Back some 7 or so years ago this was a phrase I heard often. I lost count of the times Sam would be looking at his phone laughing at some inside joke, photo, video or message from his friend Ryan. “You gotta meet my friend Ryan one day Kate”. As it happened Sam thought Ryan would be a good fit as instructor at Topsport. If only he could convince this big whitewater adrenaline junkie that multisport paddling wasn’t that bad, he would make a great instructor. Sam often talked about his recent time at Polytech completing his Outdoor Instructing Diploma and the lifelong friends he had clearly made during that time, but one name popped up more than most – Ryan. Sam had told me he was the best instructor to graduate that year and an incredible kayaker. Well that certainly sounds promising I thought.
As the conversations progressed other parts of the story emerged. Ryan was young, he gave some of his tutors a pretty hard time, he still did lots of dumb stuff and I was introduced to the phrase “that’s just Ryan”. Sam sold him well however and I was very keen to meet him. I loved Sam and what he was doing out on the water with Topsport so felt if Sam thought he would be good what could go wrong?
The opportunity finally arrived when Sam and I were in Nelson on route to the NZ Kayak School for work. Ryan was working as a sea kayak guide in the Abel Tasman, so we drove over to Marahau to meet him for dinner. I was under the impression I was meeting a young kayak instructor who might be a good fit for our small tight team. Ryan however was under the impression that he is meeting his good friend Sam for dinner, and Sam is bringing a friend he is travelling with. Little did I know Ryan had absolutely no interest in multisport paddling and even less interest in moving to Christchurch, so far away from the whitewater he craved.
Sam and I pull up, park the car and find a table. We sit outside in a very relaxed beach side atmosphere. It’s a beautiful evening for a burger on the beach. We wait a few minutes before a tall figure appears, he’s walking over towards us. He has a black hoodie on pulled up over his head and dark sunglasses. He looks more like he is off to rob a bank than dinner with a prospective employer. Ryan sits down and the first words that come out of his mouth are “Bro, I have never been so hungover” He drops his head into his hands on the table and proceeds to tell us that he has only just got out of bed. He is too hungover to eat so it’s just me and Sam for dinner. I don’t remember what we talked about as everything after that first sentence didn’t seem to matter. What was Sam thinking? There is no way this guy is coming to run our kayak school.
Driving home Sam knew it wasn’t a great first impression. He pleaded Ryan’s case and said he still thought Ryan would be good. He was just young and doing what young guys do best. I am a reasonable person and was of course young once too. I can look beyond youth and see potential, but nothing about my encounter with Ryan gave me any glimmer of that, so for me he was off the table. End of story.
A few months later my meeting with Ryan a distance memory, Topsport was having a hectic Summer as the Coast to Coast hype was starting to grow. We had more trips than ever before and we found ourselves needing another guide for two weeks in the lead up to race day. Len had been calling round and so had I. All our usual back-ups were doing what they could, but we still had a lot of gaps. “What about Ryan” Sam said after a few days of me getting nowhere and panic creeping into my voice. “Who” I said. “That guy you meet, you know my friend Ryan”. Absolutely not I thought to myself. However, after a few more days trying it was clear we were out of options. We were desperate. Sam called Ryan and asked him to come to Christchurch for two weeks work. He was able to get time off from sea kayak guiding and so he headed South.
The rest is history. Ryan joined the team and quickly became our lead guide running the courses and trips like he’d done it all before. I knew someone like Ryan would need a lot of freedom to be happy at work, so I made sure he had it. I also knew he needed to put his own personal style on the kayak school so in the early days we worked hard together to make that happen.
Six years later and Ryan has been so influential in our paddling community during his time on the Waimak. Like how do you even get a shout out during a Coast to Coast Race Briefing? well that’s just Ryan. He has helped hundreds of paddlers overcome their nerves and fear, many going on to fall in love kayaking like he has. With his big wide welcoming smile and relatable personality you can’t help but feel reassured that this man is in control.
In such a small and unique field Ryan has undoubtably become the best multisport paddling instructor this country has ever seen. He has never stopped learning and fine tuning his skills and will certainly leave some big shoes to fill.
When Ryan arrived, he was the biggest wild card I have ever played. I could never have imagined the friendship that would form between us, the mischief we would get up to together behind the scenes and the overwhelming love that I would have for him. From the 21-year-old boy that arrived into my life I couldn’t be prouder of the man that is leaving.