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Interview: Nikki Kelly

Nikki Kelly

Interview with Nikki Kelly, top female boater from New Zealand.

kayak surfThis interview was originally produced for the Portuguese web site '' and is published exclusively on Playak in english to make it available to a wider audience. The portuguese version of the interview is available here.

Nikki KellyName: Nikki Kelly.
Age: 31.
Occupation: Kayak representative, massage therapist, and "show you a good time in NZ " outdoor guide.
Kayaking experience: 16 years old to now: 15 years.
Sponsors: Dagger, Teva, Werner, Kokatat, Smith Sunglasses, Shred Ready, Girls4Sport, Fortress watches.
Address: Tarawera Road Rotorua - I own this house, sits 20 metres from New Zealand's best mountain biking - in the only Red Wood Forest I know in NZ.
Recent competition results:

  • 2006 2nd Reno Festival Freestyle.
  • 2006 1st Reno Festival Boater Cross.
  • 2nd Paddler Magazine Invitational Extreme weekend.
  • 1st Teva Vail Mountain Games Extreme Race and 2nd Freestyle.
  • 2005 2nd in World Rafting Championships.

Nikki, you made a career in rodeo kayaking, creeking, expedition kayaking, even river rafting… How about kayak surfing, did you ever try?
I have kayak surfed about 20 times and love it. The ocean is a nice change, although I must admit I am a fresh water kind of girl. I find the ocean intimidating, big swells, the rips, the force of the ocean pounding down on you - just not understanding it enough I guess. It's nice to be able to go out and rip it up in your kayak as apposed to an absolute beginner on a surf board. Love the ocean.

Nikki Kelly

You have been crowned the world river-rafting champ every year since 1999. Do you still maintain this passion for rafting?
My passion lies with kayaking more than rafting for sure, but I can't deny the sweetness of raft racing. Every two years I get together with five other wicked ladies, travel to an obscure country, paddle to mental and physical exhaustion, party hard with all nations of the world and return home world champions, or runners up as of 2005. The passion is more for the countries we get to visit...

Nikki Kelly - rafting

You said in an old interview that your trip in 1995 in Costa Rica made you swap rubber for plastic. What was that all about?

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You won the Teva Mountain Games again this year. What is your secret?
This was my fifth Teva Mountain Games, winning the extreme race four times out of five, always placing top three in freestyle. Yep, Vail is good to me. Secret: paddle to win, get smooth lines through the steep rapids, freestyle, and never count yourself out.

Brad Ludden says you are "aggressive but graceful, and in it for all the right reasons". Do you agree with this description?
Yes, i like that description, thanks Brad. I have always been aggressive, I think you need a certain amount of that, and the grace, well that comes from wanting to be graceful, I trained a little slalom and chased mentors down the Kaituna river trying to be as proficient as them, i.e. the only way to go where the amazing guys go is to get some sort of technique, get clever, use the water, because all the muscles on a little girl is not enough to keep up with the big boys.

You have a degree from the Core Massage Institute. Has it been useful?
I am a self employed massage therapist in Rotorua, so I have the flexibility to travel and kayak, to do other jobs, and I just ask my clients to wait till I return. Freedom!

And the photography… is that your "other" passion?
I wouldn't say I am passionate about photography, but i love to carry my camera on the river and capture the wicked moments we have out there.

Nikki Kelly - boof

Your favourite move?
Boof and carve.

Do you think that river experience is essential for a kayak surfer?
No, but I think the experience gained from kayaking in the surf is great for the munchy holes on a river.

What do you think about the evolution of kayak surfing in your country?
I think kiwis are either board surfers, or river kayakers, competitions in New Zealand are either board surfing or iron men competitions. Christchurch is a city with many kayakers, who will hit the surf in their boat when the river is too far away, so recreationally surf kayaking is popular.

Did you ever participate in kayaksurf competitions?
One kayaksurf competition for me.

Nikki Kelly - Dagger KayaksThe world's best spot you surfed so far?

And in your country?
Greymouth west coast (south island).

What was your scariest moment at sea?
Cost Rica, first experience, huge crashing surf, no one else was out and I had no concept, so I boldly cruised on out, don't think I lasted long, just funny ignorance is bliss.

Do you practice any other sports?
My big buzz at the moment is Waka Arma paddling, on the lake or out in the ocean, hard out aerobic work out and great muscle building. I love to mountain bike, gym, yoga, all good cross training for kayaking, usually feeling fit and strong ready to bet myself up in the kayak.

Your definition of a perfect wave?
One that doesn't crash down on you and pop the spray deck before you even get the ride.

Last summer, you and three other female athletes did a 21-day expedition into some of the most remote, and least understood, areas of Russia. Tell us a little more about this adventure…
I was keen to make it an all female expedition but that was not realistic at that time, so it was myself, Tanya Faux from Australia , John Grace, Freddy Coriel and Jules Cambel, and our trusty Russian partners Victor and Alex. The expedition was called Boofing the Iron Curtain (the blog has the photos and low down). Russia had been a dream for a few years leading up to this expedition. October 2004 North Face accepted 'Rivers of Siberia' as one of their 2005 expeditions - 'Never stops exploring' is their moto. It quickly progressed into far more than I imagined, with Global Giving on board, we were able to dedicate the trip to the plight of children in Russia suffering from cancer. It was a truly rewarding trip to Russia and I am happy that all my years of kayaking has benefited more than just myself.

Nikki Kelly - Boofing the iron curtain

Your long-term projects?
Keep kayaking and travelling, throw in a baby or two into the mix.

What's your one favourite thing about the paddling lifestyle?
The incredible friends, friends unlike any other because of the intensity of our adventures.

What are you listening to on your ipod these days?
Kora, one of New Zealands leading bands.

Your favorite web paddling sites?
Blogs, they are full of pictures and stories.

Nikki Kelly - with georgia and tanya

Any suggestions for those who want to start kayaking?
River miles, can't beat time in your boat, the rewards are massive. Enthusiasm, be ready for a fast learning curve, and be ready to have bad days once and a while. I am excited for anyone starting - the first few years can be so addictive. Have confidence in your own decisions, kayaking is very much a mental exercise.

Thanks a lot Nikki.

Interview: Luis Pedro Abreu
Photos: Seven Rivers Team, Russian Team, Dagger, Jim Grossman, Bliss Stick



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