Interview With Whitewater Kayaker Todd Wells

It’s been a couple of week’s since we’ve done an interview. Well, the wait was worth it because today I’m bringing you an interview we just did we pro whitewater kayaker Todd Wells. Todd paddles out of the Pacific Northwest but has been all over the world running creeks and rivers most of us have a hard time just looking at. Todd has battled through some serious injuries but is back in the boat going as hard as ever.

My questions are in bold, with Todd’s answers following.

Tell me a little bit about yourself – where are you from, how did you get into kayaking, etc?

I’ve spent my life growing up in the quaint 1000 person town of Trout Lake, WA. With little else to do in this neck of the woods I’ve spent the last 4 years of my life paddling harder and harder whitewater both regionally and internationally. I first started whitewater kayaking with my now 16 year old brother about 4 years ago on our backyard river, the White Salmon. On that river and other local runs we progressed our paddling and together began to pursue more difficult class V rivers as well as bigger and more technical waterfalls.

The Columbia River Gorge is your home base. What do you love about kayaking there? Is there anything missing or something about the area you don’t like?

As a kayaker I couldn’t ask to have grown up in a better location that the Columbia River Gorge. We have Mount Adams to the North and Mount Hood to the South feeding numerous world class rivers and creeks. In the CRG there’s always a class V section of water within an hour that’s running, and if you can ever get board of that you can take a break with the equally exceptional skiing, mountain biking, and kite-boarding. However when I’m not kayaking, living in a town with only 60 students in the high school and more livestock than people can be difficult.

The cover shot of a recent Kayak Sessions Magazine was a photo of you on Summit Creek Falls. That’s got to be good for the ego.

It was definitely sick to see a shot of myself find its way into the mainstream kayak media. Reminiscing about the day that photo was taken brought back some unforgettable memories of our first descent of Summit Creek. Erik Boomer, Evan Garcia, my brother Brendan, and I were sitting on a ridge high above Summit Creek falls, the drop on the cover of Kayak Session. We were all optimistic about the drop being runable, but the small landing zone and proceeding series of rapids kept us plenty nervous. Boomer was first to fire her up and had a solid line. I was next to go and this is when Boomer captured the shot on the cover of Kayak Session. Evan also fired it up and, as usual, had a very steezy line. This was without a doubt one of my favorite days on the river.

You broke your back recently going over 50ft tall Money Drop (the entire story can be read here). Do you have any regrets about running this drop? Has it changed the way you kayak? Any plans to revisit Money Drop and run it again?

I definitely regret running Money Drop the way that I did. On my first lap of the day I went over vertical and was ejected from my boat. On my second lap I was so concerned about having a good line that I didn’t think too much about landing flat and took a powerful stroke at the lip that launched me out over the aerated landing zone with flat angle. Upon my flat landing my body compressed and I fractured my L2 vertebrae. This experience has shown me that in kayaking any lack of focus can have severe consequences, and has made me look at each waterfall from a different perspective. That being said I do want to continue to pursue difficult and tall waterfalls, and I do plan to revisit Money Drop in the future.

Do you have a preference when it comes to whitewater kayaking? Do you like creeking more than river running?

I’ve grown up creeking and, though I always enjoy a day of surfing big waves or paddling a high volume class V river, for me nothing can compete with the sensation of dropping into an un-run creek in the middle of no-where.

What makes the perfect run? Is it a combination of difficulty, water flow, drops, and scenery?

That about sums it up, and making sure that your on the water with a solid group of paddlers will keep each day as good as the last.

Can you see yourself doing anything other than kayaking? Maybe a police officer, accountant or engineer?

I think that whatever my future entails kayaking will be a major part of it. I could never see myself working a 9-5 where kayaking isn’t part of my every day and where extended paddling trips weren’t an option.

Kayaking is unique in that you man your own boat, but always need to run with a partner or group of friends. Do you enjoy the company? Or sometimes do you wish you could go out there alone for a few days and test the waters solo?

I always enjoy the company of other paddlers when I’m out on the water. I think that despite times of tension between a group it’s worth having the accompanying paddlers there to lend you a hand once the shit hits the fan.

What’s your favorite movie, TV show, and music group?

Easy Rider, Vanguard, and Master P.

Where is your dream travel destination – and would you bring your boat with you?

Right now I’m feeling a trip to Southeast Asia, and I would most definitely bring my boat.

Where to next?

I’m going to spend most of my summer here in the Gorge paddling the local goods and making some money for the fall. In the fall I’m planning on going to South or Central America to go to a language school then travel around with a boat and crew looking for quality whitewater. In the fall of 2011 I’m planning on moving to Northern Washington and studying journalism at Western Washington University.

Todd on the magainze cover
Kayak Session Magazine Cover featuring Todd Wells

A video Todd put together

A shot of Todd headed over Money Drop
money drop

Interview With Boulderer Scott Hall

A few days ago I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Hall online and he was nice enough to let me interview him about his love for bouldering. Scott is an established climber, even though it’s not something he picked up until he was in his 20s. I’ve got a great interview where Scott talks about him local bouldering spots, his toughest climbs, and how he gets out of “oh crap” situations. If you want more info, you can find Scott Hall on Vimeo tearing it up. I’m sure he’ll have more videos uploaded when he returns from a trip to Mt. Rainer this month.

