta and hadn’t rowed for 10 days, so my confidence in her doing that was very low.

To come away with a gold and a silver (the latter won by Horan with Smith’s daughter

We chose the U17 races simply for the fact that any school in New Zealand could win that.

Sophie, who had also been unwell, in the under-18 double sculls) was testament to their training and their resilience. “They are extremely tough, competitive athletes, and I was utterly thrilled to see Pipi come through and win. She showed absolute grit and I’m super proud of her.”

Wakatipu High School coach John Morrison figured Marley King-Smith was “a chance” for the boys’ title.

“We weren’t sure if he was going to do the under-16 or under-17. We left it up to him. We think he wanted to test himself against the better guys.

“He was pretty confident of doing well, and we knew he would be there or thereabouts. He got more and more confident and had the quickest time in the heats.”

The securing of a new Laszlo single scull is a boon for the school, which has a strong link with the Wakatipu Rowing Club, based at Lake Hayes.

The school had no boats of its own until now, but the club has several singles, doubles and quads plus three eights.

Morrison is hopeful as a result of King- Smith’s success. “I’d like to think it is inspiring. The principal was on the phone after the regatta and very complimentary,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get a few new kids to be motivated to give it a crack.”

As for King-Smith, he has one more year of school rowing. According to Morrison, “He’s pretty dedicated and could take his rowing as far as he wants to. He does a lot of extra stuff himself, does a lot of research. He put extra effort into it and deserved his reward.”

And a final thought: St Paul’s Collegiate rower Riley Wills won the under-18 single in the boat he secured for his school last year from Laszlo. “It’s been a great help using the boat I won last season, so a big thanks to Laszlo Boats and Aon NZ,” Wills said.

Aon’s deputy managing director, Russell Bailey, is proud this initiative is gaining momentum. "We chose the U17 races simply for the fact that any school in New Zealand could win that. It is exciting to have now had eight different schools take home a brand-new skiff. We love seeing the Aon Maadi Cup skiffs in action on the water in the under-18 events each year, and it was amazing to see an Aon Maadi Cup legacy school win gold this year."