World champion extreme kayaker Sam Sutton reckons he'll return home and probably get beaten by a mate this week, such is New Zealand's strength in the sport.
Sutton won his third consecutive world extreme title in Austria at the weekend, beating 150 of the best extreme paddlers on the planet.
The 24-year-old, who is preparing for more celebration with his partner Katharina Uhl about to give birth to their first child, overcame uncharacteristic nerves on the 280m of grade five rapids down the infamous Wellerbrucke section of the Otztaler Ache River.
His time of 56.92 seconds, outside his record 55.84 set last year, was still good enough to hold off veteran Slovenian paddler Dejan Kralj, who was 0.89 adrift.
Top qualifier and London Olympian Mike Dawson, another member of the Waiariki Academy of Sport in Rotorua, had the chance to snatch the tile as the last paddler on the course but a slight error on the bottom ''Champion's Killer'' rapid cost him a chance of grabbing his first title at the prestigious event. He was third, 1.46 behind his compatriot.
''I was pretty sure Mike was actually going to beat me because he's probably the strongest extreme racer in the world overall but he had a bit of bad luck on that last drop,'' a relieved Sutton said.
''I came in relatively confident but I was definitely worried - I could just picture myself finishing second as I've been second the whole way through the race this weekend. I definitely didn't want my child to be born into the world when their dad's a loser so I'm pretty happy with this result.
''There's probably three dudes in New Zealand that could beat me and I'll probably go home to Okere Falls (near Rotorua) and race with a friend of mine on Wednesday and he'll probably beat me.
''I don't know what's up with New Zealand but it's just an extremely competitive environment and if you can win a race back home, you can probably win any international race.''
The title remains the only major extreme crown Dawson has yet to win, despite second placings in 2009 and 2011 and now a third, though his disappointment was again tempered by Sutton's performance.
"No-one wants to come second or third but I'm stoked to be standing on the podium with some of my really good mates," the 26-year-old said.
Sutton said his latest title was the toughest to win.
''I just wasn't feeling great and it's probably the highest level of competition we've ever had here,'' he said.
''It's also a slalom Olympic year, so everybody is extremely fast and to top it off, we probably had the strongest field ever.''
- © Fairfax NZ News