Bradley Anderson can't put an exact time on when he first appeared in a Manukau Outrigger Canoe Club waka. He estimates sometime in the 1990s.
2 years ago he told Te Kāea he was considering hanging up his paddle. He didn't. "I don't know if I was ever going to hang it up completely," he says shortly after getting off the water after another early morning training session with his Vaka Manu team. "You always have a break every now and then, but to let it fully go, I don't think you can. I don't think anyone can. It's just life," he says.
He is preparing for another crack at the national V6 500m title his Vaka Manu team have won for the past 6 years.
Vaka Manu means so much to Brad Anderson, he has the name tattooed on his arm, and he keeps coming back for more, "it's just family, tradition, whatever you want to call it - history."
One of the highlights of his long career on the water is his father winning a gold medal when he was a part of the V12 team.
As well as the constant success Anderson has achieved on the water, he is proud of what his club has created that will help keep the success coming in the future, "on the water this morning we would've had five or six canoes," he says, "and that's a credit to Kimi [Taliauli], and his relationship with the schools and the young boys coming through."
Anderson is also the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the successful Black Ferns Sevens team, which meant relocating to Tauranga. He says the move has been rewarding, but also tough. He travels back to Auckland each weekend he can to train with his beloved club, "When you've spent the better part of twenty years at the ramp paddling, to uproot and go down, yeah, and it still is tough. I don't know if I miss living in Auckland, but I do miss the ramp." The constant travel has created a financial burden for him but is one he doesn't mind in order to keep supporting the club.
Beginning as an intern with the Blues, he became a Strength and Conditioning coach with the Northland Taniwha, before a role with the Auckland Rugby team, which eventually led to his appointment with the 'Sevens Sisters'. As part of his role with the Black Ferns, he has been able to travel the world and see places he thinks he wouldn't have been able to otherwise, to which he says he "eternally grateful." He says there is a comparison between them and his Waka Ama team, "very different sports, but I liken to our Vaka Manu, there's so much experience in our team that when things go wrong, you know that these girls will solve these problems then and there."
As for Anderson's paddling career, even after nearly 20 years near the top of the Waka Ama world, he is still keen to keep going.