Jack Wilkinson has a need for speed in water but just don't ask him where it comes from.

Try as Wilkinson may, he just can't put a finger on it but suspects his fitness has something to do with his canoe-sprinting attributes.

His flirtation with vessels in water began with canoe polo as an 11-year-old when his mother, Bridget, realised he wasn't shy to dig deep for the finish line.

"She told me she was going to ask [the Hawke's Bay Kayak Racing Club] if I could do canoe sprints," he says, mindful that most athletes didn't embrace the discipline until they were about 13.

Advertisement

That inherent ability as an early bloomer has booked the 14-year-old an airline ticket to the week-long Asia-Pacific Kayaking Regatta in Adelaide, Australia, on May 11-13 as part of a team of six New Zealand under-16 kayaking representatives.

The Hastings Boys' High School pupil says the new regatta offers an Asian component in Adelaide which raises the bar with unknown rivals.

He will travel with the team, including coach Paul Sidow, of Christchurch, on May 8 for a week-long training session in Adelaide, leading up to the inaugural regatta.

In February, Wilkinson had competed in a smaller regatta, the Grand Prix 2 Canoe Racing Championship in Penrith, Sydney, with the national under-18 team of 12.

The former Hastings Intermediate pupil came fifth there in the B finals in the K1 200m event and third in K4 500m A final.

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, in recognition of his efforts, had gifted him $250 from the mayoral fund to help with travelling costs to such regattas as part of the council's drive to salute sporting successes in its district.

In Adelaide, the teenager will compete in the K1 200m sprint but also the K1 1000m distance.

"I like the K1 200m better because that's what I'm best at but it'll be my first time in the 1000m race."

Wilkinson says the longer distance was the suggestion of his national coaches to see how he paces himself.

"They are looking at picking the best paddlers for the best distances, I guess."

The former Parkvale School pupil got a call-up for the national under-16 duties late last month and accepts the selection with an immense sense of pride and responsibility.

While canoe sprinting has become a specialist discipline for him, Wilkinson stresses his love for canoe polo in Year 6 wasn't a thing as such but it appealed to him because it felt like "playing rugby in a boat".

"It was a contact sport. I was playing rugby when I was around 6 and then I played soccer."

However, canoe sprinting eventually became a yardstick as other paddlers with a similar bent started to push him out of his comfort zone.

"I kept training by myself but I still had competition every now and then."

Wilkinson harbours dreams of making the Olympic Games in his late teens to early 20s.

Jack Wilkinson (left) is in debt to fellow kayaker Reuben Rorrison for his training and encouragement over the years. Photo / File
Jack Wilkinson (left) is in debt to fellow kayaker Reuben Rorrison for his training and encouragement over the years. Photo / File

The Year 10 pupil is thankful to his coaches, parents Bridget and Chris Wilkinson, and club mate Reuben Rorrison, of Napier, for their continual guidance and support over the years.

Ben Bennett, of Napier, has helped mould him a template and still mentors him.

"He's always kept me motivated and on the right path so when I go into the water I'm not mucking around or anything."

That tutelage also has extended to advice and direction off the water.

Australian Canoeing is holding Asia-Pacific regatta in conjunction with Canoe Racing New Zealand and the Japan Canoe Federation.

The regatta will involve under-16, under-18 and under-21 sprinters.

The three federations had been holding discussions for some time, mindful an event of this magnitude is imperative in honing the skills of their athletes.

The Asia-Pacific regatta will become an annual event during the first two weeks of May.

New Zealand will host the event next year, Japan in 2020 before it returns to Australia in 2021 on a rotational tri-nation basis.

However, the Asia-Pacific event is open to any country.

Organisers are expecting the largest national teams to be from Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the first few years.

They are hoping the regatta will grow to embrace other nations to earn the recognition of the International Canoe Federation on the way to becoming a beacon event.

National teams will race in the respective age categories over Olympic distances with a maximum of two entries a country in an event, which will be similar to the format used internationally in world cup regattas.

Jack Wilkinson spends countless hours training at Clive River. Photo / Warren Buckland
Jack Wilkinson spends countless hours training at Clive River. Photo / Warren Buckland