Before 2008, Whangārei's Richard Pehi confesses he was a regular drinker, smoker and quite overweight.
Now, the 53-year-old is a 10-time national champion and a two-time world champion.
His motivation? The sport of waka ama.
Pehi, a member of the Parihaka Waka Ama club in Whangārei, will be one of nearly 3500 paddlers competing at the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa National Waka Ama Sprint Championships on Lake Karāpiro next week.
Pehi is returning in defence of his senior men's masters 500m sprint crown, a title he has won for the last four years consecutively.
However, the former rugby and hockey player said waka ama was more than just what medal you had slung round your neck.
"One side is the sport and the other side is the culture," he said.
"The culture is very, very important. Although we want to do well in the sport, we have to make sure that the culture comes with it."
He explained that whānau was at the centre of this culture.
"We eat together, we paddle together, we support each other.
"We don't just go as a team, we go as a whānau and that's really nice because we all get to experience the journey."
Pehi said with sports like rugby, alcohol was often strongly tied to any after-match function, whereas in waka ama, alcohol was scarce.
He believed this was one of many reasons the sport had gained immense popularity in recent years.
"What [rugby] don't talk about is what happens after [the alcohol] and if you've been around long enough, it's not that great.
"So when people come to waka ama and they don't see a bar ... then they go, 'I want that for my children'."
Pehi, who had travelled to Brazil, Canada, Hawaii, New Caledonia, Tahiti and Australia through waka ama, said the sport presented an incredible opportunity to young sportspeople in Northland.
Despite the sport's strong ties to Māori culture, Pehi said waka ama featured many ethnicities competing and aimed to be inclusive.
"The waka doesn't choose who goes in it, you choose who goes in it, so it's up to you."
"You'll choose the waka and it's always available to you."
Other Northland clubs competing are Mitamitaga o le Pasefika Va'a-alo Canoe Club, Nga Hoe Horo Outrigger Canoe Club, Te Puu Ao, Tirohanga Waka Ama and Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia Trust.