Kayakers create AIMS Games magic

Action from the 2016 NZCT AIMS Games in Tauranga from Sept 4-9.
Action from the 2016 NZCT AIMS Games in Tauranga from Sept 4-9.
Action from the 2016 NZCT AIMS Games in Tauranga from Sept 4-9.

George Snook has been eskimo rolling since he was five and reckons he hasn’t missed one in quite a while.
That proved the difference for the 13-year-old Mokoia Intermediate kayaker, who celebrated canoe slalom’s NZCT AIMS Games debut with his school’s first gold medal.
He needed to hold off a strong challenge from Hastings Intermediate paddler Jack Wilkinson to do it, however, on a freezing but spectacular McLarens Falls course.
“We were pretty even coming up to the second upstream gate but I picked up a bit of time through gates three and four and then with the roll,” Snook said.  “I was pretty stoked with the win… it’s been  so much fun and such a good day out.”
Despite a bracing southerly, canoe slalom’s first appearance at the games was a raging success.  With Olympic silver medalist Luuka Jones on hand dispensing advice and fitting lifejackets, the 35 athletes had a clear pathway from rookie-level to kayaking royalty.
It also featured winners from four different schools, with Snook joining Year 7 boys winner Brin Watson (ACG Tauranga), Year 7 girls Kate Hawthorne(Tauranga Intermediate) and Taradale Intermediate’s Madeleine Parker, who won the Year 8 girls final.
Jones stood, rugged up but jubilant, seeing first-hand the massive strides her sport has made.
“We went from not having any systems or programmes or pathways and now all of that is mapped out,” Jones said.  “Other countries are actually looking to us for some of the development systems that are in place.  It’s just so exciting and to come out and see it in the flesh is and see all the kids giving it 100 percent and just enjoying themselves – it’s just incredible.”
One paddler particularly influenced was Mount Maunganui Intermediate’s Holly Sheaff, who signed on with schoolmate Kahlia Cullwick to have something to do after the aerobics and multisport were finished.
It was only after some further investigation that they realised they needed to know how to eskimo roll.  After an intensive few weeks, Sheaff still wasn’t getting it… so she turned to Jones, hours after the Olympian had won silver in Rio.
“I decided to send her a text on Instagram and see if maybe she could give me some tips on eskimo rolling,” Sheaff said.  “I thought she is in Rio and she’s probably quite famous now – I’d be lucky if I even got a reply.”
Not so.  Jones was only too happy to help out.
“I was over in Rio and got a message from Holly, she said she’d just learned to eskimo roll and was training for the Aims Games and I guess for me, one of the biggest things is to get more kids into the sport. It meant a lot that she sent me a message and I was just so stoked to hear about that.”
It meant even more to Sheaff, who
“It’s just so amazing that she could even reply – she gave me a couple of tips, like just remember to bring your head up last and that just gave me a boost of confidence. Maybe two sessions later, I got my eskimo roll perfect and I can do it every time now. It’s just so cool.”
Unfortunately, a popped spray skirt halted Sheaff’s progression, though she was still left with an impressive fourth place, to cap a great week after winning gold in aerobics and bronze in the multisport teams race.

For full results, go here