Joshua Steward has ended his 13 years at Huntly College on a high, after the U19 boys took out gold at the National Secondary School Waka Ama Championships.
A gold at the National Secondary School Waka Ama Championships, was the perfect way to end coach Joshua Steward's time at Huntly College.
Steward has been a teacher at the school for over 13 years and a waka ama coach there for around eight years.
He'd considered resigning at the end of last year, but decided to stay on for one more term to give the U19 boys one last chance at winning nationals.
Halex Herewini, Karl Walters, Joseph Clark, PJ Clune, Colenszo Haddon and Haydn Whippy were the six boys in the winning waka.
The boys didn't disappoint.
Halex Herewini, Karl Walters, Joseph Clark, PJ Clune, Colenszo Haddon and Haydn Whippy arrived at Huntly College as year nine students, with no previous waka ama experience.
Steward put a paddle in their hands and taught them how to use it. Five years later, the boys won gold in the 500 metre final at nationals.
"I could see a look of determination and focus in their eyes and I had a sense they were going to do it," Steward said. The boys have come close to winning multiple times.
But, they've never given up, Steward said. "Since year nine, they've paddled all year round."
Five days a week, the boys are on the water at 6.45am to train for an hour and a half before school.
"Their determination and perserverance has finally paid off, Steward said.
Steward was introduced to waka ama, after he approached Turangawaewae Waka Sports about 12 year ago. He went on to compete at an open mens level. Through Te Wānanga o Aotearoa he completed a Kaihoe Waka Coaching Diploma and started training and coaching at Huntly College.
His favourite memories with the boys are from when they first started.
"They all had a very basic knowledge of what the sport is about."
You had to have that vision that they could be a successful team and they've worked extremely hard to get there."
Steward focuses a lot of his coaching around kilometres. "Once you have that base, the rest becomes a lot more natural."
I like to get a lot of kilometres under their belt and do a lot of long distance training in the build up to an event. Slowly, we do more high intensity, shorter distance training.
"Team unity is also a high priority, Steward said. "You're not going to win by yourself because there's five other paddlers you need to be in time with.
"If you're not on the same page it's not going to help." There were seven other teams in the final and the Huntly College boys qualified with the fastest time.
The boys were successful before they hopped on the water, Steward said. The final was won by 0.05 of a second. "It was tight, we didn't know we'd won until we saw the times," PJ Clune said.
"We were determined to do good in our last year and sir's last year."
He's been the best coach, Haydn Whippy said. "He's helped us all the way, not just in waka ama," Whippy said. "He's taught us to wake up early every day and to give our all in everything we do."
The school's last win at nationals was in 2014, with a team which had Whippy's older brother in it.
"It's awesome to see the boys carry on that legacy," Steward said. "It's been a huge challenge to get back to that level and the boys have worked hard to pull it off in their final year."
One of the boys, Halex Herewini, is off to compete in the world championships in Tahiti later this year.
He will be paddling for Te Aurere.
Steward is moving on to start an outdoor education department at Ngāruawāhia High School next term.
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