Houghton creates history at world champs in Mexico

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is a fast growing sport and Ollie Houghton is in the vanguard of its rise.

The 15-year-old, Year 11 student at Rosmini is the top Under 18 exponent in New Zealand and ranked in the top three for elite men. Few others can say they compete on more than an equal footing with the best in their sport in their country.

It helps that Takapuna Beach is a short 100m walk from his house, and that all his family are into the sport. It helps, too, that Houghton has a strong competitive instinct to go with a love of the sport and a sound appreciation of the technique required.

"The way you place the paddle in the water is a big thing in the speed of the board, but 70 per cent of your race is won mentally," he says.

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Houghton's major claim to fame in the sport is that in May he became the youngest medallist ever at the world SUP championships in Mexico.

He won silver in the relay and copper (fourth) in the team event, and did enough to finish 17th in the individual standings. New Zealand outdid expectations by placing fourth in the world behind the likes of strong SUP nations USA and Australia.

"It was such a good experience, and you are racing with the top guys you see in the magazines," says Houghton.

The conditions were nice and flat, though he is not a fan of dead calm.

"You don't want it too big, because it gets a bit tricky and dodgy, but you love it when there is surf because you can catch people up and it makes it a bit interesting."

That first taste of the very best international competition has whetted Houghton's appetite for more. On his 2016 horizon are the world champs, to be held in the South Pacific at a yet to be determined venue. He will still need to qualify through the nationals, despite his feats in Mexico.

In the meantime, he is far from idle. Fresh off captaining the Rosmini 6A rugby team to the North Harbour championship - he enjoys the team aspect of rugby - Houghton will hook into his water sports over summer. It is not about racking up the hours doing paddleboarding. He mixes things up doing surfing and other water sports. That keeps his enjoyment factor high and does not make SUP training boring at all.

There is just one other competitive Rosmini stand-up paddleboarder, Jack Evans, who keeps Houghton on his toes.

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Competition through summer will come every Tuesday and Thursday through the Beach Series in Takapuna plus a Surf Series in Mission Bay.

Houghton is very social media savvy, especially in getting his sponsors exposure and doing charity work, and indeed social media votes helped him be rated one of the top five grommets (juniors) in the world.

There is a still a chance that stand- up paddleboarding could be included in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In the meantime, he will continue racing against the best men in New Zealand. "It's really helped me. There isn't that much competitiveness around the kids. There are a few that are up there, but paddling against the men helps you get fit!"