Ari Walker, Waitaha River

You would have heard about The North Face Adventure Grant 2015 recipient Jordan Searle, who will be attempting a first descent in New Zealand later this year. But a successful expedition requires a reliable team, and Ari Walker will make up one of those members.

After meeting at the University of Canterbury, Jordan Searle and Ari Walker spent a lot of time paddling together. They have acheived first descents in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Brazil. Keen travellers in their sport, they have been to Brazil, the United States, Canada and Norway thus far in 2015 – and it’s only August.

Jordan Searle is excited to have Ari on the team for the expedition to take place later this year.

“In a lot of ways Ari and myself kayak in a similar fashion, as we both learn’t and developed our skills on the rivers around Hokitika. These rivers are long, dangerous and require a good team to work them out – a perfect training ground to create well-rounded kayakers.

The main thing that Ari, and the other members who will be announced soon, brings to the trip is reliability. It is important to have a crew you can depend on when paddling hard whitewater. Ari is familiar with the type of environment we will be in, its typical and not-so typical dangers and how to mitigate and/or deal with them. Ari is young, which means he brings a good energy and enthusiasm to the group and will be keen to send anything possible.”

Ari Walker Scouting in Espirito Santo

We chat to Ari Walker about his experience in the white water, his strengths, and how they will prepare for the expedition later this year. 

Hometown: Takaka, New Zealand
Age: 24
Years in Whitewater: 7
Currently Residing: New Zealand
Favourite Place to Kayak: Home of course!
Proudest Sporting Moment: Completing the first descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu in Papua New Guinea.

What’s your background in white water kayaking? How did you get started in the sport?

I was first introduced to whitewater in my final year of high school, an outdoor education program and immediately realised my passion for the sport. My kayaking career however didn’t really take off until I began university and joined the University of Canterbury Canoe Club (UCCC). Over the four years that followed, I transitioned from a learner to a volunteer instructor. It was here that I met many of my closest friends (including Jordan) with whom I began kayaking with all over New Zealand and all over the world.

What makes Jordan Searle a good partner for an expedition?

Jordy is undoubtedly one of the best expedition kayakers on the planet. It is not just his kayaking ability on the water but his skills off the water too that make him the perfect choice for any expedition team. His organisational and logistical abilities ensure that all preparations are complete to the minutest detail. Additionally on the river he is a natural leader and his paddling style is suited perfectly to expedition kayaking.

Who is your greatest inspiration in the kayaking community?

My greatest inspiration is certainly my team. The knowledge that I am always on the river with close friends who are the best of the best in the sport is humbling. They help me push my personal limits and I am proud to say I am happy to put my life in their hands and that they are happy putting theirs in mine on a daily basis.

What is your favourite piece of history in your sport?

As a relatively new and developing sport much of the history has been made in the last 20 years and history is still being made every year. One of my favourite pieces of history was made only 3 years ago in 2012 when a team of friends of mine paddled the first descent of Toaroha Canyon in New Zealand. Since kayaking began on NZ’s west coast Toaroha Canyon had been considered off limits and totally un-kayakable. The team proved this wrong and opened up the canyon which has now become one of the premier kayaking runs in the area.

What strengths will you bring to the team for the expedition in NZ later this year?

Having been a part of expeditions worldwide for the past 4 years I have a vast experience and knowledge of what is required for and how to make a successful expedition happen. Having learned to kayak on NZ’s west coast this expedition is taking place in my back yard and in terrain I am most familiar with. Paddling in this terrain I bring confidence to the team and my local knowledge of the area. Additionally I am a passionate photographer/cinematographer and will be documenting the entire descent.

How will you prepare for a successful expedition?

My preparation has already begun. First and foremost I want to know I am paddling at the very top of my game, to ensure this I must be paddling regularly on similar and challenging whitewater leading up to the expedition. I am currently kayaking in the USA and have just returned from an expedition in Norway, with this I feel I am kayaking harder and better than ever before. Kayaking with the entire team prior to the expedition is also critical to ensure all facets of the group are functioning well together and we will not run into unexpected issues. Additionally nearer to the start date we will have maps, GPS, locator beacons, all safety equipment and emergency plans made and discussed as a team.

After seeing Jordan injure himself earlier this year, has that made more cautious in the water?

I think I have always been cautious in the water and I don’t feel a single incident should change this. It was an unfortunate event but on that day we as a team had analysed all the risks involved and decided that risks were small enough and the correct safety precautions were taken to make a safe descent. As a kayaker this is all you can do without living in fear of what “might” happen. I pride myself as being a highly calculated kayaker and will only paddle something if I feel the risk to reward factor is correct. Since Jordan’s injury I have not change this, the only thing that may have changed is I am now slightly more informed of the risks involved in kayaking waterfalls especially as a first descent.

The North Face Adventure Grant is now open for applications for 2016. Have an expedition you want to get off the ground? Check out The North Face Adventure Grant website for full details now. Stay up to date with Jordan Searle and his team through our Facebook page and Instagram

FEATURE PHOTOS: Jordan Searle