“You’re always seeking that perfect moment, that perfect run,” says Nouria Newman. “It’s the thing I like the most about slalom, and it’s also the most frustrating.”
I ask her what it feels like when that perfect moment happens.
“It never really does,” Newman answers, but later mentions that she catches glimpses of it now and then on a training run. “It’s…it’s a lot like dropping a waterfall,” she says.
The comparison isn’t one most people can relate to, but it makes sense coming from Newman, a rare link between the ultra-competitive European slalom scene and the cool kid crowd of creeking and extreme races.
Not just anyone can bridge that gap, but in 2014 Newman trained for and made the French national slalom team, competed in 15 slalom competitions, notched off the first full female descent of the class V Grand Canyon of the Stikine River and won the Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship, all while working through a master’s degree, traveling the globe and nursing an injured shoulder.
When I ask her what she considers the biggest accomplishment of the year, she hesitates. “It’s hard to measure an accomplishment,” she says. “I’m probably most proud of just looking at what I like to do and really going for it without thinking about the result.”
It’s not something I can imagine many slalom competitors saying. In fact, in a recent interview, Newman told me about her pre-race ritual of sitting in her boat, eyes closed, visualizing each and every gate, boof and stroke, picturing the results with precision.
The fast friends, meet-you-at-the-put-in vibe of the river running world is in sharp contrast to the training regime of slalom’s elite. People have their eyes on the 2016 Rio Olympics. It’s competitive, on and off the water, and Newman enjoys interspersing that intensity with other adventures.
“In creeking even if you compete, you don’t really care,” she says. “You just care about having your friends safe at the bottom of the course.”
It’s not that Newman doesn’t have her eye on Rio, it’s just that she’s not willing to make it her one and only goal.
“I don’t do slalom because I want to go to the Olympics. I do slalom because I like it,” Newman says. “If I make it my main goal, I wouldn’t be true with myself and with what I want to do with kayaking.”
She explains this with another analogy revealing of her deep immersion in all things kayaking. “When I went to the Stikine, I never planned to run Site Zed,” says Newman—it’s the river’s notorious crux, a rapid no one touched until Ben Marr’s 2012 descent. But as she stood there scouting, everything fell into place. “I had a good crew. I saw the line. I was feeling good,” she says.
The descent put her run in the record books and left us with a question we’re always asking when it comes to Newman: what will she do next?
As it turns out, she’s wondering the same thing.
“You have this little voice in your head, that’s like ‘sweet, it’s all good to go,’” says Newman. It’s taken her a long time to tune into it, she says, but she plans to listen to that voice as she decides what to do next.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Rapid magazine.