Simon Coward A Paddler, 20 questions

Simon Coward A Paddler, 20 questions

Aquabatics Edmonton
14 minute read

I'm fairly certain one of the first things I did when I met Simon was make some light hearted cliché remarks about hobos and vegemite (He needed a shave).  In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best thing to say to the person who ended up becoming my boss. 

Thankfully, he can be just as light as hearted as I am at times. I've known Simon for the past few years and have the pleasure of calling him my friend, as well as my boss. He creates a fun, hardworking atmosphere between the shops and is a great teacher and student of life.     

He creates a workplace that I look forward to waking up too, and heading into work for. All the while promoting each of our (employees) strengths' and helping us learn in areas we may not have as much experience in.  He is genuinely stoked on all things paddling, split-boarding, and more so as of late, river surfing. Enough of my rantings, please read below for …


20 Questions with Simon Coward. 


1.Who the heck are yeah?
My name is Simon Coward, one of the owners of Aquabatics and AQ Outdoors.

Simon Coward a paddler
Hello, my name is Simon.

2. Where yeah from?
I am from a small surf/fishing/tourist town in southern Australia called Barwon Heads.  Close to the start of the Great Ocean Road and a stones throw from Melbourne

3. When did you start paddling?
I started paddling in 1996.  Did it though a high school course when I moved to New Zealand with my family

4. How did you get involved with Aquabatics?
I had been travelling the world following summers for a bunch of years, I wound up in Golden as a raft guide.  After not having had a winter for a long time I decided to ditch a job guiding in Chile and to spend a winter in Canada snowboarding (meeting my now wife Nikki that summer in Golden, may have played a large part in this decision).  I ended up moving to Calgary and being a planner I wanted to know what I was going to do the following summer.  A friend of mine, Andre (a Canadian living in NZ) told me that Sue (the previous owner of Aquabatics Calgary) was looking for someone to start a kayak school.  I called her immediately, met a few days later at Robins Donuts (now OPA), and the rest is history.  That was in 2004/2005.
Can we do it again dad?

5. What’s the best thing about Aquabatics?
Man, that has been an evolving thing for me.  To start with it was getting to start a kayak school.  I had worked for plenty, but having total control of it's destiny was pretty darn sweet.  I got to bring friends out from New Zealand, give them jobs, create courses that I had wanted to teach and, best of all, we ran international trips many years.
As I moved into the ownership, fatherhood etc part of life it this has certainly changed, I think the over arching piece for me is having seen the paddling community here grow and thrive over the past 15 years.  Particularly whitewater kayaking, it has been on a very steady decline worldwide since the early 2000's, Calgary has seen the opposite of that.  We have great events, fantastic clubs and a really vibrant community.  
When we bought the business, we made it a priority that we would continue to be (and improve upon) a crucial part of the local paddling community and the sports growth.  I like to think we have done an OK job of this, and we are proud to have played a small role in the growth and local paddling culture.

6. If you could build the perfect watercraft what would it look like?
I, unlike Tom (General Manager) , have no clue whatsoever about boat design.. ha ha.  You would think, after over 20 years of paddling I might have some input or insight into this topic.  I truly have 0....
So, I will just say the Dagger Rewind!  It has already been built for me!
The Jackson Antix 2.0 comes a close second too.

7. You have access to almost any kayak you would want to try.  If you could only pick one boat to paddle for the rest of eternity what would it be and why?
See question 6.. ha ha ha

8. What's the longest commute you have made for a weekend of paddling?
I drove to Whistler once to paddle for 2 days!
Simon and his kids at play.  Can you guess which ones Simon?
9. Where is your favorite place to paddle, well one your comfortable sharing with the world anyway?
Right now, I would have to say it is Harvie Passage with my kids and Nikki (my wife).  Watching them progress is really keeping me connected with the sport, and it gets me so fired up to watch their enthusiasm and natural feel for being on the water.
Personally, right now, I am reconnecting with my child hood passion of surfing.  Given we are in the mountains it isnt on the ocean, I am thoroughly enjoying being continually humbled by river surfing.  

