Making the Best of Life Lessons

Scouting the Lower Cheakamus with Mount Alpha in the back

Scouting the Lower Cheakamus with Mount Alpha in the back

My second season living as a raft guide in BC was kind of same, same. I moved to Whistler instead of Squamish to be closer to The Cheakamus and the Callaghan, while I still worked in Squamish, but other than that, not much changed. Big mountains, cold rivers, insanely fun rapids, wood in the river, short kayaking trips to the USA, a lot of good times with crazy friends, a lot of work, epic scenery, insanely long drives that don’t feel that long anymore, annoying gravel roads, my dog Pipi and a lot of kayaking. And an overwhelming amount of it. It sounds crazy but it can get too stressful when there are so much fun things to do around. I find it hard to organize well and just want to do it all at the same time and I couldn’t have done it without help of my lovely and far less messy girlfriend Ana and our freaky roommates and friends.

I moved to New Zealand for the south summer and I’m glad all that chaos is behind me. Looking back I’m super proud of spending almost 40 days on the Ashlu, did 2 big trips to the Washington state and one to the Eastern BC and one to interior BC. My teenage brother Jurij came to visit me and even though BC was his first time creeking, we managed to come in second on the Callaghan team creek race. It was one of my proudest moments ever. At the same time we lost Jurij’s father and my step father Bojan to cancer. He was a long time president of Slovenian Kayaking Federation and the reason we both started kayaking. Even though he hasn’t kayaked for ages, he had an unbelievable passion for this sport. Enjoying such an awesome sport and a lifestyle and sharing it with my brother was a great gift he left us with. He will be missed and never forgotten.

In the meantime, I am back to New Zealand after 4 years, doing the same old, rafting and kayaking. The amount of friends I have and the experiences I have had all over the world because of this sport and this lifestyle is something that I see as a blessing. And being four years older than the last time I paddled the Kaituna, the biggest thing that has changed is me becoming a way better kayaker (in this sport there is always space for improvement) and especially a richer and better person. And yes, there is always space for improvement in this area too.

With my girlfriend Ana and my brother Jurij after the Callaghan race.

With my girlfriend Ana and my brother Jurij after the Callaghan race.


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A short but sweet kayakin trip to Colombia

Andrej Bijuklic in a Suarez canyon

Andrej Bijuklic in a Suarez canyon

Our van from the outside

Colourful Bogota alley

Colourful Bogota alley

There is something about kayaking being such a big part of my identity that is making me have a very ambiguous relationship to winter. I’m spending this northern hemisphere winter in Whistler and while most people here can’t wait to do an annual (seasonal sports) transition, I find myself having trouble letting go of kayaking, even though I really love snow and skiing. It starts getting better fast for me after New Year and I soon find myself back in the boat, even though it is cold, but the end of the year is also characterised by very short days, low water levels and low (kayaking) motivation.  Hence I tend to break the winter down by traveling somewhere warm and sunny. I have been doing it each year for the last 7 years, give or take, except for the last winter. I spend the whole last winter in Slovenia and I had an awesome time skiing most of the days. I still found myself feeling a bit incomplete after the season for not pursuing my annual kayaking migration. I wasn’t going to do the same mistake again this year.

I love the trips me and my friends do only in part for kayaking. It is mostly the new environment and an intense cultural experience that make these trips so unforgettable. I love all the places I visited in the past and I would like to visit most of them again, but there is so much more left to see in this world, that I don’t really care what a general consensus from the rest of the crew is, as long as it is a new place for me. Last second change from Costa Rica to Columbia? No problem for me, I was still equally excited. After years of kayaking with same people you learn who likes to organise what, you learn to trust your buddies, you learn that too many heads can mean too much thinking and in general, that things normally work out. I wisely let everyone else come up with a plan this time.

Because I had some other obligations I was joining the rest of the crew about ten days later this time, so we just discussed about where and when we were about to meet. One of the biggest issues for kayakers travelling is always his/her kayak. You’re very immobile and dependent of others and I don’t even want to begin to write about all the hassles involved with air travel.  Landing in Bogota around midnight is not a good thing for a kayaker. I was forced to take an overpriced van that could fit my kayak in, which then took me to a horribly overpriced hotel, where I had to wait till next morning to take a bus to Medellin. It sometimes seems that people see you as a walking ATM and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Not being involved in the planning, I wasn’t aware there was going to be around 10 kayakers taking part of this expedition. Oddly, I knew them all from before and I was really happy to see I was going to spend the next few weeks with friends from Slovenia, France, Argentina, USA and Canada. They had just returned from two first descent missions and they looked like they returned from a war zone. Cuts, bruises, bug bites, infected spider bites, exotic viral and bacterial infections plagued our trip from their start and even after some got back home. I’ve learned that a jungle is often scarier than rapids. And let me tell you, Colombia has some world-class hard-core white water. I experienced two of my worst high water swims ever in just three weeks. I crave for more of Columbian warm climate big water kayaking.

