At just 16 years of age Balazs Bartfai has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

Not only has he created history this week by becoming the first athlete to represent the United Arab Emirates at an International Canoe Federation world championships, but he has also set himself the goal of helping grow the sport of canoe sprint in his adopted homeland.

Born in Hungary, Baetfai moved to the UAE when he was just five. Despite the lack of canoe sprint history in his new country, there was never any doubt it was a sport he would try. His father, Krisztian, is a three-time Olympian who won bronze in the K2 1000 at the Sydney 2000 Games.

His dad is now his coach, and together they have taken it upon themselves to help raise awareness of canoe sprint in the UAE.

“I moved out to Dubai in the UAE when I was five years old, so I’ve been living there for about 11 years,” Balazs Bartfai said.

“I paddle there, I do surfski kayaking, and this year we decided to switch to UAE colours to compete and to try and build a team in the UAE.

“It’s amazing to kayak there. There’s a creek, perfectly flat water that stretches about 42 kilometres, it’s an amazing place to paddle. We have a lot of boats.”

UAE officially became an ICF national federation this year, and there have already been encouraging signs that the sport has captured attention. Bartfai said there are fantastic resources available and lots of good reason why the sport could prosper.

“There are not a lot of athletes there, which is why we are trying to build the team up,” he said.

“It’s mostly surf ski there, ocean paddling, quite a few hundred paddlers but mostly older paddlers. There are hardly any juniors so that is why we are trying to build up the team.”

Thursday was not just special for Balazs because he was making history for his adopted country. He was also making that slice of history in the country where he was born.

“I find both of them are my home, Hungary is my home and the United Arab Emirates is my home, so both are amazing places to compete at.”

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