Nearly every international team visiting the St-Omer venue for this week’s ICF Canoe Polo World Championships is looking on with jealousy at the purpose-built venue with its permanent facilities.

But not New Zealand. The tiny Oceania nation has just recently opened their own exclusive canoe polo venue, on the country’s North Island, and they’re hoping it’s going to provide an edge to their teams that have already being going toe-to-toe with the best in the world.

“It’s really awesome, in Hawkes Bay where five of our girls originate from,” New Zealand U21 captain, Kate Blincoe, told us this week.

“We’ve got a purpose-built venue similar to this, two courts, same goals. It’s awesome, it’s pretty new but we’ve definitely been making the most of it so far and for the next years to come.”

Like most other teams around the world, Blincoe and her U21 team have arrived in St-Omer not really knowing what to expect. The Covid pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 world championships in Rome, so this will be the first time nations get to square off at a world titles since Welland in 2018.

Except for New Zealand its been a bit tougher than most. The country enforced some of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world, which made it impossible for national teams to even train together, let alone play competitive competitions.

“It was definitely a challenge during lockdowns,” Blincoe said.

“New Zealand had quite strict lockdowns, but we got through and just stayed training with our local groups until we could get back into the national team. We only did that last season.”

Blincoe is one of three team members who played in the U21 competition in Welland in 2018, a team that finished with the bronze medal after beating Great Britain 3-2 in a thrilling play-off. To prepare properly, and to compensate for a lack of opportunities in recent years, the squad scraped together all their loose change and ran public fundraising campaigns to finance an early trip to Europe.

“We’ve been here quite a while now, we left home mid-July and have been in Ireland, and then trained in Germany and the Netherlands, and now we’re here,” Blincoe said.

“We’ve got a great group of girls, a lot of us from local clubs where we play together back in New Zealand. We definitely are aiming to just keep growing from where we’ve come from. We’ve already come a long way, being together for nearly a year now, but we just need to keep growing as a team and performing as we seem to be doing because we seem to have been doing quite well so far.”

Canoe polo has a strong community in New Zealand, as evidenced by the new purpose-built venue. It’s offered as a sports option at many high schools, which is sure to make many other countries envious, and once someone starts playing – well as Kate Blincoe puts it, you become a lifer.

“New Zealand’s quite small compared to some European countries and we’re quite a tight-knit community, and once you’re in the community you don’t want to leave. They’re like your family.”

Canoe Polo
#ICFcanoePolo #canoepolo