What about people, culture, cities and nature? I can honestly say that Columbia’s nature is amazing. But of course it is in its own way almost all around the world. What makes it more interesting and exotic for someone like me is that you can expect mostly jungle and some desert, dependant on what part of the country you go to. It normally doesn’t get too hot in the high parts of Cordilleras.

I dare to criticise the level of water pollution, which deeply saddens me. But I would be a fool if I tried to make sense of my cultural experience there and if I tried to write about Columbians. Three weeks are hardly enough to scratch the surface and I have been left with a rainbow of extraordinary memories. I saw what I thought were the beautiful and the ugly sides of it. As a kayaker you’re more likely to venture to places that weren’t meant for the tourists’ eyes. And keep in mind that not all areas are safe to travel and that there might be mine zones next to the rivers. But in general, I have been left amazed, interested and in the end very content with my experience. Columbia is big, diverse and rich in every sense that matters and I strongly advise kayakers or non-kayakers to visit it.

Thanks to all that made this experience as good as it was: Andrej Bijuklič, Ben Marr, Eric Parker, Erik Šturm, Fabian Bonanno, Igor Mlekuž, Jernej Mlekuž, Jules Domine, Todd Wells, Carlos and Casa Kiwi crew.

As we’ve just entered the New Year, I’d like to thank all my sponsors for their help in the past year. Especially Palm gear (with Dagger Europe) and Ophion paddles literally kept me afloat. You can find these great brands that are managed by great people in Alpin Action store in Slovenia or check their websites for your local dealers. Thank you Shred Ready (System X) for my helmet.  I wish all the kayakers safe and experience rich 2014.

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Squamish Sunset

Squamish landscape

Squamish1 214

As the saying says, British Columbia provides. It is one of world’s best destinations for kayaking and the season here is extra long. But when I think about what I remember the most about the last five months that I spent in BC I must say the beautiful wild nature. When I went to work, when I went kayaking and when I got back home I was always surrounded by magnificent glacier covered mountains, dense forest, clean creeks and lots of wild animals. You don’t even have to go out of towns like Squamish or Whistler to see a bear, coyote or a Bald Eagle.  All this beauty was the first thing to comfort me when I first arrived to Squamish. I had just spent a month of kayaking in warm cloudless spring weather before that and as soon as I got to Squamish it started to rain. I had no car, no kayaking crew, it was cold outside and it made me start to wonder what I was doing there. A kayaker without a car in BC isn’t much of a kayaker. But after a week or two I bought a car, made some new friends and started to realise that I was living in paradise.

A raft guiding and safety kayaking job on the Elaho and Cheakamus rivers kept me busy through most of the days but unlike most similar jobs we always finished working before 16.30, which meant I had enough time to go kayaking after work. The Callaghan River is normally the best option for after work run in springtime and early summer. It is an amazing mix of class 4-5 rapids and some fun waterfalls, a truly great home run if you live in the area. Unfortunately it is under threat for a hydro power plant diversion. You can read more about the issue in a blog I published at my Palm Blog page.

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Good things in life (my time in White Salmon)

The Columbia Gorge

The Columbia Gorge

I know you shouldn’t look back too much, but I do miss living in Bovec. I miss the great view out of my window, I miss knowing most of the town and the privilege of kayaking Soča River whenever I felt like it, even if I was alone. I am currently caught in the chaos of adjusting into life and work in Squamish.  Buying a phone, a car and just getting to work is all making me trouble.  So I sometimes drift and think about the past month. I wrote about the incredibly good time I had in Bovec in my Palm blog (LINK). But I guess all of that stuff is necessary evil anywhere you go for a longer term, so I’m going to stop complaining and write more about the amazing time I had in White Salmon.

The transition to North America couldn’t have been smoother, I felt like I came to paradise from paradise. Almost two weeks of great weather and water levels in Slovenia were topped by two weeks of cloudless happy time in Columbia Gorge. I like those trips when you just travel from one river to another almost every day, but it feels like I got so much more out of staying in White Salmon for more than two weeks straight. And it is all due to my friend Max Blackburn and the amazing local kayaking community. I met Max in 2011 in Chile, where we became kayaking, dinner and party buddies.  This time he took a father role and did an amazing job of showing me around. He took me to the prettiest and the dirtiest of the area and introduced me to so many good people, that I spent a good time of my first few days trying to memorise all of their names. Living in a scenic place has its advantages, but I guess it really is people what’s most important. And I met some of the most polite and friendly people there in general. Not to mention the biggest top class kayaking community I’ve met anywhere before.  Most of these aren’t originally from the area though, they came to live there from all over the USA and there’s a good reason for that.

