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An interview with… Mariann Sæther

Mariann Sæther

It’s a savage, tough, raw, unforgiving and merciless planet out there! To conquer it is a ‘state of mind’ and Norway’s Queen of the waterfalls… has it in spades. The mindset of one of world’s top female extreme kayakers

Interview by Peter Tranter Photos unless stated: taken in Iceland by Martina Wegman

The Paddler ezine:

I am 33 years old, born in Lillehammer, Norway. Lived and learned to kayak on the Otta and Sjoa river. Travelled the world non-stop for 13 years, competed in eight World Championships, been a part of many first descents around the world. I have been a full-time student for eight years along side kayaking. (Just never showed up for classes, just exams) I work as a teacher and journalist.

Mariann Sæther

Firstly, what kayaks do you own?
Remix 69, Stomper 80, Dagger Redline, LL prototype playboat carbon and a Jackson Star. ­

Where and what was your first white water paddle and what got you hooked?
On my local river, the Otta. It was early spring, I could not roll and swam three times (ice was floating in the river), and I loved it. I right away knew there was no going back from kayaking, as it made me excited and left me motivated for trying again and again.

How does extreme white water kayaking give you satisfaction?
You can push yourself as much as you want, whenever you want. If you have a bad day, you step back and hold the rope, if you have a good day you can push your limits and walk away feeling like the king of the world. It is a very addictive feeling. It is also a very interesting and complex art of being alone in a group: You need to work as a team on a river, but in the end, you are the one that paddles your kayak.

Are you naturally competitive?

Competitive kayaking or expedition paddling – which do you prefer?
Expedition I would have to say, but I really enjoy competitions as well. I have always gone back and forth between disciplines, some years I have competed a lot, other years not.

Have you ever been scared and if not – what would it take? Many times.
If you are not scared, you should not be on the river. Our sport deserves a lot of respect from us; the rivers can never be controlled.

What has been your best ever day on the water?
I have had so many, actually most days are my best days ever on the water, so I cannot pick one. Maybe it has to be that first day in the kayak on a real river, as it opened up a whole new world to me at age 16.

Give us some advice on successful waterfall drops?
Start small, then go bigger and bigger. No waterfalls are the same, so you have to be good at realizing what is the problem/hazard risk with that particular one and adjust your game plan accordingly. The hardest waterfalls are not always the tallest ones!

Mariann Sæther

After paddling rivers across the planet – where is your favourite river and why?
The Futaleufu in Chile. She is pristine, runs through an amazing valley and you can push yourself or run an easier line every day.

What accomplishment in your life, not necessarily to do with paddling, are you most proud of?
Getting a very good university degree alongside paddling full-time for a decade. Purchasing and building a home on the shores of the Futaleufu River at the age of 25, with my own hard-earned money.

Apart from kayaking what other one main interest do you have in life?
Outdoors in general: trekking, skiing, climbing, running. Dancing (jazz ballet and tango). Writing articles, poetry and short stories.

When preparing for an expedition to a far away place in challenging conditions – what are the qualities you look for in a fellow kayaker?
To be able to make good decisions. The group is never stronger than the weakest link. Also, the person has to be relaxed and easy-going: very often things do not go as planned. And of course, a solid white water kayaker.

Mariann Sæther

What’s the most courageous thing you have done in life?
Knocking on the door of a local farmer in Futaleufu, with minimal Spanish, trying to convince him to sell me a piece of paradise. It took a long time, but I made it happen.

What’s the next big descent/ expedition you have planned?
There are many plans: Source to sea on a couple of Iceland’s glacier rivers. Running all the rivers that come out from the Svartisen Glacier in northern Norway. A potential China trip on the horizon. Following the route of the first explorers in Patagonia: La ruta de los exploradores, using horses to get into the head waters of the Rio Bravo. Another few first descents around Lago O’higgins in southern Patagonia.

OK Mariann, let’s finish with something short and snappy…

If you could sit down and converse with somebody for an hour – dead or alive who would it be?
A long lost friend of mine that died in 2001.

Which famous person would you most like to see play you in a film?
I don’t know who is famous anymore… I don’t own a TV!

Favourite sports person?
Aksel Lund Svindal.

Favourite kayaking film?
Mothership Connection.

What would you do with $20 million?
Give a few millions away, and then buy as much of the Futaleufu valley as possible to avoid it being dammed.

Cats or dogs? 

Facebook or Twitter? 

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?
Cheese and caviar (it is a Norwegian thing).

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Homemade spinach lasagne (my favourite).

Biggest turn-off?
Loud Americans.

Worst injury?
Shoulder separation – took me out for 10 months.

Saddest moment?
I lost my kayak, Dagger Redline, on the Rio Pascua in southern Chile in 2005 – I was devastated. Then I got it back from a nice farmer in 2011. An amazing surprise!

If you could be a wild animal – what would it be?

Fill in the blanks: I am ____

Thanks for your time:)

Mariann Sæther

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

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