Sign up for guitar or piano lessons at Cambridge Middle School and you might end up being tutored by a future Olympian.
Champion canoeist Max Brown moved to Cambridge in January 2018 when Canoe Racing New Zealand shifted its training base from Auckland to Lake Karapiro.
Since then, he has been putting his Bachelor of Music degree to good use, tutoring music students both privately and at Waipā schools while he prepares for the Tokyo Olympics.
His job teaching guitar and piano at Cambridge Middle School fits perfectly around his intensive training schedule and he loves it.
“Anna Johnson, who runs the music programme, is an absolute star and she really looks after me,” he said. “I would say her programme is second to none in New Zealand for intermediate age groups.”
Max is also studying part-time towards a master’s degree in business management from the University of Waikato.
The driven 26-year-old was born and raised in Whanganui and grew up in an “amazing family” of music lovers. He began learning the electric guitar when he was 10 and later took up piano, mastering both instruments while at high school. In 2014 he moved to Wellington to study music at Victoria University.
The keen outdoorsman had discovered one of the other loves of his life – sprint canoeing – through the Whanganui Multisport Club at age 15.
“My friends were doing it on Saturdays, and they said come join us,” he said. “I was probably the worst… I was hopeless – I was falling out of the boat 12 times a day – but I really enjoyed being out on the water and having fun. And I was the one who stuck at it.”
He believes the discipline needed to learn music has served him well in canoeing.
“It takes a lot of dedication and patience to learn music and I think a lot of those skills transfer to sport,” he said.
Max thrives on the challenge of driving his body to its physical limits and believes canoeing is “one of the hardest things you can put yourself through”.
“Your legs are driving, your hips are twisting, you’re literally using every muscle in your body,” he said. “You’re just hurting. Often you’ll vomit after the race, and you’ll be seeing stars.”
He was “super excited” to win selection for the Tokyo Olympics last year and then “gutted” when the games were postponed.
“I was pretty dark for two days, pretty despondent,” he said. “I thought, what’s the point in all this? But it comes back to perspectives. I could have been in Italy sick with Covid. Other people had it much worse than I did. So, I just got on with it.”
This February he had to trial again for the Olympic team and was “just relieved” when his selection was confirmed last month.
He will be flying into Tokyo on July 8 and then heading to Komatsu to acclimatise to the heat and humidity before returning to the capital to race in the men’s K2 1000m canoe sprint with Kurtis Imrie, who is also based in Cambridge, on August 4 and 5.
“We haven’t raced any overseas teams since 2019,” said Max, who won the men’s K1 1000m individual sprint at this year’s national championships and the K2 1000 two-person sprint with Kurtis.
“Obviously we want to do really well but we just literally have no idea how everyone’s going. Everyone’s had different Covid circumstances and setbacks, so there are a lot of unknowns. But that’s actually really exciting.”
While he’d love to win a medal, his goal is just to “make the boat fly as fast as possible”.
“It’s been a ridiculous build up to go and race for 3.5 minutes; it’s a lot of work and years for a very small amount of time,” he said.
“So, I think the exciting part is trying to make sure you nail those 3.5 minutes so all those years were worth it.”
Max, who has just bought a house in Cambridge, said he felt instantly at home when he arrived here three years ago.
“I posted on the Grapevine looking for students and had 55 messages within about four hours,” he said.
“From then on you could just feel the sense of community and everyone looking out for each other.”