RAW HERO ~ Interviewing Paul Teasdale. by Mike Toughill

Sometimes your action heroes are really cool on the big screen; friendly and warm and REAL. Then you meet that person in real life, and the letdown when you see them be unfriendly, self absorbed, or just thin characters with no depth of humanity is awful, and threatens to undermine your faith in the ideal of a hero. 
Then you meet a real hero. That kind of light shines from within. So I introduce you to one of mine, the mighty Zambezi’s very own Paul Teasdale, founder of RAW ADRENALINE and a fellow proud DBP Admin. 

DBP: Many reading along will never get the opportunity to set foot in Africa. Can you describe your home and river community?
PT: I live in Zimbabwe, smack bang in the middle of Southern Africa. The economic environment here is a bit sketchy. We suffered 10 years of extreme hyperinflation that really had a huge impact on local businesses and industry. When the inflation got to a ridiculous level at the end of 2008 our government scrapped our local currency and adopted the U.S. Dollar. So now we trade completely in U.S. dollars, and although this has curbed the rate of inflation to some extent, our country still has a major liquidity crisis that holds it back from returning to it’s  former glory. This makes the business environment extremely difficult; as a result we have an extremely high unemployment rate. 
As for the river community, well it’s a little sad to say that although we have one of the greatest rivers on the planet, we have very very few paddlers and even less recreational paddlers. The kayakers we have are nearly all safety boaters and river guides that do it as a means to put food on the table. I think it would be a lot if I had to say that there are probably less than 20 active recreational paddlers in the country. 

There are a few factors that contribute to this, the main one being that it is expensive to paddle the Zambezi as a local recreational paddler. The river is highly regulated by the National Parks Authority, and anyone without a river guide’s  licence is required to pay a river usage fee of $5 per day ($10 if you are not local). For a country where people in management positions earn around $1000 per month, this becomes a lot of money. On top of this, anyone that does not hold a Zambezi River guide’s licence is not allowed on the water without a licensed guide. At $50 per day for a guide this starts to become prohibitive, and often the only option is to tag along with commercial trips. To do this you have to already be a competent paddler, making entry into the sport almost impossible. So beyond the commercial rafting aspect of the Zambezi the paddling community is exceptionally small, but we don’t let that hold us back.

Apart from the Zambezi, Zimbabwe also has some incredible creeking in the Eastern Highlands that very few people have had the privilege of paddling. I’ve only paddled them once, as the logistics are pretty hectic and again becomes pretty expensive if you don’t have a few paddlers to spread the cost.
 
DBP: Your home stretch is the Mighty Zambezi… Wow! This river has held my fascination for many years… Describing such a powerful force of nature in words is totally inadequate. Rather, can you give us an impression of the feeling of being buried in the depth of the gorge?

PT: The Batoka gorge is honestly my happy place. There is something so magical about it that I cannot even begin to explain. The power of the river beneath coupled with the majesty of the gorge walls on either side bring an incredible sense of perspective to me. It’s a weird oxymoron, finding significance in my complete insignificance. Realising I am all and nothing at the same time. The only way I can really describe it is a sense of belonging, peace, pure joy.
DBP: How will the damming affect you and your community? Is it a done deal?

PT: The Dam will break my heart. All of my river buddies will lose their jobs and an entire industry will collapse. It is so so tragic. The gorge is also a nesting site for several species of rare birds of prey like the Taita Falcon and these nesting sites will be submerged forever. From an ecological point of view the dam is an absolute travesty. Whether it happens or not, well, that is impossible to comment on as our authorities change ideas and policies and laws and everything all the time depending on what suits the purse.

DBP: RAW Adrenaline. I admire you greatly for the vision behind the mission. Open up and tell the world what it’s all about.
PT: Raw Adrenaline is a community of Adventure sports enthusiasts not unlike DBP. We have a very strong belief that the only way to succeed is to help and empower others. To facilitate the success of another athlete is the quickest way to find your own success. RAW is a state of mind and way of living more than anything else. So far we have 24 official athletes around the world that have been chosen primarily for their passion and the way they live their lives through their sports. We celebrate and care about this “passion” more than any other attribute and although some of our athletes have achieved amazing things in competitions and in their sporting careers, this is not our primary concern. RAW represents loving life and living to the fullest and being the best you that you can be and that is what we look for in a RAWHero/RAWShero. It’s all about spreading the love.

 
DBP: You kayak and push rubber, and recently river boarded. What gets you high about each, and which wins your heart?

