Articles - River and surf kayaker Rusty Sage

Rustry Sage
Rustry Sage
Canoe and Kayak team - Posted on 18 Mar 2009

In Rust We Trust


Images by Deb Pinniger

At the 1998 Pre World Freestyle Championships in New Zealand a young, pimpled, seventeen-year-old from California called Rusty Sage stole the show and took gold in the Men’s K1 kayak event. Rusty illustrated the new school of paddling and a new type of flashy, freestyle orientated, whitewater kayaker. Rusty was without a doubt one of the first graduates of that new school of kayaking and appeared in a flurry of influential kayaking videos, hucking ends and wave and freewheeling like a demon. But, although Rusty is a ‘new school’ paddler, he represents the bond between new and old. Having been around the river for so much of his life he’s been highly influenced by a number of great kayakers from the past as well as the present. Because of this depth Rusty’s core paddling skills are second to none and many consider him to be among the best all round kayakers in the world.
These days Rusty is a little older and the pimples have gone, but he still rips and pushes as hard as ever. After graduating from his studies last year he decided he would spend a year travelling and continuing his kayaking adventures. CKUK’s globe trotting contributor Deb Pinniger caught up with Rusty recently to chew the fat.



You grew up around the rivers in California. Tell me about how you first got in to kayaking?
My mom began raft guiding when I was seven years old, during the summers I would tag along on raft trips. After years of begging I started taking kayak lessons in the summer of 1991, I was ten years old. I got connected with Tom Long for a couple of seasons and trained for slalom for five years until I was fifteen. As boat designs evolved I started getting into freestyle starting with a Perception Super Sport.

Growing up in California you had some of the best whitewater on the planet right on your doorstep, talk about the learning curve and growing up on some of the best rivers in the world.
I was fortunate to have many good people and kayakers looking out for me on the water during my class 5 upbringing! Kim Sprague showed me the way to many rivers and many friends, on the water, that would later become life long friends. The thing about California that still amazes me is the amount of whitewater and big drops that are available.
Growing up in California and being active allows one to be very diverse in sports. There is so much available out there it’s amazing, mountain biking, snowboarding/skiing, kayaking, climbing, wakeboarding, surfing, kiting, and the list goes on.

At 17 years old you won the Men’s class at the Pre World Freestyle Championships in New Zealand. It was a time where the sport of freestyle was changing from holes to waves and you pretty much cleaned up at 17 that must have felt pretty good? Talk a little about winning that event.

1998 was an incredible year for me. The Wave Sport X was changing the sport into an area that I excelled in, surfing waves and explosiveness. The feeling of being on top of the world even if just for a split second is something that I will never forget, being hoisted up by the people that I had looked up to in our sport was pretty cool. Mainly I was stoked to beat Corran (Addison) on a wave.

“Growing up in California and being active allows one to be very diverse in sports. There is so much available out there it’s amazing, mountain biking, snowboarding/skiing, kayaking, climbing, wakeboarding, surfing, kiting, and the list goes on.”


You have been studying fulltime for the past five years. Somehow you’ve also managed to get a lot of cool trips in and stay on top of your boating. Talk a little about how you achieved that whilst keeping up with the studying?
It was difficult trying to maintain a full load as a student and go around and compete in regional and national events. I had to time my trips so I could miss a minimal amount of school, and have the best time and outcome possible. Towards the final two years studying for my degree, Mechanical Engineering, consumed me during the school year. Leaving me out of going on some cool trips and having to stay home and do some labs. It was good to be able to have a break from non-stop kayaking and make some life long friends through school.

“1998 was an incredible year for me. The Wave Sport X was changing the sport into an area that I excelled in, surfing waves and explosiveness. The feeling of being on top of the world even if just for a split second is something that I will never forget.”


So, you graduated from University last year and this year has already been a big year for you in boating terms, with some great stuff in the bag, the Zambezi in high water, the White Nile, the Pororoca tidal-bore wave on the Amazon, a1st place at the Big Wave Event on the Ottawa in Canada, Extreme racing and exploration in Turkey and now home to California for a season of sick creeking. Talk a little about those trips and this season’s paddling so far.

