For Hayley Cameron nothing compares to canoe polo in the sporting kingdom.

"It's almost like basketball on water but in kayaks," says Cameron, after she was selected to represent her country as a member of the under-21 women's team to the Canoe Polo World Championship later this year.

"I don't know. It's something that not too many people have heard of and it's so different and interesting," says the 16-year-old before she embarks on her journey to Welland, Canada, where the championship will be staged from July 31 to August 5.

The other Bay member of the team is Greer Edilson, 16, a year 12 pupil from Havelock North High School.

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Cameron is in her second year with the NZ U21s with Luke Anderson, of Christchurch, at the helm as coach. She plays in the position of charger, someone who forages for possession on the top end of the pitch.

The Hastings Girls' High School pupil plays for the Hurrikets in the A grade women's Bay competition.

Cameron relishes the adrenalin rush derived from targeting each other's canoes for that "contact sports" feel.

She took up canoe polo at intermediate level while attending St Mary's School. It helped that sister Emma, 19, was into it at a social grade level through HGHS.

The year 12 pupil has built a sense of affinity with her teammates which has become an integral part of establishing a culture within a culture of existence.

"I love the team dynamics and the team spirit that we have. It's unique because there aren't too many sports like it," she says.

"It's just a really cool bunch of people and we all seem to get on really well. I think just because we're travelling a lot together we're so close and makes it fun to play with everyone."

To put in perspective, the team travels just about every weekend in what is a year-long season although January to June is the peak period.

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"The last weekend I had at home was in January so I've been away training or at tournaments every other weekend since and it's all over the country from Auckland to Christchurch, pretty much."

Parents Donna, an accountant, and father Jeremy, an arborist, chauffeur her when she doesn't join a team car pool.

The commitment to canoe polo does eat into her study time.

"It's quite hard to balance school life with training and travelling," she says.
Cameron trains at Clive River and Pandora Pond in Napier although the latter venue has become inaccessible lately because of pollution. The annual Art Deco Canoe Polo Championship at the pond was moved to the Backpaddock Lake in Takapau late last month.

However, the canoe polo enthusiasts have set up a court on a pond at the Taumoana Showgrounds, the home of the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show staged last week.

However, she copes with the demands by training early in the mornings and fulfils her strength-and-conditioning programme obligations during her study spells in school at the nearby HB Regional Sports Park under teacher supervision.

"I then come home to do my homework but if I have a team training at night I have to go to that as well."

Occasionally she misses trainings to keep up with her academic pursuits.

"I have to work as hard as I can at school to create as much time as possible for canoe polo."

Attending university is on the agenda with a nutrition and sports psychology bent although she isn't sure what exactly that'll be.

At her maiden world champs, Cameron hopes to making the starting five in the team of seven but be a cog in the wheel of the team, regardless.

She represented New Zealand in the age-group grades at a tourney in Australia in whitewater slalom early this year.

"I was in the development squad so I was pretty much going there for the experience and I finished 43rd out of about 60 to 70 competitors," she says of her first major overseas competition in three years with slalom.

Cameron's father was a kayaker in his childhood days but believes her love for aquatic sport comes from within.