Talk about jangled nerves and Hawke's Bay white water slalom paddler Casey Hales nods her head.
"Definitely a little bit and it's not so much to do with the fact it's my first junior worlds. It's more to do with worrying about what my kayak will look like when we get over there," Hales said prior to her final training session yesterday before departing to Slovakia today.
The sole Hawke's Bay paddler in a three-strong New Zealand under-18 girls K1 team, Hales, 17, pointed out most countries in the southern hemisphere won't be taking their own kayaks to the champs which begin on July 18 because of the difficulties associated with transporting them by air.
"We had to email our dimensions off to the Vajda factory in Bratislav where the kayaks are built. We tell them where we want our seats in the boat and what colours we want ... there won't be any time for changes when we get over there," Hales explained.
"Next year it will be a bit different because we will have split boats and they will be easier to transport. But they will still count as excess luggage."
A Taradale High School Year 12 student, Hales has been competing seriously for only a year which adds to the significance of her selection. It is a tribute to the coaching she receives from Cameron Drury and the training she puts in at the Hawke's Bay Canoe Club's flat-water slalom training venue in Taradale.
"Because it's my first worlds I just want to gauge what they are about, take everything out of the experience and use that to my advantage at next year's worlds in Italy where I will get another crack in the same age group."
However, the Conroy Removals, Hawke's Bay Chiropractic, Sport Hawke's Bay and Hawke's Bay Canoe Club paddler will arrive in Slovakia for three weeks of training before the champs with an impressive haul of southern hemisphere results on her CV. At the national secondary schools champs in Palmerston North Hales finished second in the K1 division and won the C1 division and C2 division with fellow Taradale High School student Jaimee Wilson.
Hales was also a member of the winning Hawke's Bay K1 mixed team and the second-placed C1 and C2 open teams, and she was also the second-placed individual in the under-18 downriver division. At the New Zealand Open Championships in Kawerau Hales finished second in the under-18 K1 division and fifth in the open division.
Paddling at the January Oceania Championships in Auckland Hales finished third in the under-18 division and was the second best of the Kiwis. At the Australian Open in Penrith Hales finished fourth in the under-18 division and was the best of the Kiwis.
The Aussie Open and Oceania results are a reflection of the six training sessions Hales puts in each week either at the Taradale venue or Napier's Pandora Pond. Most weekends she is competing in events.
"I've been around boats all my life. Dad [Warren Hales] was involved in white water slalom, I've watched my sister and I know other people who are involved so it sort of took over my other sporting pursuits."
A mentor for new New Zealand Development Squad members from the Bay, Hales was also one of four Bay members of the New Zealand under-18 girls canoe polo team which won the Oceania tournament in Palmerston North earlier this year.
"Now slalom is my priority sport I've got a big decision to make when I return from Slovakia. It's whether or not I attend trials for the New Zealand under-21 team to attend next year's world canoe polo champs in Canada. I would like to go to at least one of those canoe polo worlds and it will depend on how well I do in Slovakia and how serious I want to get about Italy because next year will be my last in the under-18 age group."
It's no secret quality co-ordination is a major component of successful slalom paddlers and Hales has polished this in a variety of different pursuits including jazz, tap and ballet dancing with the Prestige Dance Studio, gymnastics with the Taradale club and adventure racing with her school.
The 2024 Olympics are her long-term goal. Should she tick those off - and the chances are pretty good if the past 12 months are a guide - many tutors and coaches involved with the above organisations will have every right to claim a fraction of input into an incredible journey.
As Hales astutely pointed out she will have a more accurate gauge of where she stands on the international scene after the Slovakia chapter of the journey.