2018 was monumental for me as I finally came to understand the importance of balancing work and play, on and off the water. This led me to make the most of every day, and every opportunity that came in my direction. I journeyed to amazing places, experienced new cultures and learned valuable lessons along the way.
My greatest success of 2018 was balancing the scales of teaching for World Class Academy full time, and accomplishing personal goals while exploring with my partners at Send. This year has also taught me the value of non-wavering friendships, the importance in setting goals and the power that positivity has on those around you. 2018 was filled with countless moments to be remembered, allowed me to learn from my mistakes and pass wisdom onto to my students, and gave me a newfound outlook on taking time to take a second look around and to appreciate all the little things that one might miss at first glance.
The year began with dawn till dusk surfing on the perfect wave. Nile Special and the Hairy Lemon Island played host to an exceptional transition from one year into the next as SEND and I prepared to host our 2nd UNLEASHED competition; this time away from the frigid rivers of Quebec to the paradise of the White Nile. UNLEASHEDxUganda was fueled by copious amounts of coffee, incredible athlete stoke and outstanding support from the kayaking community. The four of us SEND partners managed to pull off our 2nd major event in 9 months. 29 invited athletes from 12 countries joined us for UNLEASHEDxUganda which entailed 4 stages on the biggest waves and whitewater the White Nile has to offer.
We hosted stage 1 big trick freestyle in the middle of Itanda Falls on the Cuban wave. We brought stage 2 to the ominous Dead Dutchman rapid for a boater. Stage 3 took place on the world renowned Nile Special wave, and the 4th and final stage came to life as a mass start race through the Hair of the Dog rapid. From an organizers view, it was incredibly special to facilitate an international competition on one of the best rivers in the world. As a competitor it was even more amazing to be able to compete and kayak with amazing friends on a section of river that will soon be lost to a senseless hydroelectric project. UNLESASHEDxUganda was the perfect beginning to 2018, and set the bar high for what was an unbelievable year set to unfold. Read full story
Results: 3rd overall (individual stage results of 3rd, 12th, 2nd, 1st)
One of, if not THE mecca of white-water kayaking, Chile should be at the top of every kayakers list. After a lengthy winter break in Africa, I was fired up to return to World Class Academy and show my students a country I’ve considered my second home for the better part of the past decade. Gearing up for my 7th trip in 6 years, I could barely contain my excitement. Coaching and facilitating exploration in a new place for so many kids really allowed me take a second look, find new lines, and appreciate the little things I had looked over in my previous trips to Chile.
Following a few beautiful weeks on the rivers surrounding the Villarica Volcano, the school transitioned south to the magical valley of the Futaleufu River. Immersed in the last frontier and the wild ways of Patagonia, each day laid a new path through the crystal blue waters of one of the best rivers on earth. Multi-day missions on the weekends, finding quite spots beyond the hills, and competing in the FutaleufuXL are but a few moments that helped shaped my students during our time in the south.
Returning to Pucon with countless memories and ever changing, we completed our quarter where it began seven weeks prior. We made the most of our final week with a few smash and grab waterfall missions to the Rio Fuy and Rio Blanco Sur, ensuring students of all skills levels experienced their best day of the quarter. As we headed home, daydreaming of waterfalls and days gone by, I am thankful that I am able to pass on my passion to the next generation and teach them a little along the way, I have the best job in the world and appreciate every minute of it!
Rivers Kayaked: Trancura River, Palguin River, Liacura River, Maichin River, San Pedro River, Fuy River, Futaleufu River, Blanco Sur River.
Highlights / Results:
• Leading 7 students into the middle section of the Fuy River,including the 50ft waterfall.
• Coaching 18 students towards running a 30ft tall waterfall AND being comfortable on class 5 big water.
• FutaleufuXL Race results: 3rd –Giant Slalom, 9th –Downriver Race, 10th –Sprint, 5th –BoaterX
Succeeding an amazing quarter in Chile cultivating my student’s skills, I was ready for some personal progression. Nick Troutman, Dane Jackson and I hashed a quick plan for 10 days in the Mexican jungle. Mission goal simple – bring new era slicey kayaks and send freestyle off all of the classic Mexican waterfalls.
Nick and I hit the ground running, excited to discover the potential of this style of kayak in a classic destination. After a few laps to get comfortable creeking in our new river running/freestyle hybrid kayaks, we started to make dreams come true. Splatting every wall, getting vertical with any opportunity, freewheeling, switch wheels and kickflips off any drop we dared; we were surprising ourselves with what was possible, and upping the ante every day.
