World Paddle Award ceremony is the event that gathers the paddle sport community from around the globe, amongst it some of the most influential individuals in kayaking. At presentation of the Golden paddle Rok Rozman decided to make a speech addressing our community with words that follow:
“Kayaking is all about freedom; freedom of mind, freedom of movement and freedom of spirit, all underlined with freedom of the river. In the last few years, I’ve been getting a feeling that this freedom is somewhat fading away, that our community overlooked the ever so important roots, the roots that make us one of the most honorable outdoor communities. I started kayaking because I felt the river and I saw old guys showing respect to her. No matter what brand and color their equipment, no matter the knowledge and experience they possessed, they were all equal in this whitewater tribe. Solidarity, camaraderie, laughs and drive to explore was what I saw in them. There were no big egos or selfish first descents but a deep respect to the river and always present feeling of gratitude to be able to meet her. It was more about the river than it was about them, and they treated rivers like friends.
I used to be an Olympic athlete in rowing, a sport where you meet the water by putting huge amount of effort in just to go backwards. To some degree, I can say I know how a top level sport looks and feels like from the inside. I know most of the things I just mentioned have no space in a professional athlete’s mind, as there is only space for doing the train-eat-sleep-repeat and going as fast as you can. But this is just a moment in time. Think about those who invented the sport, how did they feel when trying to do all they could. I know kayak slalom too, personally I know some top ranked coaches and kayakers and was even dragged to it some time ago. I have some dear friends in kayak slalom but they all turned their backs on me when I started defending rivers against dams. When they did that I could see a sad look in their eyes and I don’t blame them, they were caught too deep in a cage called professional sport. They are part of a big mechanism that doesn’t care much about anything else but winning and being a star for brands just to make more money. Rivers have become just a substrate for race and it’s even sadder to see, that there is even no need to have a river if you want to have a race. Nowadays, races happen in artificial concrete channels with plastic boulders that make rapids and you have to destroy a real river with a dam to produce electricity to power this artificial flow. Somewhere down this road, we took a wrong turn and it is not too late to turn around and find the right one. But the longer we wait, the longer it will take us to get there. There are not many groups out there that care about the rivers; it is common river lovers, fishermen and us – kayakers. But only we are the ones that possess enough passion to move a mountain, as we tackle the lion every day. Rapids are our home and inspiration no matter which discipline we engage in.
I have a sincere wish that we will be strong enough to come together and overcome money driven decisions and aspects, to look back to the roots and realize how it all began – how the pioneers of our sport, that is more a philosophy than a sport, emerged, to feel their drive to explore the wild and remote places, where the flow rumbles undisturbed, to regain the inquisitive and rebellious spirit kayaking is all about, and to say no to projects and big money that invades our dear Rivers ever so cruel even if this means one logo less on a drytop. I believe we can make it!
A kayaker without the Wild River is like a painter without the canvas.
Let the force be with us!”