For real estate types peddling lake-facing properties in Koutu and Kawaha Point "the waka ama spectacle" has become a marketing catch-cry.

Watching the Hei Matau Paddlers (HMP) out on the water confirms they're spot on; there's nothing quite like seeing crews emerging out of the morning mist or gliding by at dusk.

What's unseen is the dedication that goes on behind the scenes to get these young paddlers motivated and keep them keen. A personal insight into the low-key duo responsible, Ray Timihou and Kelley Korau, is today's Our People's assignment.

What we uncover is a pair who've dedicated themselves to developing life skills in the crews in their charge, skills that take them to the top of the waka ama points table.

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At July's World Elite Championships in Tahiti HMP's Under 16s girls and boys crews were medallists. Kelley and her long-time Te Aurere crew mates scored silver in the 500m metre event. A slew of placings at international and national events have gone before.

The Timihou-Korau commitment to the sport's on display from their doorstep. The reserve opposite their Koutu home is chocker with waka; come 5.30am in summer, 4pm in winter it's heaving with kids desperate to be out on the water. Don't be fooled by the "in summer" morning starts. These young paddlers are out of bed equally early in winter, either in the gym working on their strength or at the Aquatic Centre focusing on fitness.

Then there are those Ray calls his "hardcore kids" who paddle regardless of seasonal discomforts.

Exactly where do these mustard keen youngsters come from? Ray's answer's "all over". "A lot are from Western Heights, Ford Block, they come through the high schools, Te Kura o Te Koutu, I don't know really, they just come."

Regardless of their suburb of origin their respect for their adult mentors is manifold. To them Ray's "Uncle" or "Matua" (main man), Kelley's "Aunty".

These two have been together since their early 20s, have known each other since they were teenagers, bonding over waka ama.

Kelley was an administration clerk at the then QE Hospital when she joined the staff waka ama crew for a corporate event in Hamilton.

Ray was already hooked on paddling.

What drew him in? "The whakapapa [genealogy] of it, the history, where Māori first came from is still a bit of a mystery, we know they sailed here, an 800-year-old ama [outrigger] was found in the South Island's Sumner Caves 10-15 years ago but it's possible our DNA could be linked to Taiwan or Chile. We [Māori] brought kumara with us, where else does kumara grow? Chile."

He's paddled so long he was recently inducted into the 60-plus senior men's Masters category.

"There are people in their 70s still paddling."

Rotorua born, Koutu bred, he entered Wellington's Māori Trades Training Centre following his secondary years boarding at Auckland's former St Stephen's College.

His carpentry training completed it was home to work with builder Tom Pinfold, his first job a skate park "the Kuirua Park one". His carpentry career continued until, after 11 years at Woodmasters, he joined Te Waiariki Purea Trust, working in youth justice "building tracks, doing conservation work".

The trust, for which coincidentally Kelley now works, introduced him to waka ama.

"It was very strong, one of the strongest teams in the country, for 10 years the reigning champs in sprints."

In 2005 the Timihou-Korau duo moved to Auckland. We deliberately call them a duo not a couple, they've never married. Kelley has an explanation for that.

"We got engaged years ago then I lost my engagement ring overboard when training on Okareka so I say I married the lake, since then we've been too busy to get married."

In Auckland they were live-in parents at a care and protection hostel, paddling on Okahu Bay. After a year Auckland palled. Ray liked what he was doing but not the traffic "and so many people, I came home to find us a house, one day I walked past here [their present property], Kelley was still in Auckland, I sent her a picture".

She enters the conversation: "I recognised that it belonged to a friend from QE days, I rang her, got her to take the 'For Sale' sign down, she agreed despite a much higher offer than ours, it turns out we were buying back whanau land. Well - a speck of it.

"It was meant to be, the reserve opposite was perfect for waka ama, Te Kura o Te Koutu moved here and we became kaitiaki (guardians) for their waka, HMP grew from there."

The duo have a personal link with the kura, their daughter, Ataahua, is in her final school year there.

"We couldn't have kids of our own so we whangaied (adopted) her, she's been paddling since she was 4 but is more into kapa haka now."

Theirs is an extended whanau home, Kelley's parents live with the Timihou-Koraus.

"Outdoors is in the blood, for many years Dad was caretaker at the Okataina Outdoor Education Centre," Kelley contributes.

She's been at Te Waiariki Purea 12 years as Events and Activities team leader.

Her QE corporate crew waka ama initiation drew her into the sport. "My first real club was Dunedin's Fire and Ice, which trained in Rotorua".

Kelley's no slouch on the paddle, she sits in the stroke's seat and has raced the 41 mile (almost 66km) length of Hawaii's Molokai Channel.

Like Ray, she's competed across the Pacific, Australia and in North America. His position is seats 3 or 4 as "caller". Their contribution to waka ama's voluntary. Ray earns his living by mowing lawns "all around the lake".

Last year his waka ama work was recognised nationally when the ASB awarded him its Good As Gold accolade. He used the $3000 that came with it to get HMP to successfully compete in Rarotonga.

He's the last person on earth to expect being rewarded for what he loves best.

"What we do is offer team work, teach respect, how to react to other people, discipline, without them a canoe won't run, yeah, I'll be doing it until I'm pushing up daisies"

FACTBOX:

RAY TIMIHOU AND KELLY KORAU

Born: Ray: Rotorua, 1968; Kelly: Hawera, 1971
Education: Ray: Selwyn Primary, Kaitao Intermediate, St Stephen's Auckland, Maori Trades Training, Wellington. Kelley: "Early years all over the place, Dad was a railwayman then Putaruru High School."
Family: Daughter Ataahua, 18, large extended whanau (both)
Iwi affiliations: Ray: Te Arawa-Ngati Whakaue. Kelley: Ngati Ruahine, Ngati Ruanui (Taranaki)
Interests: Ray: "Whanau, padding, health and wellbeing, chess. "It has the same strategic moves as life." Supporting young people, played rugby for Waikite in earlier years. Kelley: "The same as Ray but jigsaws not chess, I'm on a Taranaki farm trust, look after the administrative side of our (waka ama) training and Ray's business." Former netballer for Central.
On their lives: Ray: "My life is content." Kelley: "I love my life."
Personal philosophies: Ray: "It's important to be humble." Kelley: "Respect yourself to win the respect of others."