I didn’t have to go to the World Freestyle Championships in Austria. I could have assigned the story and photos to another writer and photographer and stayed back in the office to take care of more important things.
There are always more important things.
But I didn’t start Rapid magazine to take care of important things.
Rapid began because I dreamed of travelling around the world, paddling, writing and pretending to be a photographer. I remember being seven years old, wanting to be the bearded guy wearing khakis in National Geographic, riding in the back of a Jeep chasing elephants, two Canons hanging from his neck.
Eleven years later I was sitting across the desk from my high school guidance counsellor. He was studying my marks, and I was telling him about my journal, the elephants, the Jeep, and how I was sure to have trouble keeping the dust off my lenses.
He wasn’t listening.
“Your grades are much better in math and science,” he said finally, pulling an application form from the top drawer of his tidy steel desk, “you’ll be accepted in engineering.”
Guidance counsellors are paid to sell young minds a real job for the tiny price of their dreams. He was right: I was accepted to engineering and I went. But my dreams kept bubbling to the surface. Complex equations reduced my spirit to the lowest common denominator and branded a squiggled not-equal-to sign into my soul. I only lasted a year….
Very few of the 370 competitors at the 2003 Rodeo Worlds in Graz are scraping together what a guidance counsellor would consider a respectable living by doing cartwheels. But they gathered at the River Mur to chase dreams. Dreams of gold medals, or dreams of paddling the crystal blue waters of the nearby Soca River in the Slovenian Alps. Dreams too strong to be squashed by stuffy men in cardi- gans sitting at desks full of forms.
Take the 17-year-old Norwegian paddler I met in the Graz airport on our way home. He told me he’d flushed early in his first ride and didn’t make it past the first round. His mom was proud of him and she’d be picking him up at the airport. He’d trained for a year and travelled a thousand miles across Europe chasing his dream. Tomorrow he’d be back in school to catch up on more important things.
“Isn’t it a long way to travel to paddle for 60 seconds?” I asked him.
“Yes, but I did it,” he said proudly. “Besides, you came way further and didn’t even paddle!”
The kid was right. I didn’t paddle on this trip. There was no dusty Jeep or charging elephants, but I too was travelling the world, chasing my dreams, two Canons hanging from my neck.