PT: To be honest pushing rubber is not really my thing…so I will skip to the next one. I have only river boarded on the Zambezi and the Kaituna…two completely different rivers. On the Zambezi, it’s fun to catch the big surf waves on a board but going down river is mostly just tiring. On the Kaituna I was under the influence of (DBP Admin) Mike McVey, so the main motivation was to run Tutea Falls on the boards. It was pretty rad going over the waterfall but the run up to that was a bit gnarly with my knees and ankles taking a pounding on the rocks. 

Kayaking has my heart. There is nothing else like it on the planet. Of all the extreme sports I do or have participated in there is no sport that simultaneously terrifies, exhilarates, and excites me more than kayaking. It’s like dancing with water.

DBP: You’ve also had the opportunity to run some very famous high quality stretches of whitewater abroad over the last few months. Which one was your favorite?
PT: To ask me which is my favourite river is like asking a parent which is their favourite child. Each river has a uniqueness, its own soul. They all have different lessons to teach us and each carry us in their own special way.
DBP: You started relatively late in life on the path of dirtbag kayaker, at age 28. I can relate. I came to boating many years ago at age 27. I remember thinking, “why didn’t I try this before?” I was instantly addicted. It’s very inspirational to hear about later starts in the framework of the boating community. We need more examples like you, people who took up the sport and progressed rapidly. Share please the story of your beginnings.
PT: In 2012 my good friend Dylan Bennet and I founded RAW Adrenaline while we were sitting around tired of having nothing to do in our sleepy town. We both had a background in adventure sports, very different backgrounds, and decided to put our limited skills together to create something that could bring our sports to the people of our town and try get more people to enjoy the outdoors. Dylan and I both had some climbing background but I also had a background in SCUBA and he worked for years as a video boater and safety kayaker on the Zambezi. I had never even seen a rapid at this stage and Dylan spent a lot of time trying to o convince me to try kayaking. Truth be told, I wasn’t really interested, and since the nearest river was over 400km away I kinda just shrugged it off.  Then in February 2013 we organised a club trip to the Zambezi to go whitewater rafting. I had no idea what to expect, and if I am completely honest I was terrified. I remember walking down the gorge for the first time thinking to myself “what the hell am I doing here”. Going towards the first rapid my heart was in my throat and I was doing my best to contain the fear so the ladies on the raft couldn’t see how scared I was. 
After that I was immediately hooked. I loved every second of it. Another ex guide on the raft noticed how much I was loving it and asked me if I wanted to put a raft team together with him to race in the Zambezi River Festival that October. In a moment of madness I turned around and said “No bro, I’m gonna kayak in that festival”. Bold statement seeing as at that point I had never even sat in a kayak before. 

That afternoon when we got back to the lodge I commandeered a buddy’s kayak and after about an hour I had my roll nailed in the pool. Unfortunately we had to go back to our hometown the next day. As soon as I got home I ordered my first boat, a Fluid Nemesis, and from there spent every available moment practicing my roll in the pool. A month later Dylan decided I should get my first Zambezi experience. The water was really high and gnarly and I spent that first run having some mean swims and crazy downtime. I remember telling Dylan that maybe kayaking isn’t my thing. But when I got back to town my stubborn determination kicked in and I refused to be beaten. 
Unfortunately we had to return home and the river closed for high water season. It wasn’t until August that I could get back on the river. So for the next couple of months I just spent as much time in the pool as possible trying to bombproof my roll.

In August 2013 I had my first run from rapid 1 to 19, the full 1 day section of the Zambezi. Although it wasn’t glamorous, I managed to stay in boat. Let’s just say I had a detailed view of nearly every rapid from underneath. A combination of stubbornness and good lungs let me get through without a swim. Then in October the Zambezi River Festival happened, and although I obviously didn’t feature, I managed to get through and have an awesome time and learn a lot from the “real kayakers” that attended. Since then I haven’t looked back and the rest is history.
 
DBP: And now look! You were offered a spot training with Africa’s best freestylers on the Nile Rivera few months back. How high was your stoke?
PT: Ah man! What a privilege! This was the opportunity of a lifetime and somewhat undeserved. I didn’t sleep for ages after getting the email that I had been selected. Honestly it was a dream come true. The camp was an amazing opportunity to learn but also a great platform to strategise and discuss ways to develop freestyle kayaking in our home countries and hopefully get more African representation on an international level. I can’t wait to start working with our local paddlers and helping to bring the young up and coming athletes onto the international level. Sam, Dane and Beth did an amazing job organising this initiative and really inspired my buddies and I. Unfortunately, a shoulder dislocation on day four put me out of the competition but I still learned a lot and achieved all my goals while I was there. Thanks again to Dane, Sam and Beth! 
DBP: You’ve had some amazing paddling partners over the last few months! Drop a few lines about these fellas.
PT: Dude! I can’t even believe some of the peeps I have had the opportunity to hang out with. That is one of the things I love most about kayaking. Even the best most accomplished boaters still have time for the “little guys”. It is such a humble sport.
Ben Marr- Ben is probably the most relaxed kayaker I have ever met. Such an incredibly accomplished individual but so unassuming. I had the privilege of spending a day paddling with him and (DBP Admin) Serkan Konya on the Zambezi. I don’t think I have ever seen someone run that river in such a laid back and chilled manner. Truly an inspirational boater and an exceptional human being.

