Henry Hall doesn't consider himself a specialist when it comes down to the art of canoeing and that sits quite comfortably with him.

That's because Hall is banking on his versatility to earn him a ticket to Buenos Aries, Argentina, for the Youth Olympics Games in October this year.

"It's a combination of canoe racing and canoe slalom but kind of modified slightly," says the Taradale High School student as he prepares to jet off with five other New Zealanders to the Youth Olympic qualifiers in Barcelona, Spain, in April.

To the uninitiated, the 15-year-old canoe polo enthusiast may come across as somewhat undercooked with 18 months of canoe slalom and just six months of canoe racing but therein lies his forte.

Advertisement

Most of the competitors, says Hall, are specialists in one or other but he believes versatility will rule.

It's the first trip to Spain for the year 11 pupil but he'll relish the temperate weather in the low 20s.

"It'll be awesome," says Hall, who travelled to Europe as a child. Moments from that escapade are a distant memory now.

He anticipates he'll be suffering from jetlag for a couple of days after 30-plus hours of travelling, including stopovers.

"But once I start paddling and doing a couple of training days it'll wear off and I'll get into the mode."

In Barcelona, there's a strict quota of competitors on the basis of continents. Hall and his teammates fall into the category of Oceania with the Australians.

Hall will have to have the measure of fellow Kiwis and Aussies to book a flight to Barcelona.

"I've kind of eased off canoe polo at the moment. I'm going to do it once a week but it'll be more of a fun thing."

He is guarded against getting too far ahead of himself but appreciates the opportunity to compete at the Youth Olympics in the hope he'll one day be able to step up to the Summer Olympic Games.

Hall is indebted to Napier coaches Ben Bennett, who helps him with canoe racing, and Guy Arnold, who hones his skills in canoe slalom.

"[Guy] is offering some of his time while he has a newborn child."

The six paddlers will race both sprint and slalom in Barcelona, thanks to the joint effort of Canoe Slalom New Zealand and Canoe Racing New Zealand to send the team with help from the Olympic Solidarity fund.

The Youth Olympic Games are held in four-year cycles, with 28 codes on their summer programme for 15 to 18 athletes lured from more than 200 countries. The event gives aspirants a taste of what the parent Olympic Games offer and promote its ideals.

Like most people starting out in kayaking, Hall had his fair share of dunks to stay afloat.

But help, in the form of his father, David, a Hawke's Bay Canoe Club member, was always a reach away for the then 8-year-old Taradale Primary School pupil.

The Bay winery manager at Sacred Hills Vineyards exposed him to the sport, just as he had to elder son Lewis, now 18, who is a New Zealand development squad member but on his big OE in Canada.

Mum Angela Hall is a big fan of the boys and chauffeurs them to venues.

The Bay club, on Monday nights, hold sessions to help newcomers to aspire towards acquiring a "paddle passport" nowadays.

However, two years later, in year 6, Hall took to it like duck to water. He started developing a zeal for competitions and canoe polo offered a leeway to put his skills to better use.

Two years later the former Taradale Intermediate School pupil started making the cull for age-group representative teams.

In year 10, the youngster was already getting a taste of senior men's league in the Bay competition.

"I found most of the people a lot older and bigger than me so it kind of became a challenge," he says.

Hall co-opted slalom and racing for a more tensile template to carve a niche in the code.

"My brother had started before me so I just went along with him," says Hall of canoe slalom.

He does about 10 one-hour training sessions a week — slalom at Pandora Pond and racing at Clive River.

"It's going to be a lot of hard work and training but it's definitely do-able to qualify for Buenos Aires."

He fits the demands of training before and after school, punching the alarm clock at 6.30am.

Hall is doing three subjects ahead in year 12 this year, which in the final year 13 will pave the way for him to focus on scholarship subjects to university.

"I'm having to do a lot of time management," says Hall, who is partial to biology and chemistry.

NZ TEAM

Girls, K1: Rivey Mutton (Rotorua), Kahlia Cullwick (Mount Maunganui College). C1: Kahlia Cullwick.

Boys, K1: George Snook (Rotorua Lakes High School), Henry Hall (Taradale High School). C1: Finn Anderson (Tauranga Boys' College), Oliver Puchner (Tauranga Boys' College).