Tauranga born and bred, Mike Dawson travels the world on the slalom canoe circuit. Recently having returned from Rio, where he placed 10th in the K1 Slalom, we caught up with him on his own turf – Wero Whitewater Park.

How did you come to canoing? How fit do you need to be to be a slalom canoeist? What’s the training regime like?

I grew up in Tauranga so naturally spent a lot of time around the water. When I went to Tauranga Boys’ College I joined the whitewater kayaking team, who took me to all the national competitions. From there I discovered that Canoe Slalom was an Olympic sport and set my sights on competing for NZ at the Games & traveling and competing internationally. Fitness is a huge part of Canoe Slalom as it a 100 second maxium effort. The training regime is intense. Usually I’m on the water twice per day & as having a high power to weight ratio is crucial I’m also hitting the gym 3x per week.

You had a hard road to Rio, especially with the funding short fall, but you had a very resourceful way to get yourself there. Can you explain?

Last season I won the qualification at the World Championships, but a small mistake on finals day meant I didn’t make the funding critera for 2016. My performance in qualification had shown I was fast enough but without the funds Rio would almost be impossible so I had to think outside the box. I created a cookbook called “Eat Like The Locals” which included great recipes from friends I’d met during my travels. It also had stories from my adventures kayaking, exploring and racing in some of the most remote parts of the planet. I sold this to cover the shortfall between what I had and what I needed to get to Rio uncompromised. I was blown away by the incredible support from New Zealand and around the world.

You went to Rio ranked 42nd, so what do you credit to your amazing performance? How does New Zealand rate on the world stage? And which nation can truly say they have dominance in the event?

Before these Olympics a kiwi had never been in an Olympic finals, but now we’ve put New Zealand on the global canoe slalom map. I was really happy with my performance, which can be credited to an amazing team environment, working with my coach really well & the time we put in planning before we got to Rio. I was also lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Rio training on the course.

There has been so much said about the Rio Olympics the good, the bad and the ugly – what was your main out take?

Rio 2016 was amazing. There was a lot of mixed publicity, but I think they did an incredible job. Our venue was world class and a lot of fun to train and race on. The athlete village had a few teething problems, but by the time we moved in, it was perfect. One of the best things about Rio is the culture, vibrance and atmosphere that the locals bring to the everyday environment.

You had first-hand experience of the chronic social problems in Rio and felt impelled to do something for those living on the streets. Tell us about that.

I teamed up with a Brazilian friend Pedro Gonclaves to create the Share the Stoke project. We’d spent a lot of time training and living in Rio and noticed there were a lot of children living on the street, starving and without shelter. We wanted to try and give something back as athletes, rather than just coming to Rio, competing and leaving. We created food bags, each one consisted of a week's supply of food and we headed out into the poorest parts of the city to hand them out.

Tell us about the upcoming Whitewater XL that Auckland’s hosting in November. What else is on the horizon for you? Tokyo?

Whitewater XL is an exciting time. It’s a huge opportunity to put Wero Whitewater Park & New Zealand on the map as a great place for global competitions. There’s going to be a great field coming down to compete. After that event I’ll begin preparing for the 2017 season, and looking towards Tokyo. I’m excited to see an Olympics in Japan and would be humbled if I got the chance to compete there.

Living in Prague, you can’t really get any further from New Zealand – what’s the appeal?

When it starts to get colder in New Zealand I move to Europe. Prague is my European base & my second home. It’s the perfect place to base myself in the European Summer. The whitewater course is world class and home to some of the best kayak paddlers on the planet. The city is historic and beautiful, and most of the locals speak amazing English. It’s central Europe and has quick connections to all our race venues. And the food is great and extremely cheap!