Interview by Justin Venable, Whitewater NZ
Shannon Mast (aka Daniel, Moisty, or Mzungu Mchafu, amongst other nefarious handles) is a quiet phenomenon. Aussie born, but a true river gypsy by nature, he may have suffered some low-grade hypoxic brain injury as a grom from long hold-downs in the heavy swell of the South Australian coast.
Regardless, he has a remarkable ability to not seem to need to breathe very often in violent churning waters – a valuable skill as a kayaker, or perhaps he’s just part amphibian.
~Justin Venable, Whitewater NZ, Paddler of the Year 2022: Shannon Mast (October 2022)
What do you love about kayaking?
The simple answer is that it is fun. But it’s also hard work. It’s also hugely varied. I love that I can go out for multiple days and be on the edge of my seat the whole time – camping next to the river anxious about the next day, working my arse off on the river to move down it. But also, I can go out to a Grade One trickle with my slalom boat and a few poles, and spend hours trying to figure out why the poles keep whacking me in the head. Or I can go do tricks in a tiny boat on a wave. Or I can go for a social float down a river.
I love that big missions form insane friendships. It’s weird and I don’t quite know why, but it’s great.
But most of all, it’s fun. And you can have fun while you are doing it, as opposed to it being fun once you’ve forgotten how painful, cold and scary it was . . . I think mountaineers will know I’m ripping them out?
What’s your favourite river?
Waitaha. It’s just an insanely beautiful and diverse 36 kilometres.
Morgan Gorge, Waitaha River; Photo Credit: Neil Silverwood
How do you share your passion with others?
I tell myself I’m going to be really good at taking lots of people down the rivers when I get a bit older. So right now, I’m pretty bad at sharing my passion. I do some kayak instruction with Tai Poutini Polytechnic and a tiny bit at Mt Aspiring College in Wanaka. I think I get more out of it than they do! They sure remind you of the FUN aspect of kayaking!
What do you see as the biggest threats to access?
Short-term – people being disrespectful, entitled or generally not being nice to landowners. It’s really easy to be courteous and polite . . . and beer amends most misunderstandings.
Medium and long-term – privatisation of public lands.
What’s special about New Zealand’s rivers and paddling culture?
New Zealand rivers are (or can be) rugged, committing, remote, clean and out of this world beautiful. The gorges are insane and like nowhere else I have been. The culture here tends to err on the safe side, which comes from the nature of the rivers and the OG influencers like Mick Hopkinson.
There is just a whole lotta love in kayaking here in New Zealand, for the rivers and each other. It’s infectious.
To learn more about Shannon Mast, check out Whitewater NZ’s Paddler of the Year 2022.
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 Wilderlife.nz 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.