Bay of Plenty paddlers will fill five of the six slots available for New Zealand at the Youth Olympics qualifier in Barcelona, Spain next month.

Tauranga's Kahlia Cullwick, Finn Anderson and Oliver Puchner plus George Snook and Rivey Mutton from Rotorua are joined by Hawke's Bay's Henry Hall in the team.

The stakes are high for the paddlers with places at October's Youth Olympics in Argentina up for grabs.

The paddlers will race sprint and slalom, with Canoe Slalom New Zealand and Canoe Racing New Zealand joining forces to send the team with help from the Olympic Solidarity fund.


Canoe Slalom BOP coach Matt McKnight has worked closely with the Bay of Plenty paddlers heading for Spain since he arrived from Ireland to take up his post in June last year.

He is confident in their chances of making it to the Youth Olympics.

"They stand a pretty good chance. To be successful in canoe slalom and canoe sprint you have to be pretty athletic and have real grit and determination. The water is pretty cold and they spend a lot of time falling in," McKnight said.

"It is just their willingness to give everything a go. There is never any questions about it. They just get in the boat and get it going. When we go over to Barcelona it is done on a continental quota basis so we are pretty much competing against Australia and the [Pacific] Islands. We think we have a pretty strong team to definitely qualify."

McKnight loves working with the best young paddlers in New Zealand based in Bay of Plenty in what he says is the ideal set-up.

"Number one you have got the great Kiwi weather so they can train most of the year round and not have to deal with snow and ice like the Europeans. Two, the kids love the outdoors and are more used to being in the water and three, the committee and club here have had the foresight to go out and employ foreign coaches to drive them forward."

His young charges preparing to go to Spain can not wish for better role models in the sport than Tauranga's Olympic duo of Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson.

"Luuka winning the [silver] medal at Rio Olympics has really shown these kids we can go on to compete at international level. The results at last year's worlds by Luuka and Mike were the best they have done."

For Tauranga Boys' College students Puchner and Anderson there is no doubt about the role old boy Dawson has played in their commitment to canoe slalom.

"He is my idol. It is pretty good looking up to him and what he has accomplished," Puchner said.

The Youth Olympic Games are held every four years, with 28 sports featured on the summer programme for athletes aged 15 to 18 from 200 nations.

NZ team Youth Olympic Games qualifying, Barcelona, April.
Girls: K1: Rivey Mutton (Rotorua Lakes High School), 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).