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An interview with… Corran Addison

Corran Addision

20 year competitive career 
World Champion
Innovative kayak designer 
Owner of CorranSUP
World record holder 
Good captain and lousy second mate…

By Peter Tranter

The Paddler ezine:
corran addison interview

Where and what was your first paddle?
I started kayaking in South Africa in 1975 with my father. The very first time was on a dam called Settlers Dam in Grahamstown in what was then the Cape Province. Later that same year we ran the Fish River and the following year, the Orange River in the Orange Free State. I was hooked from the very beginning.

What and where was your very first competition?
I competed in a slalom race in 1982 – a local race on the Bushman’s River. I remember it well because I was given some significant advice that I’ve lived by ever since. It was a timed slalom race, with hand held stopwatches and I was second by 1/100 of a second. With a hand held watch there is no way to know who really won – the other kid or me. But my friend who my father had somehow roped into driving me to this event said to me, “It’s not good enough to just beat them because your victory will always be in question. You have to smash them and leave no doubt.”
Almost 10 years later to the day I won the South African Olympic team trials for slalom by 22 seconds (in a sport usually won by tenths of a second), beating several international paddlers with a comfortable margin.

What were your competition highlights?
1992 Barcelona Olympic team trials and the subsequent Games are definitely at the very top. Obviously my three-World Championship medals in freestyle, though they were all mired in controversy, as I was battling with judges over accepting and scoring moves I was doing that no one else could and thus were not judged. The 1993 USA team trials won with a significant margin stands out and then the Canadian trials, which I won with more than twice the next paddler’s score.

But one that really stands out was at the end of my most successful season where I won 11 of the 14 events I competed in and took second in two others (ending in the Worlds where I was 6th, again with controversy). One of the events where I came second at the end of the year resulted in Eric Jackson and I being the last ones standing, where eventually he edged me out for the win. At the prize ceremony the event organizer said, “and in second place, the man who I thought couldn’t be beaten: Corran Addison.” The loss of the contest against (an amazing athlete like EJ) all of a sudden was insignificant. Although I’d just lost, I suddenly realized that I was ‘that guy’ that my competitors thought couldn’t be beaten. I was ‘that guy’ that other competitors cringed at when they saw me pull up at an event, and it was then that I realized that I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do as a competitor.

I stayed on top for anther decade – winning and losing, but always with the knowledge that I had a psychological edge over the other competitors because of this. At the very end of my career, one of the last events I competed in, after ‘officially retiring’ I finished 12th in the men’s pro category. The guy that finished 11th came up to me and announced in front of everyone, “I don’t care if I’m 11th, I just wanted to beat Corran Addison once!” Even though that was basically the end of my competitive career, it was a cool way to go out.
corran addison interview

Leading on to your design career, which do you consider is your best kayak design?
Best or most innovative are really two different things. The Fury was probably the most innovative because it was the most ‘uncertain’. I was shooting in the dark and trying to do a lot of things at once – cut two feet or more length off the established norms, develop the planing hull and the techniques needed to paddle such a short boat AND a planing hulled boat all at once. The boat itself wasn’t a commercial success for a number of reasons, but as an innovative design it stands out as a landmark.

The Glide and Disco are two boats that I’m really proud of. Both were ground breaking, and commercial successes. The Riot days were my most productive from a design perspective and my R+D budget was almost unlimited (arguably too large given the companies revenues).
The Glide went through 13 prototypes in two years and was a highly controversial boat at the 1997 World Championships as it gave the paddler such a significant advantage over the rest that there was a rule change made the day before the event in an attempt to level the field. At the time I was devastated because the title of World Champion was all but a forgone conclusion, but in hindsight it was a real compliment: I’d created a design so ground breaking that the rest of the field had no chance at all of even being remotely competitive.

The Disco, whilst not as innovative as the Fury or the Glide, is significant in that it was the first boat of the style that is still in vogue today. I’d already designed the 007 before it and there were only a few other boats of that length out there like the Pinball and the Attak. However, these other boats lacked the combination of short length AND the loose planing hull of the Disco, which when combined completely changed the way we kayak. Today all freestyle kayaks are essentially an evolution of the Disco.

