2020 Rider of the Year

Presented by

The official logo of title sponsor Red Bull
Most outstanding female performance in the World of Whitewater Kayaking. The chic with the most progressive year, inspiring us all to push past our current belief of what we think is possible.

Nouria Newman

For an unprecedented 4th year in a row, Nouria is running home with the title Rider of the Year.

Nouria Headshot

It is hard to quantify what it is Nouria does while she is in her kayak, but when you watch her it is easy to see that she is a powerful athlete with a powerful gift and a deep love for kayaking. Unbelievably, she continues to push our sport to new limits setting out on solo expeditions and running first decents in all corners of the world. She is not afraid to get uncomfortable achieving hefty goals she sets for herself just to see what her mind & body are capable of. It is a fortunate time to be a part of the sport, in her era, getting to watch her shamelessly push herself and her limits.

On one of her nominations for rider of the year, Galen Volckhausen wrote, “Not sure I will be able to sum all of the things Nouria has done this year”. We feel the same, and are equally excited to celebrate her.

Quarantine has her stuck in the French Alps, a place she is very fond of, but disappointingly not on a mission to see how many times she can run Spirit in a day, or who she can make crepes for. That said, we were able to snag a few minutes of her time with a Q&A.

WA: Where are you from and where do you live (or would be living despite COVID!)?
NN: I am from France and when I am not traveling I am living either with my mum in the south of France or at my dad’s in the Alps. 

WA: How old are you?
28 !

WA: How many years have you been kayaking?
NN: 23

WA: How did you get into kayaking? 
NN: Like most kids in France I joined the local kayak club. We have an amazing club system. You get a yearly membership which gives you access to some coaching and club gear. 

WA: What keeps you kayaking?
I love it. 

WA: Do you have siblings? Does anyone in your family paddle?
NN: I am an only child, and my dad also started paddling in the club which is rad because him and his friends are the ones who enabled be to maintain a recreational kayaking activity throughout my competition years. 

WA: How many hours of sleep do you get roughly / ideally? Or SLEEP WHEN YOU DIE?!
NN: Depends of water levels. I can go both ways and get sleep depraved for days trying to catch good flows or find waterfalls, but I have also slept for 15 hours straight on a chill multiway with my friend Jo Kemper. 

WA: Favorite food?
NN: That’s a hard one. I can live of bread & cheese, pasta & salads, but I like all kind of good food : pretty much all of the things you cannot find in America (*Except Bill Bradt’s deer stew, Chomp’s wild meet or Louis’s fishes). 

WA: Favorite quote? OR Pickup line?
NN: I am not a huge fan of cheesy quotes. I used to have a few generic quotes for interviews but I only have one real pickup line I tell myself when things get hard : « Don’t be such a fucking pussy ». 

Engano River.
Photo: Ben Stookesberry

WA: What is the most significant feat that stands out in your last year of impressive achievements? Of all your achievements?
NN: My first comeback roll was probably the most impressive achievement, or at least the one I felt the most proud of. I was a tiny 8 year old girl in a pretty big boat and no one expected it. It was really cool. 

2019 was truly amazing. It’s hard to choose one thing because I had it all : multi days & first Ds in Patagonia with Ben and Boomer, many laps on classic stouts for video projects (Norway segment and fav on devil’s slide), long technical lines in Europe and 3 rapids in Tibet, a solid amount of free falling, and going back on a solo expedition was a big one for me. 

But the Chute Cradoc is probably the stoutest of all. That drop is remote and super consequential. It has a rock shelf halfway down, caves behind both curtains, a bad pocket just bellow, and some mank on the exit rapid. But it has a line, it’s tight but it goes. Getting to fire it up, dealing with the technicality of the drop as well as the unknowns of a first D is probably the scariest thing I have ever done. I can’t thank enough the Quebec boys for the safety, the support, the amazing opportunity and for being such awesome friends and the most fun crew to paddle with. Much love les tcheums !  

WA: How many years on the French Slalom Team?
NN: 9 years.

WA: What are your top slalom achievements?
Vice world champion in 2013
Team world champion in 2014
World cups finals (top 10) x5
Junior and U23 medals at European and World Championships

WA: How many first descents do you have?
NN: Unknown. I have not counted and I don’t think I want to. I don’t really know what counts as first descent. If you open up a random day run with an easy road access just because you are in a place where there isn’t many paddler, technically that would be a first D but does it really counts ? When you are opening a new rapid or a drop with a friend, you pick who goes first at the top with a good old paper, scissor, rock at the top, both paddlers get the first descent or just the first one ? Then can you really compare getting a first D on a full new river, or just adding a new section to something that has already been run, or opening a rapid or a waterfall. It’s all so relative. And the worst of all are the female first descents, sometimes they are cool and they look good on the yearly recap for sponsors, but they are not first descents, there is no unknown. And the main thing about a first descent is that part of unknown and uncertainty of the outcome. 

WA: How many World Championship titles do you have?
NN: 1 in slalom, 1 in freestyle as a junior and 1 in creeking (Sickline was not considered world championships for women). 

WA: What is a drop / rapid you’ve walked away from in past that you want to check out again?
NN: Triple Drop on the Kern & Scott’s drop but I don’t know if I would run it. 

Photo: Ben Stookesberry

WA: Top 3 rivers?
NN: Stikine, Ldub, Soanna. 

WA: Favorite place you’ve traveled for kayaking? Not for kayaking?
NN: My favorite places to travel for the rivers is the West Coast of the US and Canada. It has so much amazing whitewater. But New Zealand, Chile/Argentina and Quebec have a special place in my heart. Beyond kayaking I love all these places for the people I have met there, for the beautiful friendships, extended family and communities I have there. The important places and the important people. 

