Freestyle paddler, expedition guru and accomplished slalom paddler Deb Pinniger has been at the top of the game for over two decades. Deb has participated in many wilderness/whitewater adventures across the globe and spends a great deal of time sharing her kayaking skills and knowledge with others. I was delighted when Deb agreed to take park in the Unsponsored 2013 Q&A series.
Tell us a little a bit about you accomplishments in the canoeing/kayaking world.
I was freestyle world champion in 1999 and twice world silver medalist 2001 and 2003, European champion and five times British champion. I guess had a pretty good run.
I was also lucky during the same time to participate in a number of expeditions, one of which was an attempt of source to sea of the Stikine, with Olaf Obsommer, Olli Grau and others in 2001, another highlight was running the Ivindo River in Gabon with Nico Chassing and Olaf Obsommer in 2007.
Beyond competition and expeditions, I have been involved with coaching for a long time, which has been very rewarding and with its own highlights, some of which have been running youth trips to the Zambezi, Zanskar and Tara Rivers with young people. More recently I have been working at the 2012 Olympic kayak slalom venue Lee Valley and have headed up the kayak program there, which has been great fun to kick the program off from scratch.
When and how did you first start paddling?
I started paddling when I was eight years old and on a family holiday in Christchurch. I saw some people kayaking and wanted to try it and of course I couldn’t, but there were sit on tops for hire where we were, so I would save my holiday pocket money for every other day and then use this saving to hire a sit on top. When we returned from holiday, I went down to the tourist information office in my home town and found out where the local kayak club was and got the contact details and joined up.
What is your current location?
Currently I live in a small village close to Lee Valley called Roydon, but I would say Cornwall really.
What scares you the most?
That this winter will never end. No, more seriously I think the idea of running out of energy, motivation and imagination, scares me a little bit somehow.
What was your biggest hurdle in canoeing/kayaking when you started out – finding people to paddle with, nailing the third end, lack of rivers etc?
I think similarly to many young paddlers, finding people to paddle with and having access to the water and to the knowledge. I think this is probably why, I have become so involved in coaching and co-founded Watermark Experiences together with Matt Tidy, where we offer kayak camps and expeditions for young people.
What paddle stroke or move did you find the hardest to crack?
Hmmmmm that’s a difficult question, I’d be honest and say forward paddling and it wasn’t until more recently, when I did a lot of endurance training for slalom training, that I actually cracked it.
What has kept you in the sport?
I think the fact that it has always been such a large part of my life, it’s difficult to stop something that gives you so much energy and space to be creative and loose yourself in that freedom. A large part of the pleasure that I experience kayaking is being so close to the natural world and also with other people, sport in general breaks down social, cultural and class barriers and white water kayaking does this particularly well, resulting in building very strong and integral relationships.
Who is your biggest source of inspiration within the paddling world (and why)?
There are a lot of friends who inspire me and who I have shared amazing experiences with, but I think if I had to choose one individual from the crowd it would be Nico Chassing, his technical style is almost unmatched, he is so motivated towards kayaking and he does it all whilst having fun, having a family and working incredibly hard, so when he gets on the water, it’s all about enjoying and not faffing.
Given the choice where would you want to paddle and why?
The Zambezi has always been my favorite river for kayaking; it just offers a great day out. Big fun rapids, big fun moves, a big long hike in and out of the gorge. I enjoy the longer days of paddling, the days where you put on at the top of a river and take out twenty kilometers down stream and the Zambezi offers all of this and set in a dramatically stunning canyon.
What do you consider to be the biggest accomplishment in the world of canoeing/kayaking to date?
I’m not really sure kayaking has seen so many dramatic advances in the past two decades, however I guess boat design, which has allowed technique and other areas of the sport to be pushed to new levels. And if I had to pick out a couple of single trips, I think Scott Lindgren’s Tsangpo expedition and then Steve Fishers Congo mission, both pushed kayaking’s boundaries of what had previously been done before them .
How do you get yourself in “the zone” before a competition run or when running a challenging piece of water?
Well I haven’t really done either for a while, but every now and then I’ll have a session that surprises me and I think wow I can still paddle. It’s about being awake, being alert to everything that is going on around you and to get into this psyche, I have to feel good in the boat and in my body, both work together and then the mind just falls into it all quite easily, but without good movement nothing is coming.
What is your favorite kayak of all time and why?
I think the most fun I have had over the past four years kayaking, has been paddling a slalom boat, the boat just wants to move, that’s what it was designed for its lite, its fast and its so close to the water and to the body that you can really move the thing and enjoy every little current. I find the production plastic boats too big and heavy for me to be able to really move around. So I guess the most fun I have had paddling lately has been paddling a slalom boat in class three, at the Bitches and kick flipping the hell out of it in the surf.
What kit are you currently using?
I have a bunch of mix and match kit at the moment, some left over Adidas kit, a wrecked Palm buoyancy aid and an Astral one, a couple of Sweet helmets and some Sweet outerwear cag and trousers that Olli and Ingrid kindly sent me when I started at Lee Valley and tons of Patagonia thermals and socks.