Surf lifesaving: New world beckons

By Jamie Troughton

Lisa Carrington at home in the surf. Photo / Jamie Troughton
Lisa Carrington at home in the surf. Photo / Jamie Troughton

Even amid the blinding atmosphere of the London Olympics and the jubilant maelstrom that followed her K1 200m canoeing gold medal, a small part of Lisa Carrington was still surfing waves at Ohope Beach, relaxed and content.

When she returned from London, the first thing she did was dust off her surf ski and head out onto the briny; away from crowds, well-wishers and, yep, especially media. So it's not all that surprising that her first competitive outing since London will be in her first love, surf lifesaving. The 23-year-old will compete for Mount Maunganui at Rescue 2012, the world championships in Adelaide next month.

"I've always loved the beach and I've always come back to surf because they're really awesome people - it's a big family," Carrington says. "The worlds have been in my mind since earlier in the year, giving me something else to aim for and to get excited about. Because it's not my main sport now, there's a bit less pressure and it's also about getting back to basics and remembering why I started paddling, so that I can keep motivated."

Carrington joined the Whakatane Surf Club when she was eight and was mostly a board paddler for those formative years, until club coach Graham Burt introduced her to a ski at 14. Two years later, her dad Pat convinced her to take up kayaking in winter to bolster her summer sport and the die was cast.

But the benefits of surf remain for the champion paddler. Rio de Janeiro is still four years away and experienced Olympians espouse the benefits of using the first year in the four-year cycle to recharge. Above all, to have fun.

"After the Sydney Olympics, I was mentally drained," four-time Olympian Steven Ferguson admits. "I'd trained so hard for so many years and I didn't do as well as I wanted and I was on a big downer. I decided to make some life changes and do things that made me happy and surf lifesaving was one of them."

Ferguson, who started his Olympic career as a swimmer before getting into kayaking, is also heading to Adelaide, with the 12-strong New Zealand team for the world teams component of the championships. Two days after returning from London, where he and Darryl Fitzgerald finished seventh in the K2 1000m, Ferguson was back in the pool, regaining his swimming skills.

"The Olympics is such a pinnacle event and such a high point, a lot of athletes struggle after that and get a bit depressed. They don't know what to look at or what to do and start having a few beers with mates - before they know it, they've put on 10kg and struggle to get back into it.

"For me, it's quite exciting - I'm getting straight back into it and changing my focus to a world championship with a great team environment. I feel like nothing's changed and I've carried my momentum through the Olympics to now."

Carrington's kayak coach Gordon Walker, a three-time Coast to Coast winner, reckons it's unlikely his star charge would've had time to have a "downer", even with the six weeks off training he gave her following the Games.

But he was more than happy to let her tackle the surf lifesaving worlds; after all, the multisport guru knows better than anyone about the benefits of cross training and keeping fresh.

"The great athletes are the ones that keep evolving but still have that simple, burning desire that once got them into stuff and competing as a kid," Walker explains.

"When you achieve a big goal, afterwards you feel pretty satisfied so the motivation to get up and do what you once did needs to be quite different.

"The reasons you got out of bed and went hard previously change. You can't really plan for that - it's just a matter of developing a new purpose as time passes."

Ultimately, however, the surf lifesaving dalliance comes down to one thing for Carrington, who only got back into serious kayaking training last week: fun. She hopes that will help sustain her through to another three-letter word; Rio.

"I've never been able to do anything internationally with surf lifesaving and it should be a lot of fun."

- Herald on Sunday

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