It has been nearly 10 months since the new canoe polo facility was opened at Mitre 10 Park Hawke's Bay.
There was much excitement at the time, and high hopes for what the new facility might do for the sport, the local fraternity selling the vision of a healthy activity that also develops water safety skills, and provides a competitive pathway for those inclined, that could lead to international opportunities for our local athletes.
Well, with Covid-19 hitting us all this year, it would be no surprise to see things slump into a depressing failure, and squandered funds for those that contributed. But it's actually quite the opposite, and what a great success story it is quickly turning out to be, and a great example of the resilience that will underpin a project, if it is driven by a good old grass roots community group.
The canoe polo community saw a need, stood up and made it happen, and they now have a great core of people ensuring the ongoing success. They partnered with Jock Mackintosh and his team at Mitre 10 Park, and now have a visually stunning facility that is going great guns for the sport.
This week I was lucky enough to get out to the facility with a bunch of primary school kids who were giving the sport a go for the first time, and most of whom had never been in a canoe.
They all loved the experience – some were quickly fizzing and loving the chance to race around and complete, and others were just quietly enjoying gaining their confidence in keeping their boat upright, and paddling around the beautiful 100m long pool.
You could quickly see the sport had so many benefits that I wouldn't have otherwise realised. For a start the balance and confidence just to stay upright, but then the strength and co-ordination to get the boat moving at pace, and the twisting core strength to start to manoeuvre the boat in the water.
But wait there's more – as well as the canoe skills, you get much of the netball type skill development as well. The vision for space and teammates, and the ability to catch and throw with both hands makes for a pretty awesome all-round challenge for the participant.
So for kids, and beginners, and anyone wanting to give something new a crack, it ticks the box big-time, just as they had promised. But not only that, Canoe Polo Hawke's Bay have already delivered on the promise to bring competitive events to the centre.
It was just a few weeks ago that they hosted a NZ Canoe Polo National Championship. And what an event it was, with rave reviews from locals, and from all the participants who came from far and wide around the country.
The finals day was even streamed live on Sky Next, which included some beautiful footage of the venue, rubbing off as great promotion for Hastings and Hawke's Bay.
There now seems to be no doubt, the locals were right, and this emerging sport will continue to grow here in Hawke's Bay now that it has the facilities to enable that growth. It is a great achievement they should be proud of, and a hell of a lot of good old fashioned volunteerism showing that hand up is still better than waiting with hand out.
A beautiful facility that it is, there seems to be great potential for other community groups and sports as well, to mix and mingle on site, but it remains to be seen how other usage will develop.
Canoe polo is still a relatively new sport by international standards, with the first world championships being contested in England in 1994. The NZ Women won gold in 2016, and the NZ U21 women have won bronze at the last four world champs, so the Kiwis are right amongst it, with undoubted potential to make more of an impression in the post-Covid future.
If we continue to see more and more primary school kids getting a taste of it, the facility will not only be great for boosting confidence in exercise and the outdoors, but there will certainly be a larger pool of competitive Hawke's Bay athletes, that will kick on the represent their region at the world champs as well.
Well done Canoe Polo Hawke's Bay, Mitre 10 Park Hawke's Bay, and all their supporters – in the great words of Hannibal Smith, "I love it when a plan comes together."
Marcus Agnew is the health and sport development manager at Hawke's Bay Community Fitness Centre Trust and a lecturer in sports science at EIT.