OK, the landscape is stunning, the people are awesome, but what about the kayaking? In more than two weeks of living there I didn’t feel a need to do anything else than the two jewels of the area. Little White Salmon is pure magic, it seems like a river out of a fairy tale and it’s a must do for everyone who’s passionate about extreme kayaking and extreme nature beauty. White Salmon River offers, on the other hand, a bit of a walk on the dark side, if you dare. Big water Farmlands and the Green Truss sections are full of dangerous big rapids, packed into a narrow, wood infested gorge. There’s not much place for an error and you especially don’t want to swim on the biggest of the rapids there.  Each time I did the Green Truss it felt like a committing and daring mission.

Spirit Falls rail grab - I love this move. A tribute to the time before "Brown".

Spirit Falls rail grab – I love this move. A tribute to the time before “Brown”.

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Soča Valley Extreme Kayaking: Soča Katarakt, Lower Tolminka and Učja

Soča Katarakt is an extreme kayaking classic. With swift development of kayaking in the recent years, this section doesn’t present a demanding run for a contemporary high-end kayaker, but it is still notorious and feared for its numerous dangerous siphons.
The Katarakt video was shot in November 2012, right after some of the biggest floods this valley has had in the last century. This section has been known to change often after the floods or avalanches and so it has changed in November. Those who know the section might notice some new lines and even rapids in this video, while the changes are more evident in the low water.
There are numerous Soča tributaries and near-by rivers in the area, but most are only runnable by kayak after heavy rain. Tolminka and Učja are the most beautiful and also most demanding ones. They are long, dangerous and especially Tolminka is in some parts only less than a meter wide. Both of these descents were shot in 2011, probably at a record-high water level. I ran out of batteries at about a half of Tolminka descent, so the narrowest and most breath-taking part, the Tolminka Gorge, isn’t in the video. There is, however, something what could be called a bonus shot. At one point we ran into a complete tree blockade of one of its gorges, which demonstrates how dangerous descents after heavy rain can be. I only hardly stopped before running into it (and probably into my death), thanks to the last second warning of my mates. We improvised to get over the obstacle, which probably wasn’t the smartest idea, as we didn’t know what waited for us behind it, knowing that we had to go one by one, with some of us having to swim through the gorge. Luckily, we all made it through.

All the music has been made by Slovenian artists listed below and I don’t hold any rights to it. If you like the music, check the artists’ other work.

Thanks to all the buddies for some of the best times I have ever had!
Thanks to all the sponsors for keeping me well equipped and making it overall possible!

EDIT: Andraž Krpič

KAYAKERS: Andraž Krpič, Andrej Bijuklič, Jernej Mlekuž, Igor Kozorog, Igor Mlekuž.

*MELODROM — Counting Days (Raingarden rmx)
*GRAMATIK — Muse – Knights Of Cydonia (Remix)
*GRAMATIK — Born Ready
*TIDE — Evolution

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Adidas Sickline by Tony Demarco

Sickline by Tony Demarco 1Sickline by Tony Demarco 2Sickline by Tony Demarco 7Sickline by Tony Demarco 8Sickline by Tony Demarco 5Sickline by Tony Demarco 4
Sickline by Tony Demarco 3Sickline by Tony Demarco 6
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Učja kayaking


Učja kayaking, a set on Flickr.

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Wellerbrucke before Sickline

Here’s a short slo-mo video I made of the Wellerbrucke a few days before the Adidas Sickline competition. The waterlevel is high this year and the changes to the course have made the run more demanding but more fun as well. Especially the hole before the Champion killer is fun to stay at as it offers some great quality carnage. You can see Eric Jackson getting stuck in it in the middle of the video. Enjoy!

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Work, work, Switzerland and some great new gear

September is here and I finally have some time to breathe. Unfortunately that’s how it is if you work in the water-sports business: Half a year you complain about not having enough work and when the season starts there’s not much time for anything else but work. If I had been constantly stressed out because I had been working without break for who knows how many days in a row until a week or two ago, I’m already a bit worried because there aren’t many tourists left in the Soča valley.