How did you progress from ww kayaking into SUP?
I didn’t. After I retired from competition, I got more into surfing. I’d always surfed, but not a lot. Surfing became my main focus and by 2005 I was hardly kayaking at all. I had a surf school and a surfboard building company called Imagine and that’s what I did. I literally fell into SUP by pure chance from surfing when I was out on a sub-zero day in New Hampshire with my buddy Jullien Fillion (the designer who turned the Liquid Force brand around). He’d been telling me about SUP and when I saw it, I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen.

He had a 9’8″ Jimmi Lewis and we went out on this. After about an hour he was blue with cold because the air temp was about -7C, however, because I was in the water that was closer to 5C, so I was OK. He asked me if I’d switch for a few minutes so he could warm up and after my first wave I was hooked. I rushed back and shaped myself a 7’11” that week (this was when the shortest SUP I’d ever heard of was 9′).

Is there anyone in particular in the sporting world that has influenced you?
Richard Fox, the multiple World slalom champion. Norbert Sattler (1972 Olympic silver medalist and 1973 gold medalist) and Jerome Truran (1981 silver medalist in downriver), all amazing white water kayakers and all of whom coached and influenced me significantly. Mary Lou Retton, the 1982 Olympic gold medalist gymnast, and Daly Thompson, the Decathlon Olympic gold medalist were both the reason why I wanted to go to the Olympics and were people who I looked at as an example of what an athlete should be.

What is the biggest accomplishment in your career?
Does survival count as an accomplishment? I survived 20 years of running some of the most extreme rivers and rapids in the world including several records that stood for over a decade, and I walked away almost unscathed. I also had a successful competitive career that lasted two decades, and at the same time had a career in kayak design that was as successful as my extreme and competitive ones. Not bad I think. Most people get one or the other… who gets to be the best in the world at three?

corran addison interview

What would be your ultimate achievement?
I think that I’ve built three very successful brands. Savage Designs, Riot, Imagine. All three were iconic in their day and were brands by which others were measured.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Your latest project now is Corran SUP – how’s it going?
It’s going well. My focus is very different from the others I’ve built. The goal with the others was to build something big and significant and then sell and make a killing. After I sold Imagine for $2 million (unfortunately it wasn’t all for me) I found myself in an interesting position: working for someone else. I realized that I’m not very good at that (I’m a good captain. I’m a lousy second mate). So if I sell a company… then what? So with Corran it’s different. I want to build something that will have a long life, and will bring in enough money so that I and all those involved can live well and keep us occupied forever – or until we die. Which ever comes first!

Any advice for dropping over waterfalls?
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unfortunately when you’re half way down you can’t turn back. Start small and work up slowly. Develop the skills you need progressively so you don’t make a mistake that will change your life forever.

Has SUP now been accepted by surfers?
Not well at first, but it’s almost mainstream now. All successful innovations go through three stages. The first is ridicule. The second is violent opposition and lastly accepted as self-evident. We’re somewhere between two
and three now.

OK Corran let’s finish with something short and snappy…

If you could surf with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be? 
Shaun Tomson. I grew up a few blocks away from him, but never surfed with him. I’ve met him a few times. I’d love to share a lineup with him. Maybe Jose Angel or Greg Noll when they were in their prime. I’d have liked to be the surfer I am today in the 1970s.

What would you say to them?

Facebook or twitter?
Twit what?

On your iPod you’re listening to?
Guilt Monkey. Alex Claire. Nina Simone.

What would you do with $100,000?
Prove that being in your 40s does not mean that it’s too late to be a World Champion motorbike racer. Getting to the position where you have sponsors costs a lot of money but I know I have the ability and the passion to do it. Another life maybe.

An ideal night out for you is?
Between a redhead and a brunette with a blond serving drinks.

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
A redhead, a blond and a brunette? Can I use the same answer twice?

What do you do to let off steam?
I surf or ride my bike. If my head is there then I ride (it’s very dangerous so I’m selective of my riding days). Surfing is always good. I never get enough of it.

What do you get really angry about?
Arguing with idiots. I get angry with myself when I get suckered in.

The one thing I’d change about SUP is?
I’m changing it now. Everything we do is about making changes to this sport. I want to do the same thing in SUP as I did in kayaking.

If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
Teleporting. Did you ever see Jumper? How cool is that? You could teleport yourself out of any stupid situation you get yourself into.

What three words would you use to describe you?
Eccentric. Passionate. Fun.

Thanks for your time Corran
corran addison interview

About thepaddlerezine (655 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

3 Comments on An interview with… Corran Addison

  1. When was this interview done?

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