It is no surprise canoe slalom is booming in the Bay with role models like home-grown Olympians Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson leading the way.

With demand surging since Jones won a silver medal in Rio, Canoe Slalom BOP has taken on another highly regarded European coach.

Pierre Labarelle, 34, from France has been in Tauranga two months and joins Katarina Macova, 30, from Slovakia, who has been nurturing the talents of our next generation of paddlers for six months.

They are both highly respected internationally after stellar careers.


Labarelle won four gold medals at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in C-1 and C-2 and six medals at the European Championships.

Macova became the first European champion for Slovakia in the women's C-1 event and won a bronze medal in C-1 at the 2011 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.

"The club is very impressive and the level is very good. I was not expecting such good paddlers for young kids," Labarelle said.

"The number of paddlers is awesome. I think [Katarina] and me have about 20 kids each and there are more than 35 novices in the programme. That makes more than 75 kids. Back in France which is a strong country in slalom, we usually have 30 to 40 kids in big clubs.

"It would be good to have some white water in Tauranga and some steep rivers but the training area here is really good for working on basics.

"We also train at Kaituna River which is not too far away and go up to Auckland as well to the new facility [Vector Wero Whitewater Park, Manukau]."

Macova has loved every minute of her time based in Tauranga.

"I think the kids here in New Zealand in general are very agile because they have done a lot of different sports which is a really good base," she said.

"They are also very enthusiastic about their sport and competitive as well, so it is an easier job for me. The parents are beautiful as well."

Macova says Jones winning silver at Rio has given everyone involved in the sport a major boost.

"It will help the sport really develop a lot and more kids have come which I think is a result of Luuka's result and also AIMS Games."

This year was the first time canoe slalom was included in AIMS Games.

Someone who played a key part in making that happen and attracting top quality coaches to the area is Canoe Slalom BOP president Sue Clarke.

"We kind of talk about the perfect storm this year because we had the Olympics and first year in AIMS Games and the Vector Wero Whitewater centre opening in Auckland," she said.

"The increased awareness about slalom has happened anyway but the icing on the cake was definitely the silver medal.

"In the Bay of Plenty we have developed entry-level programmes through CoachForce like Paddle Passport and Five Star Awards which are being sought after around the country.

"Other areas want to buy them and other canoe sports like sprint and polo. There are a lot of things on the radar for slalom with getting the young ones in earlier, who can now see a pathway.

"We have had a lot of support from NZ Community Trust and Lion Foundation to help with the coaching."