While Nick and I gained confidence, control and willingness to try new things every day, Dane joined us after recovering from illness for the final few days and everything continued to escalate. This trip, progression fueled and media heavy, was the perfect fix in between World Class quarters. Accomplishing what we came for and pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of in the Antix. Read full story
Two weeks of spring break finished in a flash with my freeride revolution trip to Mexico, and in a snap I was back in the classroom and on the river with World Class Academy. Establishing our roots for the 4th quarter in the Colombia River Gorge, we enjoyed some of the best rivers on earth during the first few weeks of April. Rapidly shaking off the rust from break, students were firing on all cylinders as we transitioned out of the Gorge and moved towards Northern California. In the wake of a weekend stopover at the NorthWest Creeking Competition, with freestyle sessions off Sunset Falls and a huckfest at Kalama Falls, we found ourselves in the lower Sierra’s, searching for what has made California famous in the kayaking world. The sun shined as we lived off-grid on the Cal-Salmon, making the flows drop out as we slept on the banks of the Yuba River, instigating our move north towards the big water paradise of Idaho and the land of the Payette’s. Our conclusion to leave Cali was the best call we had made all quarter.
Idaho delivered exposed canyons, private riverside hot springs, surprisingly great freestyle waves and more good times that you could shake a stick at. Sun fueled stoke and all time river conditions made it difficult to leave Idaho and all it had to offer, but the Gorge awaited to host our final week of the school year. Final exams were offset with 4ft laps on the White Salmon, as the final days of the school year wound down to Graduation; marking the end of a year in which I only hope I was able to teach others as much I learnt myself.
Rivers Kayaked: White Salmon River, Hood River, Lewis River, Kalama River, Klamath River, Cal-Salmon River, North Fork of the Payette, South Fork of the Payette.
Highlights / Results:
• Coaching 12 students through successful descents at Kalama Falls
• 2nd – Northwest Creeking Competition Downriver Sprint
• 1st – Northwest Creeking Competition BoaterX
Midway through the 4th quarter with World Class Academy, I stepped away for 8 days and flew back to my hometown stomping grounds to join SEND for an unparalleled week of big wave freestyle on the Ottawa River and Quebec. Stakeout - the annual migration attracts those willing to get cold and wait it out for the reward of surfing the best, and the biggest waves on the planet. In addition to surfing these waves, it usually entails navigating some of the most challenging rapids yet known above or below the behemoth features.
This time of year symbolizes passion, excitement and friendship as you huddle around the campfires and exchange cooking supplies, discussing the plan for the next days’ river. This extremely productive mission home was a good reminder to how much I love freestyle, and allowed me to get back to my roots after a few months of creeking and running waterfalls. Perfecting multiple combination tricks that I have been working towards for a while was a massive highlight and provided motivation to keep on keeping on, and taking kickflips bigger than ever before surprised many with the potential of these downriver features. This joy mission also re-energized me for the final weeks of World Class, allowing me to finish the year strong and with a fresh perspective on priorities as the school year dwindled. One thing is for sure, as the years pass by I can’t imagine missing this Stakeout time of year ever, so let’s gear up, get cold and get after it!
In late May, and into June, I joined a multi-national team led by Hayley Stuart to navigate the canyons of the Tuichi River and capture not only the wildlife within, but the importance of this river to the people of Bolivia.
The Tuichi River begins as a trickle, high in the Royal Mountain range of the Andean mountains in Bolivia, gaining water as it flows down into the tropical sub-mountain ranges and into the rainforest; transitioning ecosystems right before your eyes on its way to confluence with the Amazon River. Along the way it provides life to the MOST bio-diverse national park on the planet. This area equals less than 0.004% of the Earth’s surface, but contains 3% of all plants, 4% of all vertebrates and 9% of all bird life.
Unfortunately, the Tuichi River is in danger. A mega-hydroelectric project is planned just below the confluence of the Tuichi and Beni rivers that will flood out a vast majority of this pristine wilderness. Already facing severe threat from mechanical gold mining and deforestation, the impacts of each greatly changing the lives of the inhabitants of the area, the Tuichi River needs to be protected.
