From Warrington to Africa in pursuit of the world’s best rapids | Bren Orton
Tell us a little about Bren Orton – your journey hasn’t been straight forward or easy has it?!
I like to kayak off waterfalls and edit videos! I started kayaking when I was 9 years old, fell in love with the sport and ran away to Uganda to follow my dreams aged 16. The White Nile over there had some of the best rapids in the world on it, it was always a dream of mine to go and when a dam project was announced I knew I had to find a way to go. I worked on the building site and sold some childhood possessions to get the money for the flight and then upped and went. It was incredible and I would say the trip that put me on the path that I am on now, it gave me an insight into everything that kayaking can be. This sport that challenges you on so many levels, provides access to some of the nicest people on the planet and takes a kid from Warrington to Africa in pursuit of the best rapids. Two months after my trip the Dam was completed and we lost those rapids forever.
How did you ‘find’ kayaking?
A school trip. We went out of the city and into the countryside. I had tried a lot of the typical sports at that point but hadn’t really found anything that fitted me. I got into a kayak for the first time and it just made sense.
What is it that you love about it?
Problem solving and the mastering of my fears. I often describe a rapid or waterfall as a jigsaw, it’s almost complete you just need to slot that last piece into place for it to all make sense and the last piece is you and your kayak.
The fear thing I find fascinating, I was once scared to capsize on a lake and now I’m comfortable kayaking off waterfalls, it’s been interesting to look back and try and understand how that change happened. I don’t think there was a pivotal moment, just lots and lots of baby steps and small improvements over time.
Left: Photo by Adrian Mattern
Where in the world have you / do you kayak?
All over the shop, one of the coolest parts to this sport are the places it will take you. I have been to Pakistan, India, America, Austria, Norway, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Uganda, Zambia and Japan.
Which are top countries for kayaking in athlete terms? Any reasons why?
Depends what you are looking for, different types of rocks and climates create different types of rivers. Volcanic rock produces the biggest and cleanest waterfalls and so we will spend a lot of time around the Pacific North west in America, Chile, and Mexico for waterfall trips. Norway is a bit of a freak, it just has rivers falling off the backside of it’s mountains everywhere. I think that place would be my number one pick and even the UK has some really good whitewater unfortunately it just takes a lot of rain to bring the rivers in.
Tell us about your highest ever kayak descent? World 2nd drop?
Broke as a joke, I spent the last money in my bank account for the plane ticket. When I was there the waterfall was on the low side of good, meaning there would be less aeriated water at the bottom and the hit would be way bigger. To get to it you have to walk through the banana fields in cartel country and abseil down into the gorge. I had never abseiled before that trip and it was wild dropping down out of the jungle into that canyon. I had some issues with the rope but made it down to this tiny ledge before the waterfall. Looking over the edge it looked like the end of the world, I couldn’t see the bottom. The entry was the crux point, make it past that and it would be smooth sailing. I came down, greased the entry and could just enjoy the free fall. The first conscious thought I had was “OMG I am still falling”. At 128ft it was over 30ft bigger than anything else I had ridden.
Is there much commercial exposure/involvement in kayaking?
Yes but rarely is it good for the sport. News and media companies just don’t seem to want to understand it, they write us off as crazy. My mate Dane Jackson just completed one of the ‘sickest’ waterfall descents ever and the news article read “Kayaker survives huge waterfall”. Asides from those huge breakthrough moments in the sport, very little gets picked up on.
Which countries offer the best kayaking conditions?
I like countries with snow packs, gives you more predictable water levels rarther than waiting for rain, Norway is my favourite place to kayak.
What’s next for Bren Orton?
Same old same, go kayaking, edit videos and continue to work on being the smartest, strongest, kindest person I can be along with improving my kayaking and editing skills. I had a big crash 18 months ago and while I don’t want to be one of those people that turns every negative into a positive, I do think that taking some time out to think about what I want to do with the sport was a good thing. I’m entering the beginning of my prime kayaking years now and I am stoked on the direction I am taking with the sport.
Above: Photo by Dane Jackson
What’s the future of kayaking as a sport? Any predictions?
Currently there is a big move towards down river freestyle, which you can imagine as the equivalent of slopestyle on a mountain bike. It’s a blend of different aspects from the sport and requires a huge skill base and comfort level. I am really excited that this side of it is gathering momentum. Big waterfalls will always be a big part of it, but I think people are numb to seeing the same ones being ridden time after time and I hope people will start exploring and seeking out more first descent waterfalls.
I should also say that the amount of talented up and comers is brilliant right now and I am stoked to see where all these kids take the sport too.
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Want to hear more about Bren’s incredible story or work with him in some capacity? Please contact email@example.com or call 07052 304340.