Big rapids entice 7-year-old kayaker
Seven-year-old Gage Laughton is turning heads on the international kayaking scene.
The Tomarata School student took up river kayaking just four months ago and is already mastering grade 2 and 3 rapids.
He featured in North America's biggest online kayak magazine Rapid in January.
Rapid editor Emma Drudge says the daily photo article, titled Seven Year Old Star, generated huge interest on the magazine's website and social media accounts.
"It got thousands of views on Facebook alone.
"It's rare for people to send me photos of kids so young paddling whitewater," she says.
Gage's dad Lee introduced him and his sister Darcie, 12, to the sport in November.
Lee, 44, started kayaking when he was 18 and has competed in K1, C1 Slalom, the Speights Coast to Coast and the Mountains to Sea multisport event.
"I decided to get the kids involved in kayaking as I felt they were both ready and they have always shown a lot of interest in all the kayaks I have in the barn.
"I have been showing them everything I know and they have been like sponges taking it in - what the two of them have done in three months took me a good 18 months."
Lee started his children on flat water but both very quickly got bored.
So they were introduced to the upper and lower sections of the Ohinemuri River in the Karangahake Gorge between Waihi and Paeroa.
Now they are regularly paddling the Rangitaiki, Tarawera and Wairoa rivers in the Bay of Plenty. Gage often sits on the computer watching kayaking videos on YouTube and then tries to practise some of the paddle strokes and techniques each time he is on a river trip.
At the moment he just wants to keep doing bigger, longer, steeper and bouncier rapids.
"The bigger the better - big bouncy waves and big drops," he says.
"I only get scared when we all get out of the river and have a look at the next rapid and I see how big it is.
"I'm only nervous the first time. If we do the same rapid again then I'm OK." Darcie says she too loves the thrill of paddling on a river.
"I love going through big waves but try and stay away from the big holes, they aren't very nice to me." She now wants to start doing whitewater slalom.
"It's more technical and challenging as you are not just bouncing down a river but you are competing against others and yourself to complete the course," she says.
Lee says Gage isn't physically ready to be doing the steeper, bouncier rapids he wants to.
He would like to see his son also competing in slalom on class two and three rapids.
"New Zealand has a wonderful nationwide secondary school slalom competition and I have been told that Gage would be allowed to compete even though he is 7."