Where are you from? Do you have any local bouldering spots that are home for you?
I grew up on a farm in eastern Washington just outside of the diminutive community of St. John (pop. 514). This region’s large fertile rolling hills were great for growing wheat, barely and lentils but lacked any significant geological features for rock climbing. However, this isn’t to say that Washington doesn’t have any rock; it’s just that I had to travel many hours to find it. The local bouldering spots for the state are Leavenworth, Goldbar and Index. I now live in Salt Lake City (because I can be bouldering w/n 20 minutes of my doorstep), but still try to get back to Washington to climb at least 3 times a year. In fact, in two weeks I will be climbing Mt. Rainier and then spending a week camping outside of Leavenworth.

How long have you been into bouldering and how did you get started? Was it something you picked up on your own or did your family get you started at a young age?
I have been bouldering now for about 7 years and started while I was attending college at Western Washington University. Growing up encircled by 100 miles of wheat fields meant that I wasn’t able to pursue the passion for climbing until I moved away to Bellingham, WA for college. My evolution through climbing disciplines has been fairly non-traditional as I started out mountaineering at the age of 20 on the volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range. It seems as though most people start climbing in the comfort of a gym, move outside to bouldering, progress to sport climbing, earn the knowledge needed to trad/aid climb and then finally combine these experiences in order to tackle large mountains. I reversed this order and found comfort in the simplicity of bouldering. Stripping away the compounding complexity of mountaineering allowed me to focus on the pure movement of rock climbing and my fascination with doing the most difficult singular moves possible (for me). In its simplest form, bouldering requires no gear.

Have you had any “oh crap” moments while climbing? Like maybe you put yourself into a bad situation and weren’t sure how you’d get out?
I have certainly had instances of “oh crap” while bouldering but they usually revolve around a moment of self doubt… high off the ground… when I’d prefer standing firmly below and looking up at someone else in my position. However, this typically means you need to get your “crap” together and just keep going. A good friend of mine who I started climbing with always used to say “you’ve got to move to climb”… and that is always what I think when have those moments of hesitation. Luckily, I’m kind of a sissy when it comes to really high bouldering so I’m usually pretty safe. I am not a climber that thrives on the thrill of heights… in fact, I’ve always been afraid of heights since I was a kid.

I saw a video of you doing Show of Hands V11. What’s the toughest boulder you’ve climbed? What grade was it?
Grades are an interesting subject in climbing and always a hot topic amongst the opinionated. I’ve found that grades are a good reference for locating problems within a certain difficulty that you’d like to try. Climbing has to be one of the most subjective sports around… a person’s height, ape index (wingspan), the temperature outside, humidity… so many of these factors can cause a problem to be feel +/- up to 3 grades. But grades also motivate and are great for goal setting. With that said, the hardest grade I have climbed is Escape Artist V12 at Moe’s Valley, but for me the toughest climb I have done is Bully V11 in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Do you have a dream rock or climbing destination out there?
The Mandala V12 out in Bishop, CA has always been a dream climb of mine. I remember watching a video of Chris Sharma getting the first ascent before I had even started climbing and feeling inspired. Years after I started climbing I still couldn’t even fathom doing the moves, but now, just being able to feel as though I could do it is such a victory. As for a dream climbing destination I would have to say I would love to go to South Africa… and hopefully I will be next summer!

Are you into any other outdoor sports like kayaking, hiking or snowboarding?
I am into most outdoor sports. I love mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, snowshoeing, rafting etc. Growing up on a farm meant you spent nearly all your time outdoors… which means once you’ve grown up you do the same.

You post a lot of climbs on Vimeo. Do you have any particular interest in film or are you just a shoot and upload kind of guy?
I’m a shoot and upload type of guy. I just like the idea of sharing and inspiring others to climb certain boulder problems. I’ve always loved watching climbing videos because they motivate me to get out and climb. There is something very motivating about watching others succeed.

Ever been bitten by something while on a rock?
Uh, hunger. I have a soft spot in my heart for M&M doughnuts at the Food Ranch near Joe’s Valley, UT. When I boulder there sometimes they are all I can think of… I would say if I have a certain strength when it comes to climbing it is being able to eat doughnuts and cookies and still climb at my potential.

Now for some fun stuff: What’s your favorite movie, TV show and music group?
Movie: Big Trouble in Little China
TV Show: Arrested Development or Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Music Group: can’t name just one… maybe… Modest Mouse, Pink Floyd, Pinback, NOFX, Bruce Springsteen, or Willie Nelson.

What’s next for Scott Hall?
Going bouldering.

Here’s a video and some pictures of Scott in action. Definitely check him out bouldering in Joe’s Valley.

And some pictures:

Dirty Dude V11

Leggo My Eggo V7

Power of Silence V10

Turtle HEad V8