10. How are you pushing yourself on the water?
The river surfing element is a huge drive for me right now.  Having surfed in the ocean my entire life, getting smashed trying to learn river surfing has been both humbling and motivating.
In kayaking, it centers around trying to build a repeatable and world class training platform for Aquabatics instructors.  We have been blessed with many long term return instructors over the years, who have provided invaluable insight into our progression.  I am trying to put this into a program that allows new staff to absorb as much of that as possible in a short time frame.

11. What’s your biggest waterfall drop to date?
I have run a bunch of waterfalls in the 40' - 60' range, nothing too massive by todays standards.

12. What is your craziest on water experience?
  • Oh man, too many to mention....  Everything from coming upon a naked, bloodied Irishman on a river in France (he had taken a swim, lost all his gear including his sprayskirt and shorts, he was literally walking around in the woods barefoot and naked from the waist down, bleeding profusely from his head)
  • Nearly drowning as a safety kayaker in Costa Rica as a 300 lb body builder tried to climb on top of my kayak during a swim (I teach non contact rescues very enthusiastically in safety courses).  He pulled my skirt off, used me as a step ladder and pushed me into a tree filled undercut, I was lucky to get out of that one.
  • Dropping into a Bolivian first descent, expecting a 5 day Class V canyon and realizing after we sent our shuttle driver away that the river was full of gold mining debris and the river was full of slightly submerged (and invisible) sandbars.  After our group all got a hiding after getting beached just above a number of class V drops (think bum scooching with no speed into a Class V rapid), we had to figure out how to get back to our shuttle driver.  Lots of booze, hitching a 16 hour hike we managed to get sorted.
  • Another Bolivia trip incident, ran a 6 day Class V run with no shuttle planned.  Turned out this part of rural Bolivia didn't see a lot of traffic.  We missed the one bus back to La Paz by one hour.  Managed to track down an oversize Tonka truck for a ride home.  Went over 2 x 4500m - 5000m passes, broke down no less than 20 times.  What was promised to be a 12 hour journey to 3 full days.  All in the back of the truck, in pouring rain, snow and all manner of gross weather .
  • Splitting my helmet and subsequently my head open from crown to eyebrow during a rescue on a flooded Class V run in France.  The last thing I remember is dropping into a giant hole with a swimmer on the back of my boat, when I came too, I was there with my friend (somehow with my boat, but my paddle was vertically pinned in the middle if a huge rapid), trying to stop the bleeding in my head with a golf ball sized piece of frozen paddle wax.  This, however, was not doing the trick.  Turns out you could see my skull from eyebrow to hairline.  My friends patched me off, rushed me to hospital (2 hours away), all the while telling me it was big scratch but no big deal.  I couldn't figure out why I needed to barf every 10 minutes or so for just a scratch.
    We had to drive past where we lived on the way to hospital.  When they didn't turn in I was super pissed, I just wanted to go nap.  They ignored me, took me to the ER where I proceeded to yell at the nurses for cutting off my brand new drytop (I had saved months to buy it).  I wound up looking like Frankenstein's monster, with 15 staples and a bunch of stitches patching me up.  I learned a lot about being an effective rescuer that day, and that head trauma patients are not nice people (Sidenote:  I later apologized to the nurses for yelling at them for cutting my drytop off.. ha ha)
Suffice to say there are many more.  I would be happy (as Nikki would roll her eyes an attest to) to share over a crown royal or three.!
Simon, NIkki, and their munchkins

13. Do you do any type of winter training?
I split board at least once a week, ski with the kids and Nikki at Sunshine and this year I will be surfing all winter

14. What is your dream run or trip?

These days, any new river is a dream in a kayak.  However, I have applied for a personal trip permit for the Tatshenshini River, that will be a dream when we get that.  The other one I want to do is the Franklin River in Tasmania.

