Sunday was a momentous day in the career of Tauranga slalom canoeist Callum Gilbert.

Gilbert, 20, defeated New Zealand number one Mike Dawson for the first time to claim the K1 (kayak) men's title at the 2016 NZ Open held last weekend on the Mangahao course near Palmerston North.

Gilbert had a clean run of 99.12 seconds to take the title by 1.05 seconds from Dawson, after his older rival took a two second penalty for a gate touch during his run of 98.17.

Earlier in the day Gilbert also beat Dawson in the semifinal for a memorable double.


Tauranga Olympians Dawson, 29, and Luuka Jones, 27, are the role models who have motivated the cream of young paddlers from the Western Bay.

"I am pretty stoked. We have always looked at (Dawson) at races and thought 'how am I going to get there?' so to actually beat him in a race is very exciting," Gilbert said.

"It is pretty much right up there with a few results I have had like the junior worlds in 2014 and making the semifinal of the world cup last year."

Gilbert also won silver on the weekend in the C1 (canoe) class behind Canadian Cameron Smedley who was second at the Rio Olympics test event late last year.

Tauranga's New Zealand number one Ben Gibb finished third.

That success surprised Gilbert as he was focused on the K1 in training.

He is realistic about his chances of making the Rio Olympics team as there is only one spot available per class. The K1 is his priority so he has to beat odds-on favourite Dawson to get there.

"We (left yesterday) for Australia for a month and at the end of that we have the Oceania champs which is the third race of our Olympic selections. Because of my result at the weekend the door to the Olympics is not completely closed yet but it is still a long shot. I will give it my best and see what happens.

"Tokyo (2020 Olympics) has always been more of a goal for me than Rio."

Tauranga paddlers also dominated in the women's K1 and C1 finals at the 2016 NZ Open. Luuka Jones beat French champion Nouria Newman in the K1W final by just over three seconds in a clean run time of 106.62.

Ella Nicholas, representing Cook Islands, was fourth while her sibling Jane Nicholas took out the C1W title by 0.12 seconds ahead of top seed Kelly Travers with Haylee Dangen third.

Both 2012 Olympians Dawson and Jones did enough to retain their number one rankings.

But they know the best young paddlers from the Western Bay are snapping at their heels.