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Exclusive interview with Darin McQuoid, Photographer & Kayaker.
Name: Darin McQuoid
Date of birth: 23/12/1981
Place of birth: Ashland, Oregon
Address: Davis, California
Occupation: Photographer & Kayaker
Sponsors: First Ascent, Jackson Kayak, Kokatat, Lightning Paddles, FNA Headgear
When did you start kayaking, and why do you find yourself drawn so much to this sport?
I started kayaking in 2002, during my summer season as a raft guide on the "mighty" Klamath River. Three of my fellow guides kayaked, so I'd borrow a boat and go out with them after work or on days off.
I could list way too many things that draw me to kayaking, the people, beauty of rivers, dynamic nature of water but why it has become my life's passion really boils down to two things.
1. There is something magical about travelling down a river from point a to b. No matter what class of water, making the journey is always special experience.
2. There are personal challenges in kayaking that I've not found anywhere else. Anything from the cliché challenge of running a big rapid, to the emotional challenge of holding it together after days of non-stop travel through inhospitable conditions, expeditions always push me beyond my preconceived abilities.
Tell me about some of your more testing expeditions and experiences.
I really hate being sick, and it always seems to happen on our international expeditions. For me, the worst case was in Pakistan, 2008. A flu virus went through our whole group, I threw up for two days straight and then paddled the hardest river I'd ever done - the Indus through the Rondu Gorge. For the first four days on the water I had diarrhoea too. It's amazing how a bad virus can make you physically sore from all the internal upheaval.
Outside of general illness, the most testing experience happened in September 2009 on the Rio Piaxtla in Mexico. We dropped in knowing that somewhere downstream the river fell 1,000' (304 meters) in a quarter mile. We brought two 50 meter climbing ropes, but when we got to that section of river it was obviously too high to rappel down. We scouted out a portage that was estimated to take three to four hours. These big portages are always slower than expected, but we were making pretty good time until we tried to return to the river. The map showed steep but consistent gradient down a ravine, so we dropped into it but had to start rappelling right away. The ravine was really just a dry creek bed full of what would be waterfalls, but were cliffs we had to rappel. With a group of five it was pretty slow progress, and we would finish one to find another just fifty feet further down.
We eventually emerged onto a small plateau overlooking the river, and it had been 11 hours since we started the portage and we'd been working hard without water for hours. There was one small pothole full of orange, bug filled water. We were dangerously dehydrated but had no option other than filtering the water as best we could and putting a lot of iodine in it, quite a unique flavored water. It took us three more hours to finish three more big rappels, and we finished in complete dark fourteen hours since we started. I hope I never have to do a portage that big again!
What was your most frightening experience in a boat?
Royal Gorge, 2009, disappearing behind Lower Heath for an hour before the rescue was complete. Never underestimate the power of water. Read about the full story here.
Second to that was a terrible swim only a week later on Fantasy Falls. Swam and recycled in a four foot ledge until I swallowed some water, finally flushed out to swim over a 15-20' falls where I recycled until I grabbed a log that was in the drop and climbed up it to get roped out.
In your opinion, who is the best kayaker at the moment and why?
I don't really believe there is any one "best" kayaker. Everyone has strengths and weakness. I respect those who can put others first.
Apart from photography, which I’ll ask you about now, what do you do when you’re not kayaking?
Well, I try to kayak as much as I can. When not on expeditions I love paddling day runs in California and the classic overnight trips too. On the rare occasion when nothing is flowing, I like to do a little mountain biking or snowboarding. Around the house I cook a lot for my lady who is in grad school, and am a voracious reader. I like to keep up on camera gear too. I'm always searching for that perfect combination of light, cheap, long range and durable, with unsurpassed image quality. The holy grail, and believe me it does not exist but it can't hurt to find the closest thing to it. I also blog a lot at my River Lover site.
I’ve been a huge fan of your photography for some time now, tell me more about it. Do you see yourself pursuing this as a career for the rest of your life?
I'd had a small point and shoot 35mm camera as a kid, but never really was that into it. I always thought the cost was prohibitive, but with digital the overall cost drops pretty low since you don't have to buy and develop all the film. Once I got into kayaking I knew I wanted to take pictures of it, because we really do travel through the most beautiful places in the world. I bought a small point and shoot, used that for a year, and then bought a SLR the next year when I was 24. My first sale was from the first descent of Lost Creek, thanks to Devin Knight and Taylor Robertson for inviting me! Taylor has been a big help on making it a career. It's grown slowly since then, but each year I get better shots and make more contacts.
While I am fortunate to "have an eye", I'm also the hardest working photographer in the industry, I drag a lot of camera gear around every day and I'm always hiking around to get the right shot. I have some perfectionist traits and they blend well with photography. Many days I get just as much reward out of getting the right shot as I do paddling, or as upset about missing a shot as missing a line.
I love the photography side, and hate the business end, but I really can't see myself doing anything else, and hope it works out as a career for the rest of my life. It's also a hard career to make financially viable unless you go the wedding and portrait route.
What is the world’s biggest problem?
What’s kayaking’s biggest problem?
On the photography side of things it's very unprofessional and frustrating. On a larger scale kayaking has a hard time appealing to the average person, it's not a sport where the rewards are obvious or instant.
What is your biggest problem?
People are one of the most interesting things to photograph, I am really shy about shooting people, it's something I need to get comfortable with.
If kayaking became more mainstream, would it be improved or harmed?
I think it would be improved on the business side for sure. In a selfish way it would be a shame to see my favorite rivers with lots of people on them, but on the other hand it would be great to see lots of people enjoying such great places. So honestly I think I would like it less if it was mainstream, but would be happy that so many people were out enjoying rivers.
What are the most valuable tips you think that could help any kayakers and/or photographers out there wanting to improve?
Do it because you love it, and have nothing to prove. The best way to improve is practice, practice and practice, which thankfully is very fun and rewarding in both kayaking and photography.
Thanks for your time Darin. Keep charging, and keep on posting those wonderful photos of yours!