WA: Favorite piece of gear?
NN: My Helmet. 

WA: Favorite kind of kayaking, freestyle, creeking, racing, expeditions etc.?
NN: Creeking and expeditions.

WA: Is there a boat that changed the game for you / made the biggest impact on you in your career?
A red and white mini savage. Before that I paddled a fiberglass boat that was slowly decomposing into my skin and which gave me the worst eczema rush. It was so gnarly. Without that switch I would have probably quit kayaking. 

WA: If you could paddle just one boat for the rest of your days?
NN: The Waka Steeze.

WA: Favorite sport other than kayaking?
NN: Skiing.

Scouting a big waterfall on the Ano.
Scouting Rio Balboa Falls, Chile.

WA: One word that describes you?
NN: Barnacle.

WA: Who is an inspiration that you look up to in your life in kayaking? Out of kayaking?
NN: I look up to many people for many different reasons. In and out kayaking I am surrounded by inspiring people. I don’t know if I am seeking the presence of inspirational people, or if I am inspired by the people around me, probably both. 

WA: One thing you give up to paddle at this high of a level?
NN: Stability 

WA: Something unique about you not many people know.. 
NN: I can talk to marmots.

WA: Something you’re really good at that isn’t kayaking.
NN: Getting lost and loosing things.

WA: Something you want to get better at that isn’t kayaking?
NN: Climbing so that I can be more comfortable on sketchy portages. I have definitely run questionable rapids before because I thought the portage was more dangerous. 

WA: What personal qualities do you enjoy most in those who you push yourself with (ie. good humor, grit, perseverance)?
They are fun, reliable, humble, smart and dedicated. They are my best friends I trust them with my life on the river and I trust that we can gypsy on the road for months without getting on each others nerves. 

Nouria Newman scouting a huge rapid at the end of the Ano Neuvo River.

WA: Do you have a plan / method to get to your best / focused state?
NN: I don’t have a definite place but I usually make sure I stay calm, most times I isolate myself, I do some mental visualization as I scout the rapid and/or as I get in my boat, if needed I focus on my breathing, and I usually splash my head before big rapids. 

WA: How do you manage butterflies?
NN: When running hard whitewater being scared is part of the process, and we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t like to be scared. I think I like being scared until I am too scared, then I hate it. So I embrace it and if it’s too much I just portage or try my best to deconstruct the fears I have so that I can at least get rid of irrational fears and deal properly with the scary situation I have put myself into. 

There is no recipe to deal with fear though. It’s different for everyone and every single situation. You just need to rely on your experience, learn to listen to your instinct, learn to trust yourself to make the right decision, sometimes it’s stepping back and some other times it’s going for it. 

WA: How do you make training sustainable / fun?
NN: FUN ! I have done enough serious training sessions when I paddled slalom. 

WA:Is there a band or song that’s your go to when you need to get FIRED THE FUCK UP?!!
NN: My music tastes are pretty eclectic. If I need to get fired up I would probably go for some old hip hop, but before kayaking I usually need to do the opposite and calm the fuck down so I pick something quite mellow but not too mellow :  Odesza is perfect. 


WA: Professional athlete you’d switch places with?
NN: No one. I like kayaking too much. 

WA: If you could be a DJ or lead singer in a band who / which band would that be?
NN: I would not want any of that. I don’t like big cities and crowds. 

WA: If you won a million dollars?! Would you invest, travel or get turnt?
NN: I would get small piece of land and a small house somewhere cool so that I don’t end up homeless, and I would spend the rest on travels and expedition. 

WA: Dream vehicle?
NN: Just having a car would be nice 

WA: Dream place to live? Or nomadic lifestyle and home is where you make it?!
NN: Wherever there is good water and cool adventures. 

Casual portage.
Photo: Ben Stookesberry

WA: What is the sendiest thing you’ve done while in quarantine?
NN: Dodging police helicopters. Still got caught because some lame people called the police on us. We were forced to contribute to the national effort. 

WA: River you want to hit that you haven’t?
NN: The Indus and Middle Kings

WA: Any new or neat projects in the future? Or will we just have to wait and see?!
Right now we are just coming out from a 8 weeks quarantine with a strict interdiction to do outside activities. Supposedly we could only get out to go buy necessities or do an hour of physical activity less than a kilometer from your house. We are getting a little bit more freedom but we are still locked in a 100km perimeter. All my 2020 projects have fallen apart so my only remaining goal is to do what I can with what I’ve got and try my hardest to not fully loose it

WA: What is your Instagram for the people? Someone on Instagram that is a must follow and you recommend?! 
NN: My instagram is @nourianewman. I recommend following @fucklogyofficial @balkanriverdefence @robertderias @teamlonghair @tiphaineduperier @carole_chambaret @yermon_ @rachel_buys

Every year we’ve done the Whitewater Awards (4 now) you’ve won Female Rider of the Year! What are some words of wisdom you’d like to tell the younger ladies (you’re inspiring) to believe in themselves and push themselves like you have?!
NN: Don’t ever use being a women as an excuse. You have nothing to apologize for. You don’t have to be cheesy, wear all pink and purple, get a smaller kayak, paddle like a girl…Gender stereotypes are siphons, be aware and stay away. And yes you will never be as strong (physically) as your male peers but good kayaking implies to not muscle up the moves so you’re good. Be technical, be smooth, be powerful (power being the combination of velocity and strength)…And more importantly have fun. 

WA: Sponsor shoutouts?!
NN: Mum, Dad & my amazing friends 
Red Bull
Sweet Protection

WA: Thank you Nou !!

When you take yourself on stout missions, the only person to take a picture of you is yourself.






James Byrd

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