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An interview with… Tao Berman

Tao Berman

World record holder, Pre-World Champion, 50 first descents AND… ROCK STAR of the paddling World!

Where and what was your first paddle?
I grew up paddling in the North Cascades on the Skykomish River, Washington state and all the tributaries that flow into it.

What and where was your first descent?
The first notable first descent that I accomplished was Alpine Falls, which is located at the bottom of a creek called The Top Tye. Everyone would paddle the creek and take out just above the falls. I couldn’t figure out why all of the more veteran kayakers didn’t think it was possible. So one day when I was about 16 I went over the falls. I think that moment was a pivotal learning experience for me because it helped me realize that when one says something is impossible, it just means that it is impossible for them!

With over 50 first descents – which was the most memorable?
My most memorable first descent would have to be Lacie falls. It is a 300-foot sliding waterfall. What made it so challenging was that the water at the base of the falls was only three feet deep, at its deepest area. And if I didn’t have the right side to side momentum I would have landed on exposed rocks 300 feet below. So clearly the danger factor was quite high.

Which part of the World is your favourite?
The world is so vast and diverse I couldn’t limit it to one favourite part. I love Southeast Asia for the geography and culture. Europe is fantastic for its history, architecture and of course the food in Italy.

What was the reason for taking on the Big Wave project?
I was starting to feel a little bored with what I was doing in the sport from a progression perspective. When I got into the sport my entire focus was on pushing the extreme end of the sport. After setting a couple of world records, including setting the record for the highest waterfall descent, I decided that I wanted a new challenge. So I got into freestyle kayaking. After becoming the pre-World Champion at freestyle I needed a new challenge to stay motivated. So I decided to get into extreme racing. My goal was to win. Over the course of the next five years I won over 80 percent of the races I entered and one year I was undefeated in every race. This is when I started to get a little bored with racing. So each year I trained less and less and for the most part I kept winning. I didn’t want to not be completely passionate and focused on being the best I could be. So I realized I needed a new challenge to motivate me. There was only one thing left in the sport that I was motivated to learn – and that was to surf big waves in a kayak. Working with Murky Waters and Randy Phillips to design and build the perfect surf kayak for big waves was also really exciting for me because I had never before been as involved in the designing of a kayak.

Is there anyone in particular in the sporting world that has influenced you?
Not really. But there are aspects of many people in the sporting world that have influenced me. I admired Dan Gavere’s ability to become a pro kayaker before people in America even knew what a kayak was. Brandon Knapp was a better technically proficient kayaker than just about anyone. I would study what I thought the people I admired where doing right and attempt to emulate it, or improve upon it.

What is the biggest accomplishment in your career?
For years people told me I was going to severely injury myself, or I would die. I am proud of the fact that in 20 years of paddling I have never had a serious injury.

What would be your ultimate achievement?
A fulfilling and happy life. But the only way I can be happy is if I’m successful.

Ever been scared?
No. Fear comes from doubt. If I doubted my ability to run a rapid or waterfall I wouldn’t have done it.

Any advice for those starting out in extreme kayaking?
Learn the rudiments first. Today I see a lot of paddlers running really big waterfalls that have very poor technical skills. Anyone can run a waterfall. But having the skills to run real difficult rapids and make it look easy is something that seems to be a bit of a lost art.

Which paddlers out there are currently pushing the white water boundaries?
There are a lot of paddlers that are pushing the boundaries of how high of a waterfall can be run. But unfortunately I see less paddlers today pushing the technically challenging rapids.

Any advice for dropping over waterfalls?
Start small!

What’s next for you?
As you know I retired from paddling after completing my big wave project. Now I have the time in any given day to dirtbike, mountain bike, ski, golf, or windsurf. I am also focused on buying income producing real estate. Storage unit facilities, multi-family housing, mixed use commercial and mobile home parks are what I am currently investing in. But most important, I have more time to spend with my two young children and Jamie.

Thanks Tao let’s finish with something short and snappy…

If you could surf with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?
I would prefer to paddle with my group of friends that I grew up paddling with.

Facebook or twitter?
They are both overrated!

On your iPod you’re listening to?
I prefer the radio.

What would you do with $100,000?
The same thing I do with most of my money. I would buy more real estate.

An ideal night out for you is?
A nice bar with my good friends.

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
A boat.

What do you do to let off steam?
I really don’t get to worked up. But I suppose exercise would be the solution.

What do you get really angry about?

The one thing I’d change about kayaking is?
It would be nice if there was more money in the sport so more athletes could make a good living kayaking.

If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
I would be the wolverine. He never gets hurt.

What three words would you use to describe you?
Relentless. Focused. Determined.

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

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  1. An interview with… Tao Berman | Whitewater History

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