During the 70s and 80s, Graham Egarr was the leading figure for recreational canoe and kayak paddling, water safety and river conservation in New Zealand. Graham took up white-water paddling whilst at the University of Canterbury.
The potential damming of a North Island River in the mid-70s led to an urgent need to rate New Zealand’s 100 most important rivers. With a grant from Lands and Survey, Graham and Jan began a nation-wide river survey in mid-1977, starting at the top of the North Island. Aided by the support of local kayak and jet-boating clubs, a total of nine regional river guides were completed and published in 1978 by the New Zealand Canoeing Association. As well as editing the NZCA Canoeing magazine from to 1976 to 1986, Graham had three books published on paddling and wrote numerous well-researched articles for boating magazines.
In 1979 Graham commenced working for Water Safety NZ as an education officer and after 10 years, he was the organization’s Director of Safety and Research. By 1987 Graham had left the NZCA and commenced publishing two independent newsletters for recreational paddlers, The Open Canoe Newsletter and “The Sea Canoeist Newsletter”. The Sea Canoeist Newsletter that was sent out to a small subscriber list who each paid an annual subscription of six 40 cent postage stamps. This can be regarded as the starting point for what we now know as KASK.
Graham Egarr organised the first national forum of sea kayakers in 1989 this was held at Mapua Leisure Park near Nelson. Two further forums were held at Mapua.
At the Mapua forum in 1991 The sea kayak commodore for the NZ Canoeing Association (NZCA), Dave Robertson, spoken about what he was going to organize with sea kayaking in NZ. Paul Caffyn and Graham Egarr recognised that the interests of sea kayaking in New Zealand would be better served by a group focused on sea kayaking rather than as a subset of the organisation more focused on white-water and competitive canoeing. Graham and Paul decided that a New Zealand Association of Sea Kayakers (NZASK) should be established and that NZASK would join the Water Safety Council and could then gain funding for both publications and videos promoting safe sea kayaking. It was decided that Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (KASK) would be a better name than New Zealand Association of Sea Kayakers.
In Paul Caffyn’s words: “After the annual Mapua sea kayak forum in 1991, Graham and Paul Caffyn had a plenipotentiary meeting of a national sea kayaking organization in Graham’s bathroom. He was lying back in an old-fashioned cast-iron bath, one of those with claw feet, trying to gain some relief from back pain by soaking in hot water. He was a tad annoyed that a North Island upstart, who stated at this recent forum that his intention was to form a New Zealand Sea Kayaking organization, and he would be setting rules and tests for certificates of competency.
In August 1991, when Paul Caffyn returned from the finish of his Alaskan trip, he drove to Mapua to see Graham. Paul noted, ‘the poor bugger was physically wasted but his mind was still as sharp as a tack’.”
Even before his last newsletter was mailed, melanoma claimed Graham’s life on 19 September 1991. At his Mapua funeral service, numerous tributes spoke of a gifted, talented all-rounder and a wonderful family man. Graham Sisson noted: ‘He was a visionary, always a jump ahead and 10 years ahead of his time.’
In March 1992 the Graham Egarr Forum was held at Redcliffs, Christchurch and it was unanimously agreed to form an incorporated society. The steering committee elected was: Chairman: P. Caffyn, Sec/Treas: Eric van Toor, Committee: Sandy Ferguson, Bevan Walker, Dave Herrington.
Two lovely trophies were built by kayak builder, John Dobbie, in 1997 to keep alive Graham Egarr’s long and outstanding contribution to paddling.
Graham Egarr Memorial Paddle Trophy for Outstanding Contribution to New Zealand Sea Kayaking
Graham Egarr Memorial Paddle Trophy for Outstanding Contribution(s) to the KASK Newsletter (now named New Zealand Sea Kayaker)
A further annual award was added to the above two in 2008. Initiated by Paul Caffyn, the “Bugger! of the Year” award was to be presented to the paddler or paddlers that had an unfortunate (“bugger”) kayaking experience. Invited from members, nominations are considered by the committee of the New Zealand Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (KASK) and presented at the Annual General Meeting along with the Graham Eggar Annual Trophy Awards. The idea of the award was for kayakers of all abilities to share mistakes, incidents, kit failures etc. in an open fun forum for which we could all share, relate to or otherwise learn from. The Sea Canoeist Newsletter also had an occasional Bugger File in which KASK members experiences were wonderfully reported, all of which were equally deserving of the “Bugger” Award.