The first of the 2014 Unsponsored Q&A series has landed.
First up is Tom Parker. Tom Parker of Tomparkercoaching.co.uk is one of the UK’s most talented and experienced white water kayakers and coaches. With over 20 years experience on the water Tom has kayaked in around the world.
Tom started his coaching and guiding business in 2005 with the aim being to offer high level technical coaching in white water kayaking, comprising of skills courses in the UK and Europe, coach and leadership education and development, along with the full range of BCU courses.
As a talented boater and coach I was excited that Tom agreed to take part in the 2014 Q&A series. Enjoy….
How did you first get into kayaking? Who introduced you to the sport?
Me and a load of my mates had just moved up into scouts from the cubs. Around the same time, the troop were putting a kayaking course on. I wasn’t too keen but my mates convinced me and it turned out to be quite fun.
When did you realise that kayaking could be a career for you, and not just a hobby?
Over the next few years I did bits and bobs, always finding it fun. I was a reasonably handy musician at the time, playing the trombone, amongst other things and I had a vague plan to become a music teacher. However, on a particularly sunny day in South Wales out on the water, the guys running the session seemed the epitome of cool and to be doing possibly the best job in the world. That was when I thought ‘hang on, this doesn’t look like a bad way to make a living…’
What would you be doing if you weren’t a professional kayaker?
‘Professional Kayaker’ is an interesting term and not really representative of what I do. I certainly don’t get paid purely to kayak! Who knows what I’d be up to? Freelance dreamer? Something with kids? Work in a shoe shop?
What does a regular week look like at this time of year?
One of the nice things about my trade is that there’s no such thing as a regular week. To give you a flavour, I’ve been working with university clubs in Scotland on the Student Safety Course, teaching the guys who are going to teach the teams going in to pump out flooded nuclear power stations, assessing white water coaches and planning work abroad…
What did you focus on to become comfortable running big or complex rapids? What allowed you to progress your skills?
This is a particular area of interest for me. When I started, I decided that white water looked like the absolute pinnacle of boating and it was what I wanted to do. However, my first steps were difficult. Other people’s perceptions and attitudes affect you and I spent quite some time having negative experiences. Luckily, I met Giles Brunning, who took me under his wing and taught me the facts of life about kayaking. He has become one of my best mates and I owe him a lot.
Essentially, what it comes down to is motivation. Why are you doing what you are doing? What do you want from the sport? If you know that, you have a goal to work towards. Initially, I didn’t really have this. Consequently, I spent a lot of time being driven by others and not really getting what I wanted from the sport. Once I actually, worked out what I wanted and how I was going to get it, progress became much quicker and smoother.
Most of my coaching work now centres on helping people work out what they actually want and how to get it.
Do you have any pre-paddling rituals to help calm your nerves or get you into the zone?
This kind of links to the previous question. If you know your motivations, you’re more likely to be doing something that you want to do and believe you can do. Then it’s a matter of thinking only of what you are going to do. A nice cup of tea helps too.
Where would you go if you could travel anywhere in the world to paddle?
West coast North America from California up to Alaska looks frankly staggering.
What paddling kit are you currently using?
I’m very lucky indeed – a number of manufacturers look after me and have done for some time. I use Palm Equipment software (the new FxR pfd is really, really good), Pyranha boats (the Burn mk3 -also really, really good) and Select paddles (really, really good and made in France – who’d’ve thought it?). Dirty Dog also sort me out with sunnies periodically, enabling me to hide the previous evenings’ excess…
I know people are always suspicious of kit recommendations from those supported by manufacturers but remember; ‘free s**t is still s**t’ as my mate Mitch always says…
What do you believe is the best kayak design to date?
I love questions like this as I’m a bit of a history geek. The sport has evolved at a supersonic pace over the last 20 years and there are some stand out boat designs for me from that period. The Topo, the RPM, the Glide, the Inazone, the Disco, the Nomad. For me, I think the original Inazone tops the bill. The boat that made planing hull performance available to the masses!
Actually, the Prozone deserves an honourable mention, purely because the bow looks like a huge, comedy bell end…
What do you think has been the most innovative change introduced in to the kayaking world?
Again, this is one of those ones that goes beyond kayaking itself into the wider world. The technological developments of the past 20 years have meant that anyone can now film and publicise their kayaking adventures. News and information can be shared instantly. You can know exactly what level the river is going to be at before even leaving the house. The kit is well made, comfortable and high performance. The downside is that Youtube is full of frankly terrible home made kayaking videos but you can’t have everything…