Years in the planning, the documentary that we filmed is currently in its final stages of editing and snippets of articles and media have already been released. The documentary will be entered into film festivals and film competitions around the world and is projected to be a stepping stone towards the next piece of a much bigger project. Our trip combined female leadership, environmental activists, national park rangers, professional kayakers and members of the local indigenous community. Read full story
Just the mention of its name sends shivers down your back. Recently sanctioned as the Extreme Race World Championships for 2019, this weekend is more than just a race. 2018 was the final stepping stone that organizers James and Regan Byrd needed to take this event to World Championships level. This years’ race was the biggest and best yet, taking it to the top of the extreme kayaking events. In only its 7th year, NFC attracts the best kayakers in the world to Banks, Idaho for 3 races over 3 days. Olympians, World Champions, up and comers, and local shredders; Jacobs Ladder has no preference, treating them all the same once on the race course. However, just as kayaking is more than just a sport to many of us, this race is more than just a race. It is a weekend of celebration, community and competition, defined by its class 5 kayaking, incredible comradery between athletes and energy in the air like nowhere else. It should already be etched into your calendar for next year.
The 2018 event brought record high flows for the event and a thrill of excitement was in the air. The event kicked off with the Kokatat Qualifier race on S-turn, with almost 100 racers vying for the final 10 spots in the elite race on Jacobs Ladder. For the pre-qualified or invited athletes, this qualifier race serves as a great warm up for the elite race, and a good way to gauge the field.
The BoaterX occurred the following day on the same course at S-turn, this time sending 6 racers down through the narrow section at the same time. Determination and stamina shine through as racers in the finals are onto their 5th lap by the end of the day. As entertaining and fun as the first two races are, it all comes down to high noon on Saturday; Close to 1000 spectators line the banks of Jacobs Ladder to watch as 25 of the best kayakers in the world compete for the NFC crown. The format: 2 laps, 7 gates, best lap wins. The best spectacle in the sport of kayaking; Heartbreak and joy, dreams realized and dreams smashed, it all happens here before the crowd as they cheer from the banks. Following the race, the crowds return to the festival grounds in Crouch for one of the best nights of your life. I’m looking forward to the 2019 NFC “World Championships”, and I am already visualizing not missing the 2nd gate by inches, and making my top 5 raw time count!
Read NFC 2018 blog.
Results: 10th Kokatat Expert Qualifier Race, 2nd North Face BoaterX, 22nd Jacobs Ladder Elite Race
“India, I’ve never been, sounds great. Monsoon season you say, even better, lots of kayaking right?”
My partners from SEND and I were invited to Kerala, India to attend the Malabar River Festival, along with other top athletes from around the world, where we would compete alongside local shredders to showcase kayaking to the regions government. This region in particular is mountainous with hundreds of rivers flowing within the forest, leading the boys and I to believe that staying for an extra few weeks after the festival to explore and capitalize on a few potential First Descents would be the best idea since sliced bread.
Following a wet, but incredible week racing and competing in the Malabar River Festival, we we’re ready to indulge in our mission. We had gotten a taste for what the region had to offer in the days leading up to the festival, with high water on a few classics and a first descent, but now we were ready for more!
It took me 24 years to spend part of a summer on the opposite coast of Canada. For me, summers have always resonated in the Ottawa Valley, so taking a step away from coaching and committing to getting on the road with SEND was a huge apprehensive step for me. The boys and I took off from Vancouver looking for the classics on the Sea to Sky highway, checking off the Cheakamus, the Callahan and the Elahoon our first day, and then pounding some pavement north. All the way north. We drove to the Northwest Territories of Canada, and upon hearing the entrance to the Stikine was blocked by forest fires, we changed our mindset to waterfall hunting instead.
Alexandra falls was the prize possession, standing at 110ft tall with perfect water levels in sight. Although I walked away from this one, it was an amazing experience to see this waterfall, know it’s possible, support my friends, and check off some epic kayaking in the area. After a reasonably successful mission, with more days of driving than kayaking, we turned around and headed straight back south to catch an epic swell rising at the Skookumchuck Narrows. A quick stop over at the infamous Lions Bay slide, and a great time participating in the Cheakamus pinball race, brought an epic few weeks in the mountains to a crashing close.
Rivers Kayaked; Cheakamus River, Callahan River, Elaho River, Hay River, Slave River, Kakiksa River, Lions Bay, Skookumchuck Narrows.
My time on the west coast concluded by rejoining my colleagues at World Class Academy and driving across the continent to start a brand new school year in Eastern Canada. Seven staff members, including myself in charge of teaching, coaching and mentoring 21 students. The largest class the academy has ever seen.
Starting on the warm, deep waters of the Ottawa River allowed me to evaluate each students’ skill and confidence before moving towards the creeks of Quebec. The Ottawa River also provides an epic place to begin working as a team on the river, instilling the importance of safety and a group mentality before moving on from the friendly waters of the Ottawa.
