the heroes

Season 1:


About the Project


Everyone has a different story. Everyone has a different path. Despite that, and often against all odds, people from all walks of life achieve great success (how you define success is a deeply philosophical question not really within our purview, but you get the idea). This project aims to bring you a selection of those stories from paddlers with different backgrounds and in different disciplines, with the hope that it can provide you with a small insight into their world, and somewhere in there – a touch of inspiration.

We have four episodes dropping in Season 1 and three more lined up for Season 2. Who do you want to see featured? Tell us here.

Why do you paddle?

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Episode 1: The New Zealand Sprint Kayak Team

The New Zealand Sprint Kayaking Team is recognised as one of the world’s leading high performance teams. The current team’s whakapapa stretches back to the early 2000s, with Ben Fouhy’s breakthrough 2003 World Championship victory and 2004 Olympic Silver Medal, and strong performances with Steven Ferguson in the K2. Ben’s remarkable successes over almost a decade made him a legend of K1 paddling, and a structure was built on his shoulders that created opportunities for others.

Ben’s mantle was picked up by Lisa Carrington, who won OIympic Gold in 2012. The program has matured over the years as the majority of NZ’s best paddlers committed to working together under a unified structure. Currently, the women’s team includes the holders of World-best times in all three sprint distances and winners of multiple Olympic, World Champs and World Cup medals, led by Lisa Carrington who has a legitimate claim to being the World’s greatest-ever paddler. The men’s team is full of exciting young talent following a rebuilding phase, and includes Tokyo Olympic-bound K2 pairing Max Brown and Kurtis Imrie.

The coaching team is led by NZ Coach of the Decade Gordon Walker, and includes Olympic medal-winning coach Nathan Luce and kayaking legend Tim Brabants. The team is supported by an amazing group of support staff, many of whom are world-leaders in their fields.

The team is committed to building a legacy for the next generation.


Episode 2: Brianna Orams, (SUP)

Brianna Orams could be a name we hear a lot more in the future. Aged just 19, the Auckland-based paddler is already a world junior SUP champion. She is also hoping to make an impact environmentally as founder of the Blue Carbon Project.

The daughter of marine ecology professor and two-time America’s Cup sailor, Mark Orams, Brianna has always had a close bond with the ocean. Mark saw some of the first SUP paddlers during a trip to Hawaii. On his return to New Zealand, he spotted an abandoned windsurf board in Auckland and built a DIY SUP paddle. For Brianna it was a first rudimentary introduction to the sport. She discovered the racing element of SUP later, when she saw the SUP racing event at her local Takapuna Beach Series. Since then, she's become a multiple NZ national champion and ICF Junior World Champion SUP paddler. More than that, she just loves being on the water.


Brianna is a paddling and environmental ambassador for Starboard SUP and studies ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast. This is why she paddles.


Episode 3: Austin Kieffer, Surfski

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.