When Tauranga athlete Luuka Jones gave two thumbs up amid signs of 'go LJ' after winning silver at this year's Rio Olympics, her parents back at home knew just how special that moment was.

''Luuka had a best buddy, Louise Jull, and Louise Jull was the other LJ. They were the two LJs. They had so many adventures together,'' mum Denise Jones said.

Last year, Louise was found dead at the Kaituna River, after being reported missing when she became separated from her two companions.

The two were best friends and Ms Jones said the tragedy was ''a big blip in Luuka's journey''.


''But she just knew that Louise was there still and the two thumbs up is what Louise always did. [It was] a great loss but [she's] Luuka's best buddy forever.''

Ms Jones and Luuka's sisters got up early on Friday to watch the 27-year-old compete for gold.

She said their stomachs were in knots and the ordeal was nerve wracking.

'We didn't know whether to grab the floor, hide behind the couch. We wanted to watch it but we were too scared to watch it in case she hit a gate ... '' she said.

Nerves gave way to excitement and pride as Luuka hit the water.

''We broke open a bottle after her run, before we even knew she had won a medal because we were just so proud of her run.''

Luuka's father, who is separated from Ms Jones, has also spoken of the ecstatic moment his daughter claimed a silver Olympic medal.

Rod Jones said he was ''jolly nervous'' ahead of the run.

"We all know how she would have been feeling. I know how hard she has focused, and her sacrifices. I felt it intensely,'' he said.

"I went from hiding behind a cushion to jumping up and down and clucking like a hen.

"We are so so proud of her. In every sense of the word."

Mr Jones said she had shown an interest in the sport from as early as nine years old but had always wanted to compete at the Olympics.

Luuka started seriously paddling at 11 and at 17 moved to England to pursue her dream.

"It shows you that single-mindedness and determination has come to fruition. She said she wanted to be an Olympic kayaker and get a medal and here she is today,'' Mr Jones said.

"This was her dream."

Mr Jones said the family was jubilant and messages had been coming through from friends and family.

"Everyone has been behind her. It has been kiwianism in every sense of the word, we have come together for someone,'' Mr Jones said.

Sister Claudia Jones said Luuka had always inspired her.