When Rotorua's Paddy Baylis finished secondary school in 2017, he took some time to survey his options. At just 18 years of age he was already an accomplished swimmer, having impressed at national events and represented New Zealand overseas on multiple occasions, so the focus was on turning that into a career. He put some feelers out in America and Pomona College, based in California, offered him a swimming scholarship. He set off in August last year and this week sports reporter David Beck caught up with him about how his first year went.
Swimming is popular in New Zealand but while at Pomona College in California, Paddy Baylis experienced a whole new level of competition.
He is back in Rotorua for now, having completed his first year of school on a scholarship in America, and says he loves the whole experience.
"It was really good, it worked great in terms of the academics and swimming, it was a really different experience," Baylis says.
"The whole culture around swimming is quite different. Obviously in New Zealand you don't really have university swimming teams so if you want to do swimming at the same time as university you have to do it in your own time.
"Over there it's very much part of university, you race against other universities and there's just such a culture of swimming, it's pretty major."
Baylis enjoyed being around like-minded athletes of a similar age and said his swimming benefited. He was on a team of 60 swimmers, all aged from 18-22.
"It's a pretty big difference from Rotorua, where I've been the oldest one for a few years now. It supplemented the training I've done here really well too."
The first major challenge he faced, other than getting used to new surroundings, was having to convert everything he had known previously from metres to yards. Once he got his head around it all, he quickly found success in the pool.
"Stroke counts and everything were a little bit off and the distances were different but it went really well. It's hard to compare time-wise, but I think I beat PBs in my three main races.
"I ended up getting fourth place in the D3 Nationals and I won the Conference Championships in the one mile and broke the conference record.
"I was stoked. At Conference Champs it ended up being a race against the guy that held the record and I ended up beating him by 0.01 of a second over a 15-minute race, so there was nothing in it. I didn't break the record then but went to nationals, dropped another 10 seconds and got the record there."
It was really good, it worked great in terms of the academics and swimming, it was a really different experience.
He said swimming events in California were "very team based", which provided an electric atmosphere.
"Particularly at Conference Champs. At Nationals the teams are a lot smaller but at Conference Champs we had the full team of 60 people and there were eight teams of a similar size. Everyone's hyped up about team points and stuff, a lot more so than we get in New Zealand, where it's a lot more individual.
"It's good to focus individually but it was nice to have a big team around you."
Baylis goes back to Pomona College, where he has three more years, in August. He is yet to settle on a major for his studies but is leaning towards economics with a mathematics minor.
For now, he is enjoying being back around his Swim Rotorua teammates and keeping up his training to ensure he maintains fitness levels for when he goes back to America.