We interview the man whose reputation as big as the mountains he kayaks down. He remains the only paddler to have kayaked all the rivers that flow from Everest along with K2, all alongside being a writer, adventurer, expedition provider, river consultant, mentor and inspirational speaker.
The Paddler ezine September 2013: http://joom.ag/1sZX/p62
Firstly, tell us a little about yourself…
I’m from Batley – a small town in industrial Yorkshire. I followed the set pathway; school, university, job and I’ve been kayaking for far too many years, running Class 5 for almost 20. It began as a hobby at Scouts and club level, and if I had been told I could make a living from it and have a full and rounded life I would never have believed them.
Where and what was your first paddle?
It’s been a long time. I think the canal in Mirfield with a Fiberglass boat – lifejacket – walking cag and my Dad’s wool jumper. I remember I struggled to paddle in a straight line.
Where was your first descent?
That’s hard to tell, perhaps it was some Yorkshire ditch but I remember my first Himalayan one. It was the fall season of 2000 – Budhi Ganga River over near the India/Nepal border. I remember thinking on one of the many safety boating trips I was undertaking – we have fine recreational adventurous activities but we rarely get the chance for genuine new discovery that qualifies as adventure, as Columbus did. Days later I stocked up on medical supplies in Nepalgunj all the time thinking about my impending trip to this uncharted river. As a matter of fact it felt like I was in the backend of no place, heading for a solo self support trip (not even porters) further up the backside of the back end of no place. And all the time there is the possibility that it might have bugger all water in or perhaps too much water. It was a strange turn of events that led to me wandering the streets of Nepalgunj between my meals at Hotel Batika in the first place.
After travelling all over the planet – which is your most memorable experience up to now?
Every experience on the river is special. Dawn raids on the Fairy Glen, watching as the sun grows in the sky as you paddle in to the gorge is pretty special. Remembering the birth from the canyon at Tanzilla slot on the Stikine always brings vivid dreams. Although I guess if I had to pick one it would be the eddy at the bottom of the Arun Gorges, Nepal in 2012. I planned and filled a void in my personal history of exploration. I did what none had done before; I paddled both the rivers that flow from Everest in Nepal (Dudh/Arun) solo. This was a back to back combo trip no support team, just me and this last eddy was the end of the journey – emotions were strong, all my energy was gone, I couldn’t even get out of my boat.
Which drives you the most – interacting with the various peoples or the thrill of ww paddling?
Self-development plays a massive part of paddling for me. The river can teach you more about yourself than you will ever know. It shows you a certain truth and it open up the lies you tell yourself.
Where did the fascination of kayaking down the World’s tallest mountains stem from?
I guess Everest always has a draw, it is at the heart of all expeditions – we all know the history, we are brought up on these stories of expeditions. It seemed a natural progression. I think it’s symbolic of the way we advance in our own skill set.
What is the biggest accomplishment in your career?
Been able to still enjoy kayaking the same now as I did when I first started. From the simple flat to the raging rapids, each stoke is special. I’m still growing and looking for the next thing that will keep the fire in my belly.
What would be your ultimate achievement?
I guess to say focused and still loving the river is all that matters. I have a plan at the moment to climb Everest and then paddle down the Dudh Kosi, achieving this would be pretty centred and is a pinnacle.
Have you ever been scared and if not – what would it take?
I don’t quite understand the notion of been scared when paddling. If I were scared I simple wouldn’t do it. I speak plenty about this in my work and online – It is natural to have mind games, everyone has, but the ability to develop from these is key. For me I know fear is only a construct of the mind. We can control the minds actions. All we are and all we will ever know is the mind.
Does meditation and self control help with your extreme expeditions?
It helps every day; I always try and keep my baseline function settled so I can plan and act with a full and centred consciousness.
Any advice for those starting out in extreme kayaking?
The word extreme gets banded about lots. I don’t believe what I do is extreme – it’s just a passion and for fun. In basic terms I am still just a Yorkshire bloke who boats lots. What Felix Baumgartner does is extreme, jumping from the edge of space he reached a top speed of 843.6 mph. Then we have Babu Sunawar who went from kayaking to paraglider – flying from Everest and then Kilimanjaro.
Do you always paddle solo?
No and I don’t advocate it for many reasons. I enjoy solo boating for the freedom it gives me, it take me places in my mind and heart that a group dynamic cannot. Having said this paddling with a group especially leading and guiding on trips, opens so many doors to people’s perceptions of the possible.
Which paddlers out there are currently pushing the extreme ww boundaries?
Lots that most of your readers will possibly never have heard of but mostly those who are just starting out – pushing their belief and self-development – that matters more than named boats ‘hucking’.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Mostly I am training for the summit trip; I also have some work to do on another book.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Still in boats in the Himalayas – although I doubt I will have a real job, guess I should retire by then…
Yeah a few, but too few to mention (but I did waste a few years doing a proper job!)
I’m a paddler and going on vacation, where would you recommend?
All depends what your budget it, what is your skill base etc. I once did a week in Morocco for less than 300 including flights (solo) but you could join a commercial group – we run trips mostly in Asia, but look around find the right provider who will let you grow. The Euro zone is always nice, but Asia has some amazing people and brilliant rivers and something for everyone.
OK Darren let’s finish with something short and snappy…
If you could paddle with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?
I have friends that have been lost to the river, one more run on the Glen with Mute and Jason would be amazing. To paddle with the pioneer Walt Blackadar would be amazing – he opened the world up to big volume kayaking.
Which one sportsman or woman has inspired you?
In kayaking, plenty but as a multi sportsman Babu as previously mentioned.
Pick two celebrities to be your parents
Do I have to? I don’t really go in for all the celebrity stuff, but it would be cool to have Evel Knievel as my Dad and I quite like Yoko Ono for a mum, best thing she ever did breaking up The Beatles!
What’s on your TiVo recorder?
What’s a TiVo? (Does a Google search) – no I don’t have a TV.
Favourite iPod track?
I don’t have an iPod. I have a CD Walkman (I think) – and records you must remember them – the sound track to Om Shani Om is always a pleaser.
What would you do with $100,000?
That sort of cash would allow the Everest trip with ease and some change, but if I had the funds already in place – guess I don’t need it – so have it back – give it to someone that needs it. Money is not important enough to hoard it.
Cats or dogs?
Facebook or Twitter
An ideal night out for you is?
Riverside bivvy spot – fire – clear sky.
What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
What do you get really angry about?
The horror that one human can impose on another.
If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Right now, not a lot – rice and some veg, hell I could do you dhal bhat (Nepali food).
Any broken bones?
A few ribs, toes, fingers.
If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
Hong Kong Phooey or perhaps, Jamie and the Magic Torch.
What three words would you use to describe you?