Among the contingent of Kiwi paddlers who attended the IVF world sprint championships, seven young men from a tiny club outshone the host of medals they brought home.
The Fat Oysters - J16 boys from Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia Waka Ama Club - were riding a high, fresh from their success at the New Zealand Championships where they won gold in each category raced: W12 500m, W6 1000m and W6 500m. Backing up their home ground achievement at the world championships, the team smoothly executed gold in the V12 500m, silver in the V6 1000m and bronze in the V6 500m.
The Fat Oysters' performance is even more outstanding as the club has only two six-man waka craft and two old non-race standard singles to its name. Five of the boys live in Whangarei, one is from Gisborne and only one - Mano Herewini - lives in the isolated community of Te Tii in the northern Bay of Islands, where the club is based. Herewini has a legacy to live up to: his older brother Kingi won gold at the world championships in Canada in 2012. Currently the eighth fastest in the world in V1 500m, Herewini has been given a fighting chance to follow in his sibling's footsteps thanks to the selflessness of coach Danny Kaiawe.
Kaiawe, an accomplished waka ama paddler and Te Tii local, began coaching the boys six years ago.
"They weren't doing well, so the first thing I did was make some rules around respect and discipline. To inspire and motivate young men, we first need to get their heads straight."
Kaiawe has become a role model for the boys, creating a sense of purpose in their drive to become world-class water men. Kaiawe has enormous credibility - it was he, after all, who coached Kingi Herewini to gold.
With the sprint champs out of the way, the Fat Oysters now focus on distance racing as they look towards the New Zealand Championships in Tauranga in late September. The prospect of adding to the club fleet looks dim but Kaiawe is resourceful; borrowing craft, fundraising to cover travel costs and holding intense periods of training in school holidays when the team can get together.
"The thing I am learning is that our success is only possible because of the support of the hapu - our community. Without the support of a community, a waka can't flow properly," Kaiawe says.