It took me five years of committing myself to full-time studying and academia to earn my degree, and this season I just wanted to go for it, paddle and travel as much as possible. I am stoked to have been able to take part in some exciting adventures throughout the world and get to see friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.
The tube wave on the Zambezi is absolutely amazing; I’ve so much respect for the power of water that is going on in that feature. I got pounded over and over again to the point where I didn’t want to surf for the rest of the day, just totally abused. After a couple of days I was in the Wavesport ZG and felt a bit more confident pulling into the barrel, deeper and deeper. It was also cool being able to hang with professional board surfers and see them work their magic.
The Pororoca Wave is such a unique phenomenon it was cool to not only experience but also amazing to surf. The first couple of surfs were definitely learning experiences for all, just a different kind of wave. Figuring out where it was going to be breaking and dealing with the skiffs breaking down and waking up at 4am with a bit of a headache were common occurrences.
The Canada event was super cool, unfortunately the water levels didn’t work out and Bus Eater wasn’t in but the session at the Coliseum was grass roots with some boys and girls hucking themselves big!
Turkey is such a beautiful country and the event was awesome, Dave Manby is the man! I hope that everyone can take a trip out there and check it out. We were able to check out some places that not many people get to see. The Black Sea Coast has so many rivers to offer and the people are so friendly it’s unbelievable.

What are your future paddling plans? 
Right now I am going to the California coast for a bit and then to the Surf Kayak Worlds in Costa Rica in October. In the future I plan to continue to compete in extreme racing and big wave comps, and I am really interested in getting involved with whitewater parks.

“The tube wave on the Zambezi is absolutely amazing, I’ve so much respect for the power of water that is going on in that feature. I got pounded over and over again to the point where I didn’t want to surf for the rest of the day, just totally abused.”

You are a little bit of an exception in whitewater kayaking, as you are a well-rounded paddler that excels in more than one or two disciplines. You paddle freestyle, big waves, ocean surf, creek on hard whitewater and do some pretty exotic expeditions. Talk a little bit about your approach to paddling and why you try to share your water time with all those aspects of kayaking?
I totally enjoy learning something new and pushing myself! There is so much to learn in the ocean it’s crazy, with both the ability to read waves and how to utilize the wave once you’re on it. Creeking and expedition paddling is something that tests not only one’s paddling ability to the limit, but also one’s mental capacity in making crucial decisions at critical times. My true love in kayaking has always been river wave surfing and learning new things in the air. When I hit my first ‘Bread and Butter’ (combo move; pan-am into a back blunt) I had that little kid feeling, I just couldn’t stop talking about it and being excited. That’s what its all about.
   
Where do you see your personal paddling going in the near future? Let’s sat the next five years?
With numerous play parks going in right now in the States the amount on intermediates and kids will increase. The big events near cites will continue and hopefully the features will get better and we can show case the new elements of our sport. The facet of kayaking that can take us to the mainstream is extreme racing, and it will be interesting to follow, and compete in this area.

Where do you see the sport of kayaking going, as a whole, in the near future?

To be honest, I am not sure where the industry is headed. More and more groups of paddlers are going to destinations that were unveiled only three or four years ago (Nile, Norway, Canada) and it would be great to combine these into an event series. If the World Champs are held at Bus Eater that would really be incredible, the last time a World Freestyle Championships was held on a wave was 1999.
    A majority of large comps are, and will be, going to cities for financial reasons, which is both good and bad. Good for some of the competitors that win money, prizes, and a piece of media. But some are bad because the public is confused and unimpressed for the freestyle kayaking portion of the event.

Ideally, where would you like to see the sport go over the next five to ten years? 

Huge waves in the middle of cities with a world circuit for both freestyle and extreme racing with cash prizes. This would bring up the next generation of wave surfing specialist along with the next level of creekers. Watch out for Dane Jackson and Pat Keller.

“My true love in kayaking has always been river wave surfing and learning new things in the air. When I hit my first ‘Bread and Butter’ (combo move; pan-am into a back blunt) I had that little kid feeling, I just couldn’t stop talking about it and being excited. That’s what its all about.”

Any other interests apart from kayaking?
Like I said before I am always interested in something that pushes me, and that I can spend time in the air as well. I have been snowboarding for six years, a couple of comps here and there (too many injury’s though), and kite boarding for years along with running and mountain biking.

Any paddlers out there that really impresses you with their paddling or motivation?

EJ has always impressed me with his continued dominance and dedication to our sport.

Are there any people in your paddling career that have been a big influence or mentors for you?
My idol growing up in paddling has been Dan Gavere; he brought such a unique style to freestyle when it was in its infancy. He has also inspired me in my other passion, kite boarding.

Thanks Rusty, time to say goodbye, but before you go let’s finish of with something normal and boring, like what would your advice be to other young up and coming paddlers?
My advice to all other paddlers is to always be pushing yourself in one way or another, be dynamic!

Thanks Rustler

Rusty is supported by the following

Wave Sport Kayaks: www.wavesport.com www.wwc.co.uk or www.doubleyouess.com

AT Paddles: UK/Europe - www.palmequipmenteurope.com

Oakley Eyewear: www.oakley.com

Red Bull:www.redbull.com

Mountain Surf: www.mountainsurf.com


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