This is kayaker Nouria Newman's perfect expedition to paddle wild water
The right river, the perfect setting, the ideal falls – we asked legendary French kayaker Nouria Newman to describe a dream adventure and as you'd imagine it's suitably epic.
From becoming the first female kayaker to drop a 100ft (30m) waterfall, to taming wild and raging rapids on memorable expeditions to some of the most remote rivers on Earth: to accomplish all that she has throughout her storied career - recounted in the documentary Wild Waters, available on Red Bull TV (or just click play above) - Nouria Newman had to literally go to the ends of the Earth to chase dreams.
Fortunately, the kayaking legend still has some dream expeditions left to chase, so we asked her to give us the ingredients for an ideal trip. Spoiler: the result will make you green with envy.
The perfect location
I would say the mountains. I just came out of a somewhat harsh jungle expedition, so I want a mineral environment, without spiders and snakes!
I would like something Alpine, but we've put dams all over Europe and there's sadly not much left that's interesting for kayaking anymore. So, I would rather do something in the Himalayans. You can find both technical and maneuverable rivers like in the Alpine arc, but also beautiful volumes and flow in the rivers – a bit of everything.
The exercise of imagining a dream trip is complicated for me, because I think we have to stay connected to our realities and there's no denying climate change and the challenges it brings.
The perfect conditions
In the ideal world, it would be neither too hot, nor too cold. That doesn't exist however and in reality we're often dealing with rain or melting regimes and spend a lot of time being wet. If I had to choose out of those two, I'd definitely go for a period of melting in the spring.
The perfect approach trek
Walking with a heavy kayak is horrible. It's not good for your body and I would gladly do without it, but it's necessary and I do it to live some incredible experiences - then you can find some satisfaction in the suffering, especially when you manage to progress despite the difficulties.
What's interesting is that the whole route that leads you to the river: the plane, meeting with people from a farm to take horses, a discussion with a fisherman who can take you to the right place by boat or pick you up goes well beyond kayaking. You don't just have to be good on the water, but also know how to find solutions to the problems that follow one another.
I think the solution is increasingly going to be to return to a simpler way of life
The perfect river
The perfect river for an expedition would have good flow, hard but clean rapids and few hazards. That is to say, no whirlpools and few log or ice jams [accumulations of ice or wood that obstruct the flow of a watercourse]. I see it flowing through a canyon, too, because you don't have an exit point and you have to paddle all the way through. Otherwise, in terms of obstacles, I could do without the kind of things that'll kill you if you miss a paddle stroke. Some love that, though.
The perfect falls
It's clean, with no rocks blocking the flow or small bends just in front of the drop. We're talking about a clean break. And there will be a big enough flow rate for the plunge pool to be well ventilated, with large bubbles, so as not to hurt your back too much at the time of impact. And if not, you need a really nice view! At the time of tipping in, when the sun's rays pass through the foam and you have crazy rainbows, that's great – and it happens often.
The perfect sequence
There are two types of moves that are more satisfying than the others. The first is a jump called the 'boof', where you pick up speed, pull up and make the boat take off, before landing lower down the stream. In my ideal expedition, there would be plenty of them.
Otherwise, I also like the waves that allow you to take off or ride to gain speed. These also don't have to be very straight. The bottoms of rivers are sometimes a little strange and we sometimes see slightly oblique waves, which allow you to play a little and have good fun.
Nouria Newman extreme kayaking in Iceland
Nouria Newman encounters unpredictable weather and other unforeseen events in Iceland.
The perfect gear
We can play the futuristic card and say that we would have a drone with a hook to fly the boat where we want, but personally, I don't necessarily believe in improvement through technology. I think the solution is increasingly going to be to return to a simpler way of life.
That said, I develop things with certain brands, like Astral. For example, we're constantly researching new shoes. We say to ourselves, 'hey, this one slips a little on muddy paths, but on the other hand it is good on wet rocks', that kind of thing. Besides, I also work on drysuits. Benny [Marr, with whom Nouria leads certain expeditions] is in the process of developing a life jacket with more flotation for large rivers. It's pretty cool and interesting to have a say in development and not just wear the garment.
The perfect kayak
It all depends on the river. With my sponsor Waka, I'm lucky to have a wide choice of boats, so I alternate between four very different kayaks, plus my slalom boat, which I like to take out from time-to-time. I have one called OG, which has a very high volume that I use when the going gets tough, because it gives me an extra bit of security. For every day use, on my little river, I use another, finer boat. Others are more useful for falls or for hard rapids: I adapt.
In the future we'll need skills in different sports, although kayaking will remain the sinews of war. And that really makes me want it
The perfect campsite
Maybe Wolf Track, on Alaska's Stikine River, because you often see wolf tracks there. The river there is a little calmer, you have a small beach ideal for bringing the kayak up easily and if the weather is nice, you can bathe or wash yourself. You have overhanging cliffs where the ground is flat and you have no rocks, no gravel – it's perfect dirt and you're sheltered from the rain, so you can make a small fire and everyone can take shelter. And you don't have to walk far to fetch water!
The perfect partners
I think it takes between three and five people for the best expedition, otherwise even the smallest decision-making becomes difficult. Then, of course, you need people you like and know well, because you quickly realise that even that's not enough in difficult situations sometimes. So, it has to be people who like you at your worst time – and you like at their worst times. Of course, you also can't forget that you have to be able to trust them completely in the water.
The perfect means of transport
We were talking about horses earlier and to start, I would say that in my ideal expedition there would be none. This for the simple reason – they've terrified me ever since I was bitten by a pony when I was little. I force myself to use them when necessary, but taking great care to ask for a nice horse. Afterwards I like having done it, but on the other hand it takes a lot of energy from me.
For access, you have two options. The first is with a helicopter, but it's not something I want to do. I already have enough of heavy conscience about my way of life, so I would like to do a little better. In particular, I can reduce my impact and do extraordinary things by making approaches more complex. This could happen, for example, by crossing glaciers dragging our boats with. In the future, because of what's happening with the climate, we will need skills in different sports, although kayaking will remain the sinews of war. And that really makes me want it.
The perfect meal
Simply, any good food – but also chocolate and sweets!