As the youngest of four Tauranga brothers, Sam Roy has spent a fair few of his 17 years in the shade, feeding off the scraps of his sporting siblings.
Now the Otumoetai College star has emerged from the undergrowth, proudly clutching a fellow forest-floor dweller to his chest in the shape of a silver fern.
Roy will make his international debut this weekend with the New Zealand junior kayaking team in Sydney, competing in a round of the Australian canoe sprint series. It caps a remarkable transition after a scrawny young tyro first picked up a paddle three years ago to help his surf lifesaving skill-set but Roy’s selection is one he isn’t going to waste.
“I just want to go out and enjoy myself and enjoy the fact I’ve come this far,” Roy mused. “It’s my first international event and my first time in a New Zealand team so I’ll be happy with any result on the international stage but getting there has meant a lot of hard work and a lot of people supporting me.”
Among those influences have been Bay of Plenty kayaking coach Stephen Brown, Tauranga-based international paddler Scott Bicknell, Mount Maunganui surf lifesaving coach John “Spindles” Bryant and Roy’s older brother Andrew, who will also be racing at the Sydney International Regatta Centre this weekend.
Brown, a former Great British Olympic paddler, has trained Roy since 2009, while Bryant has also been a critical influence.
“Since most other paddlers are built much bigger than me, Spindles said ‘You might be smaller now but if we get your technique sorted, when you catch up in size they won’t match you” and that was pretty motivating. Sure enough, as I’ve grown in the last year, I’ve blown away expectations of how well I could do.”
He picked up silver in the New Zealand under-18 K1 500m race in Rotorua last week despite a pulled muscle in his forearm, then combined with Papamoa’s Taris Harker to finish second in both the K2 500m and 1000m races. On the final day, still paddling in pain, he finally broke through and won the K2 200m with Gisborne’s Jarrod Fitzgerald. Both Harker and Fitzgerald will be teammates in the eight-strong squad this weekend.
Surf lifesaving still plays a big part in Roy’s life – he’s the youngest patrol captain at the Mount Lifeguard Service this season, following on from older brother James, while he and Andrew will both head straight back from Sydney to compete in next week’s New Zealand surf lifesaving championships on their home beach. His brother’s lead, meanwhile, has been crucial.
“Andrew has been a huge influence and after making so many New Zealand junior teams, I really wanted to achieve what he’s done and even more. He has helped me a lot with technique and is normally the one forcing me out of bed most mornings to go and train!”
While this weekend will be about personal goals – making the K1 500m final and beating his K1 1000m personal best of 3mins 57sec – he’s quickly changing focus for next week’s surf lifesaving nationals.
“We’ll have three days’ rest and then we’ll be straight back into it. I’m keen to make the under-19 surf ski final but I’m planning on focusing all my energy on my team events, to help boost the overall club performance.”