As you follow Zack and River Mutton down the path behind their house to Okere Falls, watching them skip from step to step and scamper over tree roots, you begin to realise just how many times they have made this trip.

There's a stack of kayaks sitting in front of their garage. One has "M DAWSON" printed on the side, suggesting the navigation of rapids is more than just a hobby for these teenagers.

Zack, 18, and River, 16, grew up with the Okere Falls at their back door and what began as a hobby has become a sport which they both excel at.

Last year, they both competed at the Canoe Slalom Junior World Championships. Zack, in his last year of eligibility for the under-18 class, finished fifth in the highly competitive K1 final. His sister River picked up a bronze medal in the under-18 extreme canoe slalom and finished 25th in the K1 canoe slalom.

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Zack said the world champs was the highlight of his year, but it was bittersweet.

"Junior Worlds was my biggest race of the year. I was in the final, which was top 10, so a pretty good achievement I guess. In the final I had a really sick run, it was everything I wanted, but I got to the bottom, and I had a touch on the flat water which I was really disappointed about.

"My time was only one second slower than the under-23s, so I thought I would be on the podium for the under-18s. But, the juniors all smashed it, and I ended up fifth. I would've been second without that touch."

Zack, 18, and River Mutton, 16, have a love for kayaking which has seen them compete internationally in canoe slalom. Photo / David Beck
Zack, 18, and River Mutton, 16, have a love for kayaking which has seen them compete internationally in canoe slalom. Photo / David Beck

The World Champs were held in Italy on what Zack described as a "ridiculously hard" course.

"Just where they positioned the gates, it was a very tricky course. There was one tiny bit of flat water, and the gate I touched was a straight line, I don't know if I'll ever get over that."

He said that disappointment was a good learning experience and something all kayakers had to get used to.

"It's part of the sport; you can't always be 100 per cent consistent. I think I'm a lot more mature now. Enjoyment for the year overall was a 10 out of 10, there were some highs and lows, but overall it was awesome."

Zack Mutton finished fifth at the Canoe Slalom Junior World Championships. Photo / Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Zack Mutton finished fifth at the Canoe Slalom Junior World Championships. Photo / Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

River said her year comprised a lot of new experiences.

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"It was my first time at Junior Worlds, and I hadn't done many overseas events before. It was quite cool to be able to compare myself to overseas competitors.

"The slalom was a bit hectic; it wasn't so great, I ended up 25th. I was hoping to do a little bit better than that. I was pleased to get a medal [in extreme slalom], but a little bit disappointed because I missed a gate and had to paddle back for it. I was a long way behind the other three paddlers, but one got disqualified, so I finished third.

"I was a bit gutted I didn't get to race properly, but it was a really good experience," she said.

Zack has been training and competing overseas for the past five years which he says has helped him develop as a paddler. He knows how lucky he is to compete in a sport which has taken him all over the world.

"It's really good, I feel really familiar with the environment, and I really enjoy it - the people and the places. Especially in Italy, I spent a lot of time there to get used to the environment before World Champs, and it was a really good time."

Zack and River's father Kenny Mutton was an accomplished freestyle paddler, and Zack said, being the first child, he was thrown in a kayak before he could walk.

"I was in a kayak when I was 6 months old. Growing up I'd be out in the water at 6.30am every day before school with dad and Sam Sutton, a four-time extreme slalom world champion.

"When I hit 11 years old I did correspondence school and paddled all the time. Anyone who was on the water, I would just rock up and paddle with them. This place is awesome for that type of thing. We have so many people from all over the world paddling here, really welcoming people.

"A lot of people have helped me throughout the years, especially [Olympian] Mike Dawson. I've trained with Mike all my life; he's pretty much been my second dad. When I was 12 or 13 I started going to Australia with him for training camps, he lives by the falls as well so whenever he's out paddling I go with him. He's really looked after me, and he has so much experience.

"It's hard not to paddle living here; it's part of the lifestyle."

River appears to have a more relaxed approach to the sport and enjoys the social side of it - spending time on the water with her mates. But that competitive drive is still there, and she is certainly following in the family footsteps.

River Mutton on her way to an extreme slalom bronze medal at the 2018 World Junior Canoe Slalom Championships. Photo / Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
River Mutton on her way to an extreme slalom bronze medal at the 2018 World Junior Canoe Slalom Championships. Photo / Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

"I sort of just did it whenever we did family kayaking things and slowly progressed. They run a little slalom club here, and I started that when I was about 8. I wasn't so committed, doing all those morning sessions like these guys.

"Here, it's definitely all of your friends do it, you just hang out on the river."

Zack said his next target is New Zealand selection at the end of January.

"It's the biggest race of the year because you have to qualify to do the races in Europe. I'm no longer junior, so I have to make the top three under-23 boats. But, I also want to make the senior team, that's what I'm aiming for.

"If that all goes to plan I can race under-23 worlds in Poland, where I really want to medal. I'm amping for a medal.

"Then there's World Champs in Spain. Hopefully, I make the senior team, and I can race those as well. That's the selection for the [Tokyo 2020] Olympics as well, that's the ultimate goal."

River hoped to make the New Zealand junior team again and compete at World Champs.

"I feel reasonably confident. I don't have too much pressure because there aren't that many girls going for the junior team, a lot have moved up age groups."

River said Zack helped her out with her paddling sometimes, although Zack said, with a laugh, he had learned to be tactful when offering his sister advice.

"My sister doesn't like me giving her tips sometimes, and I've learned I can't just tell her she sucks. It's so awesome to see her competing and doing well though. Just having family on the water is amazing, especially overseas."