Interview by Justin Venable, Whitewater NZ


What do you love about kayaking?

For me, wilderness kayaking is about getting on a river with no idea what’s waiting downstream except the takeout. It’s a way to travel through a zone with a river as the road and basically just work your way downstream solving the puzzle. It’s a way to get off the track, camp by the river and enjoy just being there.

Favourite river?

For me, there are two stand out rivers.

  1. The Indus for its complexity, location and intimidation. The concentration of challenging rapids combined with the amazing local people, as well as the backdrop of wild alpine peaks, makes for the trip of a lifetime.
  2. For remoteness, the best multi-way wilderness run is the Keve River in Angola. It was a trip so amazing, out there and remote – completely undeveloped. Epic whitewater and always a little out of my comfort zone.

How do you share your passion with others?

I’m a believer that it’s about the crew, the experience and sharing it with the people you’re with, in the moment. I’m stoked to be on the water with anyone that wants to enjoy it. Everyone has the level they want to paddle and it’s about helping them get out there and enjoy it. I love trying to share ideas of descents, or missions, in the hope to get more people out there doing more rad things.

What do you see as the biggest threats to river access and culture?

Hydro is a huge one. We’re lucky in NZ to have so many world-class whitewater sections that run freely or have regular releases. The global demand for energy and energy independence for regions will continue to contribute to more proposals for dams globally. I hope that we’re able to protect those incredible places, not just for paddlers but for the future. It’s always sad to see the impact that dams can have on the rivers, the environment and the people living around them.

What’s special about New Zealand rivers and paddling culture?

It’s inclusive and fun. There are so many people that love getting out on the water and helping others get out there, as well. While we’re a small community, it’s a tightly knit one and one I feel privileged to be a part of.

To learn more about Mike Dawson and his career, check out the New Zealand Olympic website.

We launched our Outdoor Community campaign in 2015 to showcase the diverse range of recreational pursuits that our member clubs and individuals are passionate about.

Our celebrated activity for 2022/23 is Whitewater Kayaking. Kayaking is a chance to explore the backcountry in a different way from tramping on land, and instead of being an obstacle to get past, paddlers can use rivers as a method of travel and source of adventure.

So, keep an eye out in places like Backcountry magazine and our blog for stories, articles and resources on water kayaking. As always, if you or your club has ideas or stories to share, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you.