New Zealand paddler Mike Dawson has finally broken through to win a medal at the canoe slalom world championship held in Pau, France.

Dawson's bronze medal in the extreme slalom final was a remarkable physical effort for the Tauranga kayaker, who turns 31 this month. He finished behind 2012 Olympic silver medallist Vavrinec Hradilek of the Czech Republic and Frenchman Boris Neveu in the four-boat final.

It was the first time extreme slalom - which features four paddlers racing together in plastic boats down a modified slalom course - had been held at the world championships.

"All the dreams came true - it's just a wicked end to an amazing world championships here in Pau," Dawson said.

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"To stand up there with Vavra and Boris - guys that I've raced together with for so many years - and share a podium at the world champs with them was insane."

Dawson and fellow Tauranga paddler Luuka Jones, who was fourth in the K1 final, have made this world championship the most successful ever for New Zealand, with both paddlers surpassing the previous best individual finish of fifth by Donald Johnstone in 1987.

"It has been awesome for me and for Luuka as well. It is exciting for our programme. We have been doing this a long time. For both of us to now finally get the rewards is cool but more importantly it puts New Zealand on the slalom map which is exciting," Dawson said.

Taking a long break after the Rio Olympics to re-set his goals and commit to the sport has paid off for Dawson.

"After the games, I had a really long time off to see what I was up to and where I wanted to go. I decided to stick around and keep at it. As you get older other things in life come up."

Dawson said Campbell Walsh, who coaches both Dawson and Jones, had played "a massive part in our whole cycle of performance".

"Campbell has been hugely important, especially this season as I started on the back foot after so much time off and had to work really hard to get back to just where you were the season before."

For us the world champs in some ways is a lot tougher than the Olympics because the depth of the field is huge.

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Dawson would love to replicate in Tokyo in 2020 the silver medal Jones won at the Rio Olympics.

"It is only a couple of years away now. I know Luuka is 100 percent behind that goal as well to perform at the games. For us, the world champs in some ways is a lot tougher than the Olympics because the depth of the field is huge.

"At the Olympics, you have to qualify to get there so there are only 21 boats allowed to go to the Games whereas at the world champs there are over 100 boats competing.

"It has helped me set some realistic goals of what to expect in Tokyo. To qualify for the finals is the first step and once you're there you can contend for a medal."