This weeks twenty questions blog brings us to Robyn Brown. One of are most northern ambassadors and lucky enough to call the Slave River region in the NWT her home. Shes been fighting wildfires for the past five years and has dedicated this summer to paddling the knar and getting some long awaited certifications. Stoked getting on the water, whether it be in a kayak or on an SUP. We are stoked to have her on board as an ambassador this year and you should be too. Check below to learn a little more about Robyn and what makes her tick.
1. Who the heck are yeah?
28 years old, wildland firefighter, paddler, snowboarder, math tutor and animal lover. Though my family has a lot of musical talent all of it apparently skipped me, despite my mom naming me after the 90’s singer, Robyn.
Mt. Portage put in, Slave River, 2016. Photo credit: Robin Lafreniere
2. Where yeah from?
Born in Vancouver BC, my family first moved to the NWT when I was 6 years old but I’ve lived in and traveled to many places in Canada. Three years ago I bought a house in Fort Smith, NWT, right on the NWT/AB border and home to the Slave River Rapids and Wood Buffalo National Park.
3. When did you start paddling?
I started hearing about a paddling festival that was growing pretty big in my community, and I tried to make it out there in 2013 but my ride bailed on me! So the next winter when I heard about kayak pool sessions with the Fort Smith Paddling Club, I showed up to every session and nearly every club event that summer. I was 22 years old at the time and instantly fell in love with kayaking, I even bought my first boat the next spring!
4. What are you looking forward to this upcoming season as an Aquabatics Ambassador?
I’m really looking forward to managing Slave River Paddlefest this year and getting the word out for more paddlers to join the festival on August long weekend! My first Slave River Paddlefest was in 2014, when a visiting Aquabatics instructor taught me how to roll a kayak for the first time, and I look forward to giving back to my local paddling community as an AQ Ambassador!
5. Why SUP when there’s so many other ways to get on the water?
Whitewater kayaking is my ultimate passion, especially freestyle but I also enjoy finding a nice line through class 3-4 rapids. I dabble in SUP, and my favourite event at Slave River Paddlefest is the epic SUP joust tournament! I went on my first SUP overnight trip with a friend last summer on Prelude Lake near Yellowknife, NWT, which was beautiful and so peaceful. I plan on organizing more trips like that this summer. Sometimes it’s also nice to do some chill canoe tripping. As long as I’m out on the water, it’s all good!
SUP overnight camp at Prelude Lake near Yellowknife, NWT, 2019. Photo credit: Jabee Wu
6. Do you remember what your first kayak was? Colour?
I still primarily use my first kayak, a small Jackson Star, bright yellow, with an old Aquabatics sticker from when I purchased it at an Aquabatics gear swap in 2015. I also own a blue and green Pyranha Nano for when I want more speed and cockpit space for longer river runs instead of freestyle.
7. If you could build the perfect kayak what would it look like?
I’m obsessed with getting my hands on a small pink Jackson Rockstar this year. Maybe it’s because many of my female whitewater role models, like Natalie Anderson and Brook Hess, have pink freestyle boats, but I just love the look of a small pink boat flipping around in a hole. Haha!
8. Where’s your favorite place to paddle, well one you're comfortable sharing with the world anyway?
There are so many on the Slave River, and if you come paddling with me I’d be happy to show off all my favorites! A spot local paddlers call “the playground” at Mountain Portage rapids is probably my top favorite because it’s where I first experienced whitewater and have grown so much as a paddler from practicing in that easy class 3 wavetrain. It’s also the main festival site for Slave River Paddlefest!
9. What's the longest commute you’ve made for a weekend of paddling?
In fall 2016, after graduating college and working my first season as a wildland firefighter for Parks Canada, I bought a truck and took off with my kayak on a solo road trip to Skookumchuck on the Sunshine Coast, BC. It was an epic trip of over 5,000 km total distance, filled with rookie road trip blunders and topped off with an amazing week of surfing at Skook, which just happened to coincide with an American Kayak Academy trip and I had about 20 experienced kayakers from the states there at the same time, who kindly accepted me into their group and provided much-appreciated support as I adjusted to the salty water and tides after a long road trip. I’ll never forget paddling with jellyfish and seals and the massive whirlpools at Skook.
