Aaron Larkin has put water skiing on the map in 2011 and he has done it the hard way.

The 34-year-old from Waikato achieved a number of firsts for the fledgling sport in New Zealand when he became the first Kiwi to hold the mantle of the world No 1 men's slalom skier.

He got there by winning three pro events in 2011 - the Moomba Masters, the British Masters and the Diablo Shores pro event in California - and finished second at the US Masters and the World champs.

At the time, it was the achievement of a lifelong dream, but that was soon surpassed.

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"To be honest being able to finish the season ranked No 1 in the world after 10 months' training, travelling and competing in many countries just feels great. Having three wins and two second placings on the world tour, and therefore finishing at the top of the heap, has to be the highlight of my year and career."

His achievements have been recognised as he is nominated alongside the likes of All Blacks Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino and basketball star Kirk Penney in the Halberg Awards for Sportsman of the Year.

Larkin is happy to propel his sport into the spotlight.

"It is certainly humbling and I'm proud of my achievements and my sport," said Larkin.

"To be nominated among some of these icons of New Zealand sport is phenomenal. Hopefully, Richie shouts the other nominees a drink at the ceremony."

Larkin's comments are tongue-in-cheek but if there is a sportsman who deserves a pint from the All Black skipper it is Larkin.

For the past 10 years, he has shared his time between New Zealand, Florida and Europe with little to no funding for his very expensive sport.

"When it gets cold, it's time to move on. I haven't seen a winter since 1997."

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New Zealand Tournament Water Ski Association coaching director Glen Williams said Larkin should be commended for the sacrifice he had made getting to the top of his sport.

"Waterskiing really struggles for funding in New Zealand because it is a minor sport that is not in the Olympics. Aaron has to find a lot of money every year to make it happen. His season costs him around $100k every year and he probably gets around $20k from Sparc to help him with his sport. It's a long, hard road to the top with a lot of sacrifice when you have to come up with that money yourself, which makes Aaron's achievements even more remarkable."

Larkin said the key to his success had been moving overseas to train and compete among the world's best in the Mecca of waterskiing - Orlando, Florida. He believes the consistent warmth, coupled with the huge selection of training sites and partners are unmatched.

"While the introduction to the sport of waterskiing is almost a birthright to Kiwis, to achieve on an international stage requires international training and exposure."

Larkin follows in the wake of former New Zealand great waterskiers Steve Cockeram (slalom) and Kyle Eade (jump) and has surpassed their achievements.

Eade, who was paralysed in a water-skiing crash in which his C4/C5 vertebra was fractured and there was swelling and damage to the spinal cord, is the only other Kiwi to win a major pro event, winning the Extreme Jump event in Toronto in 1998. Larkin is creating his own legacy.

"It feels quite fulfilling to be able to repay some of the support that some of the New Zealand waterskiing community has given to me throughout my career. Like a lot of the minority sports in New Zealand, it is difficult to gain the recognition, exposure and media coverage that the more mainstream sports enjoy."

For all his success in 2011 there is still one thing that eludes Larkin.

"The only thing that is left for Aaron is Steve Cockeram slalom record which he missed by half a buoy a few years back," said Williams.

"He won't get too many chances in the next few months to try and break that. The upcoming competitions for waterskiing are in big cities so they lend themselves well for big crowds but not the best conditions for fast skiing so that will have to wait.

"Larkin will get a chance later in the year around August to October in the States when the lakes are beautifully calm and flat.

"I am sure he'll be refocusing on that because that New Zealand record is something he wants pretty badly."

But for the moment, his focus is on the largest waterskiing tournament in the world, the Moomba Masters in Melbourne, where he is looking to win the title for an unprecedented third year in a row.

"A third win would be fantastic. Basically, I just want to do well again, I will be treating 2012 and all of its challenges exactly the same as 2011."

Larkin said the main reason for his success this year was being more professional. "The key was being more focused off-the-water with my training and nutrition, and a more disciplined approach on the water. Basically finding and using the best of my time and body."

It is paying off and waterskiing, being such a dynamic and anaerobic sport, is all about small margins.

"Each slalom pass takes an explosive 16.08 seconds. The physicality of the sport is fairly extreme, as slalom waterskiing is the fastest accelerating sport in the world, with loads of 400 plus kg on the body. I've topped just over 4Gs before - it's all about skier versus boat."

It is something that Larkin has mastered better than anyone in 2011. He will enjoy his summer break at home before chasing the sun and the chance to defend his world No 1 ranking in 2012. It all comes at a significant cost but for Larkin the sacrifice has been worth it.Some tips on how to get established in the sport
Aaron Larkin, can you give advice to young people looking to get into waterskiing?

a) Think about a sport that pays better.

b) If you're still keen, there are many waterskiing lakes and clubs all around New Zealand with passionate, friendly and helpful people. It is very social, and the women in bikinis are a definite plus.

It is perceived as an expensive sport - what are some ways around that?

Hey, it certainly isn't as cheap as running, but entry level and even intermediate enjoyment of the sport doesn't have to be too expensive. There are many clubs with their own boats and equipment that are only too happy to teach and nurture potential members.

Glen Williams: NZTWSA coaching director

My advice would be for people who are looking to compete in waterskiing to start young and see a coach to make sure you get the technique right.

We have kids as young as 2 years old getting on skis and giving it a go and some 3 and 4-year-olds.

We have some kids around the 8-to-10 age who are showing real promise in the trick slalom.

A day in the life

Aaron Larkin's average training day:

* 7.30am: breakfast with coffee(s) and newspaper.
* 9am: warm-up (running/cycling and dynamic stretching).
* 10am: first set.
* Rest and coach training partner.
* 11-11.30am: second set.
* 1-1.30pm: lunch.
* 30-minute nap.
* 4.30-5.30pm: -hour gym workout (6 days per week with either strength/core/cardio or interval training).
* 8pm: dinner.
* 10:30pm: bed.

petethornton8@hotmail.com