We ventured into Northern Quebec to the creeks of the Chicoutimi region. Facing higher than desired flows for the duration of the quarter, our minds started to wander towards the 2nd quarter in Chile. Thankfully, Mother Nature joined our team and we experienced an awesome final week in Southern Quebec, ending on a high note and firing on all cylinders, ready for our next mission to Patagonia.
Rivers Kayaked: Ottawa River, Valin River, Bras Louis River, Mistassibi River, Gatineau River, St. Lawrence River, Rouge River.
I filled my two week fall break form World Class by accepting another job. Flying half way around the world to teach a 12 day freestyle clinic on the White Nile, with tremendous focus on Nile Special. The tragic end to this section of the river was nearing – a place that’s taught so many, so much. So when I was offered the chance to experience this river one last time, a river that has shaped so much of my life, I could not deny. Knowing it could start flooding before, during or immediately after this final trip, I treated everyday as if it were truly the last. Teaching 8 adults from across Europe and North America for the duration of the trip ensured that we were able to maximize the amount of time we were spending on the water each day. Hosting video review of the sessions to go over tricks in the evenings, always trying to learn. These long sessions on the water helped me continue to progress my own freestyle skills, while our video review sessions helped me better understand how to explain tricks and maneuvers to others, all the while learning from the wave.
It was no doubt one of the hardest moments of my life, ending the final session I’ll ever have on Nile Special. Surfing hours into the night under a full moon. Only after breaking one paddle and losing a second to the darkness did I take a step back and thank the Nile River for everything it had ever done for me. From my first trip in early 2011, to this past trip in late 2018, there is no question I wouldn’t be where I am today without this river free flowing for as long as it has. RIP Nile Special. Read full story.
In nearly 20 years of the program, the academy has never missioned to Chile for the fall quarter. Following much prodding from myself and the program director, that changed this year and we were rewarded with the best, highest quality quarter I’ve experienced yet.
Waterfalls to big water, classics to hidden gems, joy laps and race laps; we got it ALL. The classics in Pucon left little to be desired as raging high water kept us off a few runs, but thankfully our first move only brought us up to Trancura Valley and as levels cooperated, we were able to mission back down the valley for the likes of the Upper Palguin and the Rio Nevados.
Puesco Fest, hosted by LJ Groth, has transformed from a kayaking event to a full blown music festival with some kayaking involved. Thousands gather in the Puesco Valley on the shores of the Rio Trancura to enjoy music and share in the movement that is sweeping Chile; protecting the natural resources and indigenous lands. Staying in the Volcan Villarica region for upwards of a month ensured we were satisfied before we moved the convoy north to the Rio Claro.
The unique basalt canyon is one of the prettiest on earth, and discloses some of the best waterfalls on the planet within its walls. Six days in this paradise was all that was needed before staff and students alike were ready to give their bodies a break. With over 250 boof strokes taken in those 6 days, it was time for the big water, low impact of the Rio Maipo. One of the best training rivers on the planet, the upper Maipo serves up 45 minutes of continuous, pure joy, class 4+ big water. Slot moves, boofs, s-turns, kick flip waves; it has everything you will ever need and more, with new moves still being discovered after 2 weeks. An incredible way to end an incredible quarter. Wrapping up my now 8th trip to Chile in 6 years, I couldn’t believe how much fun I was still having, and how fulfilled I was feeling knowing these students loved the country as much as I do.
Rivers kayaked: Palguin River, Trancura River, Nevados River, Liacura River, Trufle River, Fuy River, Maichin River, Puesco River, Claro River, Maipo River, Coilaco River
The islands of sunshine and surfing, at least for most people. It seems crazy to go to Hawaii dreading the sun and craving rain, but Dane and I know how amazing the rivers are on the Big Island when the clouds turn on and the Wailuku and Honolii rivers flow. This trip, we were spoiled immediately upon arriving. Getting off the plane to perfect levels, we didn’t waste any time and got after the goods right away; Top-to-bottom runs on the Wailuku, park-n-hucks on the Honolii.
The east coast of the Big Island is one of the rainiest places in the world, and for the first few days it lived up to that, blessing us with everything we dreamt this destination could be. And then the rain stopped. We kayaked the rivers down to the lowest enjoyable levels, now secretly wishing we hadn’t been spoiled right off the start. For the entire second half of the trip we saw only sun; honing our surfing skills, enjoying a few adventures, but always craving more rain. The ending to this trip was bittersweet; bitter knowing that if the water source was more consistent I would never have to leave, and sweet knowing the next trip is just around the corner. Mahalo.
Rivers kayaked: Wailuku River, Honolii River, First Descent – Waiau River
I journeyed to amazing places, experienced new cultures and learned valuable lessons along the way.