Sam Ward – Sam’s dedication to his craft is awe inspiring. He has broken down freestyle kayaking into a fine science and as a result is an incredible teacher. Anyone that has the opportunity to learn from or train with Sam should grasp it with both hands. Sam is also an amazing individual and his outlook on life is one of pure integrity. Thanks for everything Sam! Sam has a kayak school on the Nile called Kayak the Nile and also has a business called Love It Live It. Do yourself a favour and spend some time with this guy!
Dane Jackson-  Spend twenty four hours with this guy and it will become clear why he is the world champion. Dane eats, sleeps and breathes kayaking. I have never seen anyone that can’t wait to get on the water every moment of every day. I have never seen someone eat so fast just because it is cutting into his paddling time. On top of this Dane is humble, helpful and generally just a good dude. He is gonna be around and dominating for a long time I think, and he totally deserves any success that comes to him.

Serkan Konya- There are some people that when you meet them you immediately know you have a friend for life. Literally seconds after meeting this dude I knew we were gonna get on like a house on fire. Serkan came and spent a week with me in Victoria Falls and I don’t think I have laughed so much in my life. The dude is just fun to be around and has a great attitude towards life. 
 
Shane Raw- Shane is a very solid individual. He has probably been the most encouraging and supportive to me in my short kayaking career. I am very proud to call him a friend and equally stoked to have him always there to swing my ideas by. He has become a really important part of the core RAW team and has been quite instrumental in its development. We have a few interesting things planned for this year so watch this space!

Tyler Bradt- Last year I had the honour of helping film Tyler running the Zambezi minus rapids with Shane. Tyler and Ben Marr have very similar characters. Really chilled and stoked to paddle with whoever shares the love. It’s an attitude that seems to permeate the whitewater community. Watching Tyler and Shane in action and feeding off of each other was pretty incredible.

Mike McVey- Early this year I met up with Mike on the Kaituna. We paddled together for a couple of days and was just really good fun. Mike is an incredibly brave river boarder and managed to convince myself and Stewart Dempsey to run the Kaituna with him. Mike also led me down my first run of the Wairoa. I was pretty nervous but Mike really instilled confidence in me with the amazing way in which he is able to clearly explain the lines. His understanding of whitewater is really quite incredible. I have all the time in the world for this dude and hope to paddle with him a lot more in the future. 

Gage Laughton- Ah Gage ! My favourite kayaker! I unfortunately didn’t actually get to paddle with the little legend but did go for a drink with him and Lee. There is something incredibly inspiring about the way kids embrace things they are passionate about. We can all learn an important lesson from kids like Gage. To do what we love for the love of it. Purely for the passion. Not to get caught up in trying to outdo ourselves or others or push limits for the sake of it. Gage, I wish you all the success in life and boating little bro, and will be following your progress all the way. Hope to get to paddle with you soon dude.
DBP: You also capture so amazing photos, and have developed a unique style of editing your images. Your work has an inspirational quality that goes beyond the images to convey broad ideals on life and passion. What’s your favorite 3 shots?
PT: Thank you very much, that is very high praise. What I have noticed about my pics is that you either love them or hate them and the split seems to be almost 50/50 ha ha! Also, real photographers tend to hate them. I like to think that I edit my pics to try and express how the moment felt to me. They may be a little surreal but the emotions that some of the locations invoke in me give me that sort of surreal feeling and I try to convey that in the pics. 
As for favourite pics…well that’s a bit like favourite river…each one is a memory of a special unique moment for me and cannot be compared to any of the others. But here are a couple anyway….
DBP: Paul, much love for you and all you’re accomplishing, brother! I look forward to seeing you in the States soon… Or maybe Africa! We all will be following along in the meanwhile. Got any last words for the worldwide dirtbags?
PT: In any encounter with another human being, always endeavour to leave that person with more not less. If we all adhere to this single philosophy I believe the world will be a better place…….and when given the choice….always CHOOSE AWESOME !

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