Like his higher-profile team-mates Alan Thompson, Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald, Grant Bramwell came to kayaking via surf lifesaving. What’s more, he carried on with surf lifesaving even after he’d achieved world recognition as a kayaker.
Bramwell, who took up kayaking in 1977, paddled at two Olympics, and was very much a central figure in the golden age of the sport in New Zealand.
He linked with Ferguson, MacDonald and Thompson to form the K4 1000 combination, known as the Dream Team, that was unbeaten at Los Angeles in 1984.
There were only about 50 competitive kayakers in the country during the 1980s, and to make up for the lack of depth, the four leading kayakers raced each other continually in training, their rivalry providing the best preparation possible for world championships and Olympic Games.
In 1988, the K4 of which Bramwell was the senior member failed to fire at the Seoul Olympic Games, finishing fourth in their semi-final and so missing a berth in the final. This was especially disappointing because the four had reached the world final the previous year.
The Gisborne man paddled internationally from 1983-88. Besides the 1984 Olympics, his individual highlight was a bronze medal in world K1 10,000 championship at Belgium in 1985.
Surf lifesaving was his first major sport. He represented New Zealand at 18, and continued representing his country throughout the 1980s.
At domestic level he won his share of surf lifesaving national titles, including two ironmans, even though for many years kayaking was his priority. “It was easy enough to do both, because the sports are complementary,” he said. “But in surf lifesaving there wasn’t much scope to travel internationally. We really only had the trans-Tasman in my day.”
After retiring as a paddler, Bramwell was a national selector for some years in the 1990s. He still lives in Gisborne, where he runs Bramwell Pharmacy in Gladstone Road, the main street through the town. It’s a third-generation family business and it keeps him busy.
He married Sharon in 1988 and they have four children.
Besides his business and family commitments, Bramwell has remained fit since he quit kayaking in 1988 and surf lifesaving a short while later.
“I’ve always kept pretty active,” he said. “I’ve never stopped exercising. I’m part of a small group who run three times a week. We run 40 minutes, then spend 40 minutes in the gym, and we’ve been doing that for 20 years. I also play tennis about six hours a week.”