10. Do you enjoy paddling competitions? Why?
Competitions aren’t my focus, but I enjoy the freestyle rodeos and races at Slave River Paddlefest on August long weekend every year. In 2014, my first year paddling, I won the beginner freestyle rodeo simply by entering the hole and getting spun around for 10 seconds before swimming out. Now I enjoy pushing myself to learn tricks so I can win the intermediate rodeo eventually!
11. How are you pushing yourself on the water?
Learning freestyle tricks and improving my comfort level in big waves and holes are my main paddling goals. I’ve had to push through a lot of fear to pursue my passion for whitewater kayaking. I've cried into the river once or twice out of frustration with myself, but I’ve also had the support of many amazing paddling mentors who have helped me push through it. A coach told me last year, “If there’s no serious consequences when you scout, and you have buddies there and room for a rescue, then why not just try it?” That really resonated with me.
By far my worst wipe out was in July 2015 at Sambuca, a drop on the far side of Mt. Portage rapids on the Slave River. It was my second season of boating and I was invited to start joining intermediate nights with the paddling club. One day we decided to do the “Far Side of Mountain” trip, with a highly experienced group of kayakers, plus me. I flipped in a swirly eddy line just above Sambuca, the biggest rapid on the trip. I managed to roll, but got up too late as the main current swept poor stunned me to the right of an island while everyone else was cutting hard left. I saw a horizon line and went over a drop, got caught in the hole, rolled twice but hit a rock and then swam, but got sucked down into the hydraulic… for about 30 sec I was held under the water by some unseen force but suddenly I felt it let me go and my PFD instantly shot me to the surface, where my buddies had come around the island to rescue me. I caught my breath on shore with no damage or gear lost, but still had to settle my nerves when I realized I had to paddle all the way back across the 2km wide stretch of the Slave River to get home! I got a bit more careful about which trips I joined after that experience, but last year I went back to Sambuca and ran the left side of the drop no problem, hahaha.
13. Do you do any type of winter training?
Winter is my off-season from firefighting too, so it’s always been important to me to stay in shape over the winter. I work out at home a lot and I snowboard at our local hill, which is just a big landslide by the river bank that they groom and installed terrain park features. There’s no lifts, so I count hiking up that hill a dozen times a day in my snowboard boots as my exercise.
14. What’s your dream run or trip?
The Nahanni River is my dream trip that I’m starting to plan with some good friends, just trying to work out our schedules.
15. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen while paddling?
Every time I see a beginner roll their kayak for the first time, I think it’s the coolest thing ever. Last summer, a beaver swam through the playground hole where a group of us were kayaking! I watched it all from the rocks and then the beaver just took off underwater and disappeared. I’ve heard from the older generation of paddlers about a bear being spotted by kayakers as it swam through the rapids once, and although it’s possible I’ve always considered it a local urban paddler’s legend.
16. What’s the best advice you would give to someone brand new to whitewater?
Do what makes you happy and take it at your own pace. When you want to push through any fear, remember to smile and enjoy life while doing it. It’s impossible to be afraid when you’re smiling and it’s positive reinforcement for your brain!
17. If you could go paddling with anyone in the world past or present who would it be?
Nouria Newman. I love her adventurous style and diversity within paddling sports. I’m actually in talks with her right now to try to get her up north for Slave River Paddlefest this summer… fingers crossed.
18. Is there anything you would change about sport?
Not really, except I want to see paddling sports grow more in the NWT and my community. We have such amazing rapids here, and so many people don’t know about it or don’t think to come all the way up north to see what the Slave River has to offer everyone. Though I also love the lack of crowds here, of course!
19. If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
Super luck, like that girl in the movie Deadpool. Everything just always spontaneously works out for her no matter what crazy things she does. Breathing underwater would be a gamechanger too.
20. Is there anything I missed you wanted to add?
Put Slave River Paddlefest on your bucket list for August long weekend and come paddle with me in Fort Smith, NWT!
Thanks for giving a read, were stoked to see what the season brings with Robyn and you should be too.
Give her socials a follow on Facebook @Robyn.brown.338
Questions By Andy W, Answered by Robyn B .