After losing the sight in one of his eyes, Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby hooker Jorian Tangaere has decided to call it quits.

"I had three lots of surgery and I realised the writing was on the wall ... it wasn't worth continuing. But I've got a pretty mean back up plan," Tangaere said, pointing to the waka on the edge of Napier's Pandora Pond last night.

Tangaere, who played the last of his 20 first class games for the Magpies against Otago on September 10, has returned to the sport he last won medals in at national championship level as an 11-year-old, waka ama, and within three months of making the switch he is a national champion preparing for the July world sprint championships in Tahiti.

"People say it must have been tough for me to give rugby up. But the danger of some more knocks around the head area was too risky ... I was four games short of my 100 premier games for Clive too," Tangaere, 24, explained.


One of three Hawke's Bay individual gold medalists at the sprint nationals, which ended at Lake Karapiro on Saturday, Tangaere, won gold in the adaptive men's W1 500m final and silver in the adaptive men's W1 250m final behind fellow Bay paddler Peter Cowan.

The Te Rau Oranga O Ngati Kahungunu club member also paddled for a Wairarapa club's premier men's six-man crew which qualified for the worlds with a top five finish at nationals.

"That Wairarapa crew is the priority. It would be good to make a world final with them and the adaptive stuff is a bonus," Tangaere said.

When he races in adaptive events he has to paddle blindfolded with a long-time mate, and a key reason for his return to waka ama, Jordan Stuart behind him as a guide. Stuart is also competing with the Wairarapa crew.

"Coming from professional rugby it was easy to adjust to the competitiveness involved with waka ama. I last paddled in 2014 before making the Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union's academy and that's when rugby took over everything," Tangaere said.

The workforce development officer for Sport Hawke's Bay's next major regatta will be the 42km Takapuna Beach Cup race with his Wairarapa club crew.

His Te Rau Oranga O Ngati Kahungunu clubmate AJ MacDonald, who is blind, won golds in her women's adaptive 250m and 500m finals in her first appearance at the sprint nationals.

"I did well in my own events and I was very proud of helping our club's open women's team reach the semifinals," MacDonald said.

She won the Disabled Sportsperson of the Year award at last year's Hawke's Bay Sportsperson of the Year awards. This recognised her gold and silver medals won at last year's world sprint championships.

A solo mum with three boys who has a job with the Napier City Council and also teaches self defence to females, MacDonald, is looking forward to Tahiti as she had to withdraw from last year's world long distance championships there because of surgery.

"I donated a kidney to my dad," she recalled.

Amputee Cowan, 22, went to the long distance world championships and was in a six-person New Zealand adaptive crew which finished second to Australia in their 18km race.

In addition to his gold in his W1 250m final last week the Haeata Ocean Sports Club paddler also took bronze in his 500m final.

"There were eight of us in our adaptive events and I had a good battle with Jorian [Tangaere]," Cowan recalled.

A youth worker with Te Kupenga Hauora Ahuriri, Cowan, said he was surprised by his gold medal after an intense final. He also competed in the able bodied under-23 age group and was happy with his "middle of the bunch finish."

Cowan was also a member of the Haeata W6 adaptive 250m and 500m crews which also won gold.

His fellow adaptive paddlers were Wayne Trott and Christine Walters.

Their support paddlers were Robin Fabish, Te Wai A Tauranga Nuku, Riki Dixon and Turi Hodges.