A trio of Horowhenua sisters are off to Canada as part of a national canoe polo team, to defend their hard-won world title in the adrenalin-filled sport.
Julie, Erin and Kate Bolton are on their way to Welland, Canada, as part of the Paddle Ferns, New Zealand's national women's canoe polo team, to defend the title, which they won two years ago in Syracuse, Italy.
The Bolton siblings got into canoe polo at Horowhenua College and played for the local club.
"My older sister started with canoe polo at school and you sort of follow in your sibling's footsteps," said Julie Bolton, who made her debut for the Paddle Ferns in Milan in 2010. "The family support was awesome for us kids."
The passion grew and grew and more than 10 years after leaving school they're still playing and often together.
Levin has its own canoe polo club and so do Palmerston North, Hawke's Bay and Feilding. The Oceania Championships have been played in Palmerston North at least twice. Julie plays for the Palmerston North club as she now lives and works in the city. Her club team was national champion last year and runner-up this year. The Paddle Ferns are seven strong: Gemma Potaka (Wellington), Sian Fendall (HCPC), Erin Moore (nee Bolton) captain (HCPC), Julie Bolton HCPC), Kate Bolton (HCPC), Sophie Winton (Palmerston North) and Kaylie Potaka (Wellington).
Uniquely the squad includes the three sisters, who are very competitive, especially among themselves. "We've been in the team since 2009," said Julie. "We challenge and push each other all the time. We all love to travel and play sport together."
And well-travelled the Bolton sisters are. They have been to Poland twice, to Colombia, Germany, France and Italy and have played warm-up tournaments there as well as in The Netherlands and Belgium, the latter a favourite destination for the sisters. Now they're on their way to Canada.
"[It's] very exciting," said Julie. "It is the first time in about 10 years that the world championships aren't [being] held in Europe."
Canoe polo began as a demonstration sport at the National Canoe Exhibition in Crystal Palace in London in 1970. The interest that display generated led to a national committee being formed and the sport spread around the world.
Now every two years world championships are held. The 2018 Paddle Ferns are a new team, said Julie. So all bets are off as to what colour medal they'll come home with.