We often forget how much of an impact we can have on children’s lives. Kids grow up to be adults who make decisions and orient their lives based on experiences and influences they had as a child. These adults will as well be influencers and perpetuate this circle. Steven’s love for nature, water and Manitoba is deeply routed in his childhood and a number of adult had a part to play in making the young man one of the most engaged and enthusiastic whitewater paddler and advocate in the province. It all started with his parent’s love for canoe tripping.
“Growing up, my family did a lot of canoe trips. Since I was 3 years old we did, first multi day trip and then every summer after that at least a week or two week trips, mostly in Northern Manitoba or Western Ontario. I guess I started paddling when I was 3. It was a lot of work for my parents to take my brother and I when we were still so young but I’m glad they did.”
From a young age, Steven learned to love and respect nature and he’d always look forward to summers to leave with his family and explore. He was in 9th grade when his computer science teacher brought whitewater in the picture. The first class, he asked all the students to talk about what they had done during the summer as an ice breaker. Steven talked about his canoe trip in Caribou Provincial Park and it didn’t take more for a connection to start forming.
“My teacher, Monsieur Lemoine, was big into canoeing and also a whitewater paddler so he took a liking to me from the start. His presentation to the class, after all the kids told their story, was also about canoe tripping and had a picture of him surfing a big wave at Sturgeon Falls. I think from that day forward, after class, we’d always talk about paddling. I’d show maps of our trips, he’d talk about his, we’d share stories, that sort of things. Slowly it transitioned to me asking him about kayaking and whitewater in Manitoba.”
Steven’s interest was rising. Whitewater was always something that interested and fascinated him. During his family trips, his brother and him would often swim the rapids and play at the bottom of the waterfalls that they had to portage. He’d enjoy sending sticks down them to see if they’d make it down. It was those memories that he’d recall when the stories of Monsieur Lemoine’s whitewater kayaking trips fired up his imagination. He decided to start going to the pool’s winter sessions to learn kayaking techniques. He also watched tons of videos online. By the time spring came, he was ready.
“It was quite a while ago but I remember the first time really well. It was that first summer after spending a winter learning in the pool. I was so invested in kayaking at that point, I already had a boat, and all. I think even if it had went badly, I would have kept on going. It was on the Whitemouth river, pretty easy and straightforward. There are three rapids over a couple kilometres. It took us the day although now it takes me 20 minutes to do that run! I still love going to that river. Wether it’s big scary whitewater or chill rapids, it’s all the same, it’s always a good time.”
From that moment on, Steven’s excitement for paddling hasn’t stopped growing and so have his skills. Within seven years, he went from a freestyle enthusiast, wanting to try out all the tricks he’d see in the videos, to an avid explorer. When he started kayaking, most of the Manitoba kayaking crew was at least double his age. A lot of them were not paddling as often and although they were skilled, didn’t have the interest to go explore wild rivers.
“Paddling in Manitoba kind of plateaued in a sense. There were 3-4 locations and we just kept going back there. I wish to step it out as far as I can take it. I want to incorporate the aspect of exploring. To me, running a waterfall that has been ran by thousands of people is cool but I want to take it elsewhere. Especially in Manitoba because it has a special place in my heart and there is a lot more potential for things that haven’t been done before due to the lack of paddlers here.”
In the recent years, there have been an increase in new whitewater enthusiasts and Steven wants to bank on that to develop and show Manitoba’s true potential. He has been active in the community taking people out, always eager to get out. He also got his instructor certification to be able to help take the sport to another level.
“I enjoy passing on what I have been taught and what I have learned to the new paddlers. Improving the overall paddling skills in Manitoba is beneficial for everyone. If everyone is paddling better and safer it’s better and help progress the sport in the province. I really enjoy teaching. It’s awesome to pass on the skills, the knowledge but also pass on that excitement and that stoke.”
That enthusiasm is contagious. It was passed on from his parents and his teacher to him and he tries his best to pass it along. He wants as many as possible to enjoy the thrill that whitewater brings and discover the beauties of Manitoba’s wilderness. One would think that being busy with work and University takes a toll on his ability to spend time out there but it’s more the other way around. Steven can’t imagine his life now without his favourite outlet.
“How would I go to school without going kayaking is the right question. There is such an atmosphere of business and stress there. I find my classes interesting but I need to get out of campus and find my escape. I feel bad for those people that don’t have that. Mid-week, driving out of the city to the banks of the Bird, getting to that location and being immersed in the bush away from it all is perfect. If I go a week without it, I feel off, I don’t feel quite the same. I need that.”
It seems that what he calls his addiction to kayaking is what keeps him grounded and on the right track. Let’s hope he stays on that path because the small percentage of Manitoba’s wilderness we had the chance to explore is stunning and differs greatly from the images we are being fed. As Bartley Kives, the author of A day tripper’s guide to Manitoba, puts it, “the only thing flat about Manitoba is the Trans-Canada Highway” and that’s what Steven wants everyone to discover, one river at a time.