WHAKATANE Aquatic Centre has bid farewell to one of its star staff members.
Renown waka ama paddler Josh Walters has left his workplace and training ground to begin life as a recruit in the New Zealand Police.
The successful paddler, known not only for success at the highest level of waka ama but for other sporting disciplines too, headed to Porirua last weekend to begin police training, but not before competing in the hotly contested Takapuna Cup, an event his team has won several times.
“I’ve haven’t had time to think about Porirua,” laughs Josh who, when Eastern Bay Life spoke to him last week, conceded he was still “totally focused on the race”.
Expecting to arrive back from the event late Saturday night, and leave for his first day at police college a few hours later – “probably around 3am” he says – appears to be par for the course for the 23-year-old who has been training three or four times a day since high school.
Josh has consistently qualified for New Zealand’s waka ama representative team since 2012. He has been competing in both team and single paddler events at home and internationally for several years, with the sport overtaking his previous stellar sporting careers in swimming, kayaking, and surf life-saving, all of which he achieved highly in, setting records that stood for years. “I think most of them have been broken now,” he smiles. “Kids coming through swimming now are like machines.”
Josh is a familiar sight at the aquatic centre. With pool training long forming part of his hefty training regime, he also began working at the pools during the past two years, becoming both a senior lifeguard and a Learn to Swim teacher, work he credits with cementing the police path he is now on.
“I’d never had much to do with kids before,” he says. “I didn’t know if I really even liked kids.” But he says working at the pools and, in particular, with youth, inspired him to want to work with troubled youth. “That’s what has really motivated me to become a police officer. I want to focus on youth. I’m young. I’ll be a few years older than them, but young enough to be able to relate.”
Finishing school in 2014, the former Trident High School student had headed to university in Auckland to study osteopathy, but Josh says nearly three years into study, he realised it wasn’t going to be the right career for him.
There were other aspects that didn’t seem to be the right fit – the seed of working in the police force was already germinating – but he says he realised that he wanted to continue to focus his life around sport. “My whole life has been focused on sport. I’m not ready to change that.”
Josh is confident his police career will work well with his sports career. “The police force seem very supportive of sports,” he says. With a new training programme in place to fit with his police training, he says he’s sure he can keep up his stringent training programme.
“The canoe is coming with me.”
Josh arrived in New Zealand as an 11-year-old, his South African family keen to leave the turmoil of Durban behind to make a new life in a peaceful country. “Mum and Dad were always keen to come to New Zealand – smaller, much safer, and a great place for sports.”
The family opted to leave Durban during the lengthy application process for New Zealand residency that followed, moving to Saudi Arabia where his teacher parents took up two-year posts.
Arriving in New Zealand in 2009, Josh was already a very competitive swimmer. Swimming for the Whakatane club and for his school, he was a dominant and highly successful competitor for all of his school years, the sport sitting alongside surf life-saving in which he produced similar results, winning numerous events and national titles.
Josh held 50 metre and 100m breaststroke records in both junior and senior sections for many years. The Bay of Plenty Regional Junior Relay team he was part of still hold the record they set in 2013. But it was the sport of paddling that would win out and dominate the years to come.
It was his best friend, Josh says, Ash Roozendaal, that first taught him how to paddle.
Achieving in the sport at similar levels, he says everywhere they have been with the sport since, they have been together. “We’ve come through it all together.”
Josh first represented New Zealand in waka ama in 2012, travelling to Calgary in Canada to compete in the sport’s biggest competition, with their New Zealand representative team setting world records on that occasion in both 500m and 1000m.
Consistently qualifying ever since, he has attended world championships and other top events every year with competitions taking him to destinations including Tahiti, Rarotonga and Australia, racing in the open sections of competition since the age of 16.
In the 2014 national championships, he set a national record in both 250m and 500m under 19 events.
He won numerous school, regional, and national awards including several young achiever sportsperson awards, being pipped at the post on one occasion for national recognition by Lisa Carrington.
Josh’s achievements are becoming uncountable. He knows he has more than 400 medals, and there are dozens of ribbons and almost as many trophies. But Josh plays it down in light of what he is heading to next.
“Yes, sport is going to remain central, but I want to do really well at police college too. I want to be a really good cop.”
And what does being a “good cop” mean to Josh?
“It means being open to other people’s lives. It means understanding how people are different. It means being friendly and always open. I really want to do a good job and I’m also hoping to fit overseas travel in along the way. I think that’s important in terms of opening your eyes to different ways of living, to understanding how different people can be.”
Immediately at hand though, he confesses to a goal he has for police college. “I want to be the top physical recruit.”
One gets the impression he’d be hard pressed to be anything but.
By Lorraine Wilson