Welcome to the WhitewatersFrom The Field
For most people, a waterfall is just a spectacle. But for Adrian Mattern, any waterfall is a challenge he can’t wait to get to grips with. A professional kayaker, Adrian travels the world riding the largest and most ferocious waterfalls he can find. We spoke to Adrian to hear more about his kayaking and his new initiative, SEND.
I started kayaking with my dad at a young age. In my early days I think I had a bit of a ‘huck and pray’ mentality, enjoying the thrill. But as I got older and more experienced, and rode harder rapids and falls, I have become much more calculated. I get great satisfaction out of perfectly executing a ride and not just making it down to the bottom.
When I was 18, I took a gap year to travel to the places throughout the world I most wanted to kayak in. But that was after I nearly gave up kayaking altogether. When I was younger, I had a bad experience when my kayak overturned and got stuck upside down. I thought I was dying. I could get my eyes out of the water but not my nose or mouth – I was so close to breathing, but couldn’t. Panic had fully set in by the time my dad got to me and hauled me out. I wasn’t keen to get back in a kayak after that experience, but, thankfully, I was eventually persuaded. At first I was scared of flipping over again, but I gradually regained my confidence. Although I was back on the water, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to make it as a professional kayaker – so few people ever do. But once I was on my year out, I knew I had to try. And I’ve never looked back!
Going over a waterfall is a feeling like no other. Time slows down, and you feel the slightest change of the current underneath you. You’re hypersensitive to your body movements, tensions and position – even the smallest movement can alter your course. Coming over the lip, you’re kind of on autopilot. You fall, then impact, and once you reappear it feels like you just woke up from a dream. And that feeling is the same for every drop I’ve ever done.
The impact once you’ve gone over the edge is a funny one. Some waterfalls over 30m tall feel like landing in pillows. Others half the height can rock your body pretty good! It all depends on the landing zone, how aerated it is, and what the boils at the bottom are doing. While I’m underwater waiting to resurface, I’m definitely still in autopilot mode, in that dream state. I might try to understand where I am if I know from my preparations that there are dangerous parts of the pool to be avoided, but I do that subconsciously. Active thinking only kicks back in when I resurface.
But active thinking is a huge part of my preparation for any descent. The height is one of the factors that determines how I feel before, during, and after. Risk assessment of the descent and the possible outcomes if things go wrong play a big role in how I experience these things. Huge waterfalls can be relatively easy, and smaller waterfalls can be tricky and dangerous, so they feel different when you’re riding them. I’m all about taking calculated risks. When there is an epic waterfall – which might be a first descent or is substantial for the sport in some other way – I have an easier time understanding and accepting the risk of injury. But when it’s just an ugly rapid or waterfall, or maybe something that has been done a bunch of times already but still has a high risk of injury, then I might step back from it. Even though I am going so hard right now, I want to be in a position in my 60s where I can still go out and kayak any day I want. So I need to take care of my body and decide wisely – and that’s sometimes harder than you think!
At the moment I’m able to make a living through kayaking around the world, playing my role in the sport, and creating footage that inspires people. But I know that the next generation is coming up and in 10 years there are likely to be kids who are much better than me. So, I’ve launched SEND with a few kayaking buddies of mine: Bren Orton, Dane Jackson, and Kalob Grady. I hope to move forward in my career in a supportive role, enabling promising upcoming kayakers to reach their goals with support from SEND. I hope to build SEND as a big standalone brand, eventually producing extreme/outdoor sports movies.
SEND has been such a great venture to be a part of. Bren, Dane, Kalob and I are all from different backgrounds but we all share the same love for kayaking. We do have some differences when it comes to the sport, but we work together like catalysts – everyone has a couple of aspects of kayaking that they are extremely good at, and we can all feed off each other. Creating SEND and kayaking with these boys has been an incredible experience. If there is anything I can take away from the last few years of chasing the dream, it is that if you really, REALLY want to achieve something, just go for it. Throughout dedication and hard work eventually things will work out in your favour. Just keep digging. And SEND IT!