Imagine dropping everything, packing your kit, leaving your partner behind and jetting off into the sunshine for 2 months kayaking. Paddling beautiful blue rivers, big whitewater and sending perfect waterfalls. In reality it sounds more like a far fetched dream, but this is exactly what UK kayaker Oli Kershaw has done.
Oli is an experienced kayaker who has been kayaking for most of his life, visiting countries all over Europe and the world and is the director and head coach at Next Level Coaching and Guiding. After leaving his girlfriend Natty Cordon behind at the start of November, he jumped on a plane with his kayak and all his gear to spend 8 weeks in Chile, the waterfall capital of the world! We have been following Oli’s trip on social media over the past couple of months and want to dig deeper and find out more.
Welcome home and Merry Christmas Oli. We have been watching your social media platforms like a hawk and you have been making us all rather jealous with your amazing adventure. Was it hard for you knowing you were leaving Natty for that long?
“It was really hard for me, particularly as she spent the months leading up to the trip threatening to get a stand-in boyfriend for the time I was away! Honestly though, yes it was difficult.
I already work away from home a lot which means we don’t get to spend a huge amount of time together. Luckily she is very understanding and endlessly patient. It was certainly nice to make it home in time to spend Christmas with her.”
You managed to fly your kayak out with you, how did you manage that? Was it straight forward?
“To be honest, no! The airline we flew with did not allow kayaks. I had to wrap it up and disguise it, telling the airline staff it was a windsurf! Unfortunately, it didn’t fit through the oversize baggage conveyor at Manchester airport and they unwrapped the “windsurf” to check it. Fortunately I think the staff were both so baffled and amused by the whole situation, I got away with it! I didn’t even have to pay. On the way back it cost me 150 USD to get on the plane. Not too bad overall. Next time, I’ll fly with Air Canada, they allow kayaks which will be much easier!”
We know you have paddled in many amazing countries, what is it that attracts you to Chile?
“The first time I went to Chile, my eyes were opened to a whole new level of paddling I never realised existed. I was sharing rivers with the world’s best paddlers, I was literally paddling alongside people who were on posters in my bedroom! I hadn’t experienced that since I met Sooty! From that moment, Chile became something special for me. It was the first place I pushed myself in a really big way.
The other reason is the huge variety of paddling available. It has both some of the best waterfalls and creeking in the world, but also some of the very best big volume paddling in the world. Chile has it all!”
After 2 months chasing some of the worlds most famous whitewater, what has been the highlight of your trip?
“I was fortunate to paddle some incredible rivers, see some amazing scenery, and run some perfect waterfalls. But by far the highlight of my trip was the people I met. In the space of a few weeks I made literally dozens of lifelong friends. We paddled with people from Chile, Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, America, Czech Republic, Canada and those are just the nationalities I can remember. Everyone was incredible; it’s great to see how our love of the sport brings together total strangers and forms them into the closest friends in just hours.”
With the highs there must have been some lows?
“Faff! The main frustration for me was “Chile time” whereby people would wake up at 11am, have breakfast, faff, have lunch, faff and then maybe leave by 3pm – and that was on a good day. To someone who is used to rallying at 4am to get a lap on a river before work; that was frustrating!
Of course, we had some lows on the rivers as well. When you paddle on Class 5, you’re accepting that missing a line is likely going to mean severe injury or worse. On one particularly memorable day, we had to swim down Class 4/5 to retrieve our boats after a swim. In the New Year, I will be putting together a presentation on lessons learned that day in the hope others can avoid similar scenarios. Two days later, one of the paddlers from the same group went under a tree in his boat. Fortunately he dealt with it calmly and as a team we dealt with it. I hasten to add that none of the incidents were caused by inexperience, bad decision making, or poor paddling. It’s just what can happen when people are pushing themselves everyday on Class 5. It does get to a point where the stress of seeing friends in potentially lethal situations all gets a bit too much and it’s time to step back and relax for a couple of days.”
How did you manage with the logistics of getting to the rivers and shuttles?
“At first we paddled with Chito, a Chilean and used his truck so it was all fairly easy. After Chito left, we stayed at a hostel in Pucon full of paddlers. Generally people were happy to take an extra person or two!”
Spending that long on on a trip paddling everyday must of had some costings, did it work out expensive?
“Not too expensive, but Chile isn’t the cheapest country. The fact that we didn’t have to hire a vehicle saved us a good amount of money but did limit us logistically. I think for the 7 or so weeks I was away, I spent about £3,000 not including flights. I could’ve spent much less with a bit more organisation and wild camping though!”
What is the first thing you are going to do now your back? Is there anything you missed while you have been away?
“I’m pretty excited to take a few days to relax and enjoy Christmas with my girlfriend and family. After New Year I’m excited to get back to paddling and coaching in the UK!”
What is the next plan for Mr Next Level?
“There are lots of plans being drawn up for 2019! Among other things we have trips running to Corsica, Austria, France, Italy, Scotland, Slovenia AND Chile on offer this year plus a whole host of skills courses and rescue courses here in the UK.
Personally, this year for me, I am focusing more on my fitness. I want to be fitter and stronger ready for some upcoming personal paddling goals.”
It looks like you’ve had an absolute blast Oli, we know we have enjoyed watching you. Thank you for your time and enjoy the rest of the winter I’m sure we will see you on the water in no time at all.
Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.
Photo credit: Michael Fisher