Aug 09 2009
Welcome to to the ‘behind the scenes’ blog of professional kayaker Steve Fisher. The idea is to provide a peek into the back end of the antics of Fisher and friends as they create the stories of their adventures. The ‘official’ story and professional media will continue to be found at stevefisher.com, but here Steve, known for his story telling, will give you his own words and happy snaps on what it takes to document his adventures around the world.
For more on who Mr Steve is, read the bio story below:
Sometimes a man and a mode of transport are simply made for each other. Such is the case with Steve Fisher and the kayak. Since he started paddling at the age of six, on the Bushmans River near his rural hometown of Estcourt, South Africa, he’s hit the rapids in nearly 50 countries, conquering twice that many first descents. He’s also won numerous competitions, starred in the documentary Black Book, and opposed environment-damaging dam-building near his island home on the Nile River in Uganda. No wonder top pro kayakers have three times voted Fisher the world’s best all-arounder. What drives him? “I used to talk about the rush of adrenaline,” he says. “Then I’d talk about how you can be the first human being to see a place. But you run a drop, the first thing you do is look up at your buddies. Sharing challenges and accomplishments with friends at the bar afterwards is the best part.” Especially when you’re the best in the world.
That’s not to say Fisher’s success hasn’t involved a bit of soul-searching, however. Early in 2002, he was weighing his dream of being a professional kayaker against the potential financial struggles that might await such a course. Then, toward the end of an eye-opening first descent adventure along the Yarlung TsangPo in Tibet, land expedition leader Dave Allardyce recited a passage from Sterling Hayden’s The Wanderer that ended with: “The years thunder by, the dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”
Those words spoke to Fisher, and helped him make up his mind. “What I chose to do is put that fear of bankruptcy on the shelf and give it a go, and as things happen to do, things worked out,” he says. “That was the turning point for me.” Soon afterwards, Fisher started rocking competitionsworldwide. One Red Bull sponsorship later, and his pro kayaker dreams were undeniably a reality.
Though he got his start on the contest scene, Fisher has spent the past few years seeking out the most breathtaking rapids he can find. Some of his boldest expeditions include the Irawaddy in Burma and the Salween in China, but those may be just the beginning. Among other goals, he’s planning some first descents in Norway, heli-kayaking in New Zealand, and a plunge into the Black Dragon Tidal Bore in China, one of only a few places where the river flows down while the tide pushes up, allowing kayakers to go upstream by surfing the resulting wave.
Those exploits would pale in comparison to one he’s had his eye on for some time. “The holy grail is a source to sea journey on the Congo river, 4,000 kilometers down to the Atlantic,” he says. “There’s a lot of fear from media and sponsors that I’ll get killed. I risk that quite often, but to them it’s different if you get shot. The outcome is more or less the same in my mind.” “But for now, nevermind I have other ideas.”
It takes a measure of bravado to speak such words, but Fisher comes by his honestly. Negotiating monstrous waves and sweeping cliff drops may seem insane to some, but when you’ve kayaked further than you’ve walked, you don’t rattle easily. Rather, you get into a “flow state” and act with confidence, decisiveness, and speed. Known for his aggressive paddling style, Fisher seems almost to attack the waves. “Paddling scared reduces your performance,” he explains. “I move quickly and with purpose. Even if I know I’m going the wrong way, I make it look like I’m going the right way, and that alone helps me to get through.” Considering Fisher’s two worst injuries are broken collarbones suffered on land, his system clearly works.
Even as he conquers the raging rapids of the world, Fisher recognizes the dangers that world faces, particularly on the environmental front. On his island in Uganda, he uses only solar power, teaches conservation farming to the locals, and aims to form a learning center that teaches environmental principles. “A lot of humanitarian efforts are in conflict with the environment,” he says. “I’d like to help both.” He’s also plotting to fight plans for more dams on the Nile that he says not only threaten the recreation of a thousand kayakers, but will also flood his island.
That challenge may prove more monumental than the ones Fisher has faced on the water, but his uncompromising approach remains the same. “The river is a great metaphor for life,” he explains. “You enter a rapid, choose your line, and evaluate it. But it’s going, and it’s not stopping for you, so you either have to figure it out or you’re done.” First descent, anyone?