THE HEROES PROJECT
EPISODE 3: Austin Kieffer
An insatiable curiosity to learn coupled with a deep-rooted passion for paddling has formed the basis for the ongoing success of US surf ski giant Austin Kieffer. Boasting a fierce desire to discover the perfect formula to reach peak performance and forging a close bond with the water, the American has made a successful transition from canoe slalom to surf ski and has all the tools for greater success in the future.
The articulate and erudite Austin has few peers. A former US surf ski champion and consistently ranked among the top five in the world, he does admit however that a certain element of good fortune played a part in his introduction and subsequent development in the sport. Growing up a keen basketball and tennis player in North Carolina, it was a family friend and president of the local Nantahala Racing Club, who persuaded Austin to try out for a white water rolling clinic at a local indoor pool.
Aged 11 at the time he explains: “It only took ten minutes of sitting in the boat to realise I loved it. There is something about the water – I’ve always had connection to it. Paddling just allowed me to enhance that connection.” With a natural ability to pick up technical skills quickly and supported by a top-class coach it was perhaps little surprise Austin made rapid progress. He was quickly picked up by the national development squad and went on to win the Junior Olympic title – against the cream of emerging Canadian and US paddlers.
Winning selection for the US at the 2007 Junior World Canoe Slalom Championships in the Czech Republic he sat inside the top ten after a quality first run only for a small error to cost him dear on the semi-final run, relegating him to 13th. Nonetheless, encouraged by his performances in the junior ranks, Austin focused his efforts on making the US Olympic team only to agonisingly miss out on both the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics.
After missing out on the London Games he quit canoe slalom but within weeks a friend recommended he try surf ski racing. Believing his fierce work-ethic coupled with his size – he was on the big side for canoe slalom – would be a good fit for surf ski, his instincts proved correct.
This is his story. This is why he paddles.
So, Wait . . .
WHAT actually IS PADDLER?
We are a proud sea-faring nation. In Māori tradition, a great fish was pulled from the ocean by the demigod Maui, with his magic fish-hook. ‘Te Waka a Maui’ (Maui’s Canoe) is New Zealand’s South Island, and ‘Te Ika a Maui’ (Maui’s Fish) became the North Island. Word spread of a new land, and our ancestors travelled vast distances seeking-out Aotearoa – ‘The land of the long white cloud’.
Waka and sailing vessels are part of our heritage. Our oceans, rivers and lakes are integral to our Kiwi identity. From the great Polynesian navigators such as Kupe and Toi, to Te Rehutai, the foiling America’s Cup winner. Today’s Kiwi heroes include some of the worlds greatest paddlers, such as Ben Fouhy, Luuka Jones and Lisa Carrington.
Paddler is the hub that connects us in our love of the sport. This is the place to find inspiration, information and opportunities. You don’t have to be from NZ – in the Kiwi spirit, we welcome paddlers from anywhere!