This year I mostly tried myself out as a rafting photographer and it had a great effect on my straightforward kayaking time. I must say I loved chasing the rafts and trying to be as fast as possible. Though this job has a downside to it, which is stressing out while trying to sell the pictures before the next trip starts.

Before the peak season I only managed to do one serious summer kayaking trip to Switzerland but the best thing for me was that I got to do it in a new Palm kit. I’m really excited that one of the most active and innovative kayak gear producers decided to trust me and offer me a sponsorship deal after I quit Duemstuff. I especially like my Spark immersion suit which is lightweight, sleek and just perfect for the very active and fast paddling style descents that we normally do. Thanks also to Shread Ready and System X, who sponsored me a helmet, which I really enjoyed working in even in the hottest days, while we all know they’re hardcore enough for the toughest kayaking missions.

I had a great deal with Positive Sport, that supplied me with Pyranha kayaks for years but after my second only a few months old Burn cracked, even though I mostly paddled class 2 for work, I decided it was time for a change. Luckily Palm crew helped me again by suggesting a new Dagger Mamba. I sometimes paddled my bosses old Mamba and I really loved the control it offered me on big water but I wasn’t  too keen on taking it on steeper creeks as its hull seemed too flat and rigid to offer full agility on the rocks. And then came the day when I tried the new Mamba 8.0. I was absolutely blown away by how fast, responsive and in all amazing the new model is. It seemed a little too small for me so I ordered the 8.6 version. “This seems more like a ship than a boat,” I thought to myself after first seeing it. It is by far the biggest boat I have ever decided to paddle but I enjoy every second of paddling it – normally three times per day. Even though I only weight 72 kg and I’m quite small I have full control of it and I’m really looking forward to taking it down the hardest rapids. Its hull is more rounded than Burn’s and it is really stable in all positions. I feel really comfortable in it and the cargo space I gained is impressive as well. Not to mention how easy it became for me to follow the rafts.

The hopes for the autumn are Chile again so me and my friends are trying hard to gather some money to be able to afford it. But the pit stop for me will be the Adidas Sickline. I’m really looking forward to testing the race course again after 2 years – this time equipped with a new and amazing Mamba 8.6.

Check the gallery for some photos of the Switzerland mission. Thanks to the amazing crew of Andrej Bijuklič, Luka Štricelj, Jernej Mlekuž, Matej Grm, Rok Šribar and our super kind local host and an amazing kayaker Thomas Rogenmoser.

Thanks to Alpin Action for support. Follow their poster on the righ fore more info or to purchase the gear I use in an on-line shop.

By the way Pyranha, I can understand that your boats are not made for rocks. But why do you publish promotional videos with people creeking with them?

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I think it is just fantastic to see how technology advancements over the years paved the road for the paddlers themselves to take control of probably the largest piece of the pie of media image of whitewater kayaking.

This sport, seems to me, has always been marginalized in relation to some other extreme sports, like surfing, skating, biking and skiing/snowboarding. It seems a bit unfair, but for whatever the reason, kayaking always lacked good media representations. I have been a kayaker since I was five but I must say that living in Slovenia, where slalom kayaking had always been the world of kayaking, I never learned about the world of creeking, huge rapids, narrow gorges, the waterfalls and the adventures that come with it until I stumbled upon Kayak Session and some old playboating videos a few years back.

Next to these few sources there wasn’t much to learn from. But over the years quality filming and photo equipment gradually became more available to all of us and the internet offered a perfect platform for the kayakers to take the matter into their own hands. The dramatic increase of coolnes and respect that whitewater kayaking connotes over the last few years can in a large amount be blamed on an explosion of cool internet kayaking videos, which are made by kayakers for kayakers. New organizations and production groups are forming rapidly and following the footsteps of “new school” projects like Tribe and it’s Grand Prix especially, which blew most of our minds last year.

I find competitions like KS’s Short Video of the Year Awards a great encouragement to further progression. When I was asked by Philippe of KS why I didn’t enter my video to the competition I replied because it is nothing special. It is only a short video I made to remember the trip and to satisfy the sponsors. And I do have an intention of making a better one just to enter the competition. But he replied that you can enter more than one videos and that the goal is to get more talented video makers to make and publish their products. I believe even though quantity can mean less quality, we could find a hidden jewel among more videos posted. Not many have published their videos since the beginning of the competition so I want to encourage everybody to keep posting and to contribute their piece of the pie. So here’s mine, a bit redone video When Trolls Piss:

When Trolls Piss (Best Short Film of the Year Awards 2012 – Entry #4) from Kayak TV (Kayak Session Mag) on Vimeo.

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