Chris Wing has been an instructor for as long as he has been a kayaker. He started H2o Dreams out of a desire to spur growth and reverence for paddle sports education all while providing a different spin to the presentation of familiar topics. I’ve been following Chris on Facebook and his Youtube channel for a number of years and really like his approach to coaching. Chris kindly agreed to take part in the Unsponsored Q&A series, enjoy.
Photo: Joel McCune
How did you first get into kayaking? Who introduced you to the sport?
It kind of fell into my lap honestly. When I went away for college, our university had an outdoor program that I became involved with through rock climbing. I ended up landing a job with the program and our director was an ACA whitewater kayak instructor. He was adamant about cross training us in everything, but whitewater kayaking really stuck with me. I still to this day can remember all of those first river trips. Out of everything that happened during that time in my life, kayaking still stands out the most.
When did you realise that kayaking could be a career for you, and not just a hobby?
Well, again, it kind of began as a job. I was a teacher just as long as I was a student. Being in the region of the States that I was however, wasn’t conducive to keeping up with it to a higher level. So it was around my 5th year at school (no, I’m not a doctor), I realized I wanted to pursue kayaking full time. Most scoffed at the idea, including a girlfriend at the time, which motivated me more. I seem to operate better with a chip on my shoulder attitude. It was a tough decision, but even to this day, one of the best I had ever made. I was all in. I was committing to my first class V and I wasn’t even on the river.
Photo: Lydia Cardinal
What would you be doing if you weren’t a professional kayaker?
Good question! I have always had roots in the arts. My mother is an artist. I love design. I love the creative process, and like kayaking it is a constant process with no set path. You make it what you want. Probably why I get so involved with projects in paddle sports!
I currently own my own business teaching kayaking, and I am fascinated with how the human body works. Physics, kinematics, you name it. We are only limited by what’s defined by physics and the limitations of our minds. I like sharing that with people. So I could also see myself working as a personal trainer or nutritionist. Although, I am quite guilty of being slack ass from time to time!
What does a regular week look like at this time of year?
This time of year, I’m balancing a full teaching schedule, producing “edutainment” media, and constantly prepping for what’s next. I mix it up with some free time to continue to push my skills. Honestly, there is not a lot of free time, so whatever provides the most bang for my buck and pushes me physically and mentally so I can continue to be at a top level and introduce new concepts to our student base. As of late it has become slalom. I am a freestyle guy by trade, so it has been fun learning something new and feeling pushed.
What did you focus on to become comfortable running big or complex rapids? What allowed you to progress your skills?
The only way I ever became “comfortable” was by doing it a lot. As you can tell, by some of the previous questions, time is not a luxury I have so I have to find other ways to push my skills. But there is no replacement for actually running the hard stuff to maintain the mental game. I would say that is the biggest challenge I face in my personal paddling is that I do not commit enough time to pushing myself mentally and as a result I tend to be more conservative. There is a level of maintenance you need to have to perform at the top all the time. I do feel that is one of the reasons I can still relate to many of my students. I battle just as they battle. It never goes away.
What actually helped me progress my skills was putting myself in a place where I had the resources to make the time to push hard. Geography, coaches, your crew, all have a great effect on your long term success.
Do you have any pre-paddling rituals to help calm your nerves or get you into the zone?
Getting everything sorted the night before, or maybe even sooner depending on the length and type of trip. You set the tone for your experience well before you ever make it to the river. I like to know the crew I am going to paddle with on hard stuff. Even the best paddlers find themselves in a pinch from time to time. It’s supposed to be an adventure, so having the best resources available (human resources) makes a huge difference in perceived success. Perceived success is the visualization that is necessary for making success a reality.
But me personally, to prepare myself to run the crux, there are a few things I do to “wake myself up.” Rub the spit on my glasses to keep my vision clear, remembering to breath, slap my head a few times to snap me out of zombie mode, and I’ll even roll over and scream underwater to get some of the energy out. I think a lot of time we are running on so much “juice” that it is important to expel some of it to help us stay focused. Once you are in it, if you prepped properly, you are totally focused. I go through the same thing if I am running a scary rapid or if I was going to drop in for a freestyle comp ride.
Photo: Lexi Gold
Where would you go if you could travel anywhere in the world to paddle?
I’m about to spend my second winter in Chile playing and guiding trips, and I love it there. The culture, the people, the rivers, all of it. It has certainly given me the bug to travel more and experience the cultures of other places. It doesn’t have to be remote. To me, it’s just as much about the travel as it is about the kayaking. So that being said, I think I would like to take a trip through different parts of Europe. I love freestyle and they have some amazing places for that. Not to mention I have some friends situated in all sorts of places in Europe. The culture would be amazing to say the least. A close second and long term goal is China. Talk about a country that is in a cultural cross roads.
What paddling kit are you currently using?
I’m fortunate enough to have worked with many companies over the years. I new it would be important on many levels to make that a part of our goal for many reasons. I don’t simply look for “free” gear. I want a relationship with a company, a partnership.
So with that being said, I am fortunate to work for Wave Sport Kayaks which suits my paddling style very well, that, and I love working with the team and designer Hans Nutz. I have been with them for 5 years now, and I don’t foresee a change.
I also have been with NRS for 4 years and what I love about them is they are a full outfitter with a great philosophy. I like how Bill Parks started small and grew organically, the same way I grow my business, and I also like that they are employee owned.
I also work with AT Paddles and Watershed Drybags. Both great companies offering a truly unique line of products.
I am particular about other gear as well which I have no affiliations. I use Sweet Helmets and 5.10 footwear. I feel your helmet and footwear are life lines when you are on a river and I won’t sacrifice purchase or protection for anything.
What do you believe is the best kayak design to date?
Ugh!! Terrible question! That is such a mind numbingly, arbitrary question. My best kayak design is not yours nor for anyone else. Let’s just say the best kayak design to me would be a river runner that is fast and agile, can surf waves, and can pivot and squirt. All of my favorite things to do on the river. The Dagger RPM is the most successful all around design for a reason.
What do you think has been the most innovative change introduced in to the kayaking world?
Off the shelf comfort in outfitting. Every company has its own take on it. But if we are truly talking innovation, I would have to say the fact that our stock outfitting is light years ahead what it used to be.
On a side note, I like seeing how new designs are going back to the lengths of about a decade ago. I think we will see more boats in the 9′ range in the coming 2 years. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed.”
Many thanks Chris.