Tauranga's Taris Harker is one of five new faces in Canoe Racing New Zealand's high performance squad.
The whole nine-man male high performance squad would move to Auckland in December to train under new national men's coach Frederic Loyer.
He had been the steadiest improver over the last year, having formed a solid training unit with Bay of Plenty teammate Tim Waller.
That potential helped out after illness hit during the national trial a fortnight ago.
"I wasn't really expecting to get in because I didn't think I performed that well at the trial, but it turns out I did enough to get in," Harker said.
"Tim and I have worked really well together, bouncing off each other in the gym and on the water, but the bigger the squad, the higher the level gets. I'm really looking forward to the fact there's going to be a lot of us working together under Fred's program in Auckland, with nine of us all there on the water every day, in the gym every day.
That will be great."
While Christchurch's Ben Duffy didn't make the trip, Harker and the other three new squad members, Hawke's Bay's Elise Legarth, Gisborne's Britney Ford and Wanganui's Max Brown, used the annual Blue Lakes 1 regatta at Tikitapu to gauge where they're at.
Harker finished second in the K1 200m at Blue Lakes 1, just 0.46secs behind Imrie, and third in the K1 1000m behind Imrie and another high performance squad member, Ben Tinnelly (Otago University).
Making the 10-strong female high performance squad, alongside Lisa Carrington and the national K4 crew, meant a huge deal to 19-year-old Legarth, who was in her first year at Waikato University studying environmental science.
"It pretty much means I can do as well as I want to - there's just so much more support," Legarth said.
"I've already had my first week training on the programme and it's been a big step up but I'm really excited about it."
If she needed a graphic example of how valuable the squad is for paddling development, she needed only to look at her rivals over the weekend.
Without Carrington and the K4 crew, the female ranks were dominated by North Shore pair Rebecca Cole and Briar McLeely.
Cole won the K1 1000m, McLeely grabbed the K1 500m and 200m, then they teamed up to dominate the K2 200m and K2 500m, while Legarth was third in each of the individual finals.
It was a similar story in the men's ranks, where Mana's Kurtis Imrie cleaned up, winning over all three K1 distances, then teaming with Brown to win the K2 1000m.
Ford, meanwhile, had recovered from a dislocated shoulder that marred her season last year, with the 18-year-old already noticing the step up into national women's coach Rene Olsen's program.
"It's definitely been an eye-opener - we've done a couple of massive gym sessions and they've been really hard," Ford said.
"I've slept pretty well afterwards - a few of us are still a bit sore now!"
Like Legarth, Ford was also in her first year away from home, studying in Auckland where she'd been training at Lake Pupuke.
Joining the high performance squad meant she would spend her days rubbing shoulders with Kayla Imrie, Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan and Aimee Fisher, who finished fifth in the K4 Olympic final in Rio.
Carrington and the K4 squad were expected to turn out for the second Blue Lakes regatta in December.
New Zealand high performance squads:
Women: Aimee Fisher, Briar McLeely, Britney Ford*, Caitlin Ryan, Elise Legarth*, Jaimee Lovett, Kayla Imrie, Kim Thompson, Rebecca Cole, Lisa Carrington.
Men: Ben Tinnelly, Benjamin Duffy*, Craig Simpkins, Jaimie Banhidi, Kurtis Imrie, Marty McDowell, Max Brown*, Taris Harker*, William Wilkins.
* = new squad member.