15. What is the coolest thing you’ve seen while paddling?
Again, I have been so fortunate with the places paddling has taken me, it is almost impossible to pin one coolest thing down.  The one thing that repeatedly provided me stoke was interactions with locals in other countries.  One particular instance we were doing a first descent out near the Kenya/Uganda border.  The river was characterized by long flat sections and then big drops and slides every kilometer or so.  When we put on at 8am or so, a group of school kids all dressed up in their pristine uniforms (crisp, clean blue, contrasting against the red African dirt, showed so much pride and joy in the uniforms they felt fortunate to have...).  Their teacher asked if they could watch us paddle.  We thought that he meant there at the put in, we of course said absolutely.  
What we didn't understand was, he meant the entire school (and subsequently other schools joined), and this primary school group followed us down the entire 15 + km section of river.  Chatting with us in the flat sections, before bolting off in excitement a few hundred metres before every drop (we always knew when we were going to have to scout!), they would all then be waiting to watch us run the rapids.
It was so fun to be a part of, and a very different way of approaching education.  
By the time we got to the takeout, there were maybe three schools worth of kids, mostly in the primary school age, they were so inquisitive and confident and keen to talk to us.  The other part of it that was eye opening at the time was these kids walked and ran probably at least 30kms that day, just to watch us paddle.
Amongst all the scary/cool animal sightings, unique and exciting places, friendships formed etc in my time on the water and in my travels, this one is probably the coolest for me.
Hiking up Pigeon Mt. for some early season tracks. 
16. What’s the best advice you would give to someone brand new to paddling?
This may sound self serving as a kayak school owner, but, get some lessons to start with.  Unless you are the kind of person that thrives in the environment of 'tough love' learning.  It is well worth it.
Also, if you are in western Canada, sacrifice money on a new boat and paddle and get a drysuit.  It seems like a big investment, but it makes the sport so much more enjoyable.

17. If you could go paddling with anyone in the world past or present who would it be?
Dave Moore.  He was my mentor as a young paddler in New Zealand.  He is still working in the outdoor industry in NZ, I would love to get on the water with him again sometime soon.
As sappy as it sounds, the other person is my Mum.  She has taken up recreational kayaking in the past few years and I feel kinda bad that she is in OZ and I am here and we don't get to paddle together.  Can't wait until we can travel again and I can go and paddle the Barwon River with her (she might let Dad come along too!)

18. Is there anything you would change about sport?
Not really, I think I would like to see the industry as a whole do better at encouraging kids and parents to feel comfortable with the sport.  There is a place for sure to have imagery of giant waterfalls and hard whitewater, but, there is so much more to it than that.  The travel, the community, the strength and fitness elements.  Obviously over 20 + years in the industry I have formulated some 'opinions' on the state of the sport, but, to be honest, I am most concerned about the health of the sport in our local community, and from Kayak Fishing to Whitewater, Canoeing to Recreational Paddling, River SUP and kids programming is booming, the sport is healthy and it is something I am both stoked and proud of.

19. If you had to pick a mixed drink to best describe you what would it be and why?
I am pretty literal. I am not gunna lie, I struggle to answer that question.  Andy, maybe you could come up with an enlightening answer for the readers on this.. ha ha.  I like to drink Rye on the rocks and have been known to imbibe in the odd G & T though
(Andy here, SImon would in fact be a Gin and Tonic as he mentioned, Kind of plain, but also kind of fancy, kind of weird subtle undertones of pine needles, but all around great) 

20. Is there anything I missed you wanted to add?  
If anyone made it this far reading my ramblings... well done.. ha ha.  Seriously though, I just want to say thanks to all the staff, clients, customers and advisors that have helped us get to where we are today.  There are some big changes coming in the next 12 months and we hope that it will help serve our community better than ever in the Calgary region.  Yeah, I think that's it, cheers for lining these up Andy!
Thanks again for talking the time to answer some questions Simon.  Folks reading, be sure to jot down those points from question 12 to ask Simon about next time you run into him on shore or in shop. I always enjoy getting these blogs together, this one included.  Until next time. 
Questions By Andy W
Answered by Simon C
If you enjoyed this interview check out Andy's interview with Operations Manager Tom Stewart.  Click Here to check it out

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