Nelson indoor bowler Kaleb Johnston defended his U18 singles title in Wellington last month. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Kaleb makes history again


When Kaleb Johnston was first dragged along to the local bowls club, he resisted.

The 18-year-old initially dismissed the sport as just an ‘old man’s game’.

However, now in a competitive career spanning a little over three years, Kaleb has his name firmly etched in the national record books.

The Stoke Club member has an incredibly impressive resume, setting milestones not seen in the sport for decades.

Kaleb cemented his status as the best junior bowler in the country last month as he defended his U18 singles title in a thrilling final.

The Waimea College student was locked in a gripping battle with 17-year-old Canterbury bowler Nikita Blair.

“I was down the whole game, I had to fight back. She had the upper hand on me the whole game and it all came down to that last end.”

The defending champion held his nerve to claim the victory 9-8 and become the first player to go back-to-back in 26 years.

Kaleb is no stranger to making history on the bowls mat – being part of the first, and only, father and son duo to win the same title, after dad Mike won the inaugural tournament in 1978.

At 15, Kaleb became the youngest player in Nelson history to win the Nelson Indoor Bowls centre gold star for five centre titles.

This record was previously held by New Zealand bowler Ali Forsyth for nineteen years.

Kaleb says, while the sport is less strenuous on the body than others he’s played in the past, bowls is a far more stressful experience.

“During the final I was just sweating, stressing out and staring at the mat.”

An avid swimmer and footballer before taking up bowls, Kaleb was training every day when he started to go along with his dad to club open days.

“I hated it at first, but then went to a junior’s tournament and there were rugby players and other sportsmen, which I was not expecting at all. I made heaps of friends and that’s when I started to really enjoy it and take it more seriously.”

Though they are often teammates, Kaleb and his father enjoy a friendly rivalry when facing off.

However, Kaleb is still yet to beat his old man in singles competition.

“We have had some close games but haven’t played each other in about a year, I think he’s getting a bit scared now.”