Pietermaritzburg in South Africa may be a long way from Swan Christian College (SCC), but for 17-year-old Max Smith, it’s an important paddling pit-stop of a journey that began in year eight at the College and shows no signs of slowing down.
Last March, Max placed second in the K2 junior under 18 marathon event at the Australian Marathon Championships at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith, New South Wales, earning qualification for the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in South Africa.
Not bad for a kid that had never picked up a paddle prior to enrolling in year eight at the college.
An accomplished paddler in his own right, Ben Dallan is SCC’s head of outdoor education and runs the school’s specialist kayaking program, where he first identified Max as a special talent on the water.
“In his second year of the program, so in year nine, we began to see what Max was really capable of,” he said.
“That year we did the Blackwood Marathon, which is a team’s adventure race, and Max finished in the top ten of that race, and that includes all the adults so that gave us an idea that he certainly had potential.”
Mr Dallan then took Max to the talent ID program at Bayswater Kayak Club for specialist training, and from that point it was clear Max was bound for bigger and better things.
Now training under former Olympian Jesse Phillips at Ascot Kayaking Club, Max said he was extremely proud to be representing Australia, even if it meant training ten times a week, often getting up well before 5am.
“To be representing my country in something I really enjoy, yeah it’s great. I want to achieve the highest result I can out of my body and my mental capacity and push that every day,” he said.
“I don’t really know how I handle the early starts, I just do, I guess it just gets worked into you after a while.
“Mum’s not a fan, she’s usually sleeping in the car while I’m out paddling.
“I’m really thankful she does that, I don’t think too many people would wake up to drive their kid out to kayaking in the freezing cold before five in the morning.”
Mr Dallan is also extremely proud of Max, who he believes has the potential to go even further in the sport.
“Max is definitely one of the more talented paddlers we’ve had come through, but he’s also without doubt the most committed and he’s made the most of the talent he has, which I think is the more important thing.”
Echo News will keep you up to date with Max’s efforts in the World Championships, which take place next month.
By Liam Ducey