Ageless Wonder: Harry Cox

Retired chemical engineer, full-time paramedic, part-time jet boat driver, guide and coach—and full-on paddler

Harry Cox is right at home on the Saint John River's Reversing Falls, in New Brunswick, Canada. Photo: Malcolm Brett

By Doug Scott

Published: March 21, 2011

Going as strong as he is puts Harry Cox, age 61, in pretty select company. But, in fact, his accomplishments and zeal for life elevates him—a sort of Dean of Atlantic Canadian Kayaking—to a class all his own.

Cox bought his first kayak in 1973. He can be counted among the first kayakers to regularly paddle the Reversing Falls Rapids in Saint John, New Brunswick. A unique and challenging paddling site, the Reversing Falls Rapids are formed as a result of the massive tides of the Bay of Fundy, which are strong enough to force the Saint John River to flow upstream. As the tide rises and falls, the elevation changes and high-flow rates cause phenomenal features to appear and disappear. With two high tides and two low tides in 24 hours, the Reversing Falls varies from flat water at slack tide to Class V at its best.

Cox is still a regular at Reversing Falls and has absolutely no problem keeping up with the younger breed of paddlers who make their home there. And what is Cox doing when he’s not paddling at Reversing Falls? He is certainly not sitting at home in his rocker.

After retiring from the Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John, where he worked for 32 years as a chemical engineer, Cox started working as a full-time paramedic. Shift work seems to agree with him because it gives him plenty of time to pursue some of his other interests. And one of his most enjoyable part-time gigs is driving the Reversing Falls Jet Boat—a popular thrill ride where tourists are subjected to as much splashing as the driver can possibly inflict. Cox’s knowledge and experience with all the holes and standing waves makes him a favorite, naturally.

If that wasn’t enough, Cox has another part time job as a sea kayak guide with one of the local outfitters. Not just a great paddler, Cox has a deep knowledge of the history, culture and geology of the area, which he loves to share with his guests.

Not surprisingly, Cox holds several first descents in the area, but he seems to take more pride in knowing that he shares most of them with his son, Tim, a top notch paddler in his own right. And like any proud grandfather, Cox is excited that this year a third Cox generation has joined the paddling community—Cox recently bought his four-year-old grandson his first kayak.

Cox also feels it is important to give back to the community and he does that the best way he knows how: through kayaking. Cox was the President of the Canadian Freestyle Kayak Committee, and Team Manager of the Canadian freestyle kayaking team for eight years. A great fan of the sport, he hasn’t missed the Freestyle Worlds in 14 years.

Cox’s blend of quirky sense of humor (more than one person has been fooled by his red yarn squirting ketchup bottle) and carpe diem attitude makes him a favorite guest speaker at high school outdoor recreation courses. Students are invariably left inspired after watching Cox’s paddling skills and hearing his passionate coaxing to make their own way in life as best they can. They are also enthralled by his stories of paddling in Africa, Central America, New Zealand and all across Canada. Cox also spends a couple of evenings a week during the winter coaching neophytes in the pool on rolling techniques.

Ask Cox what it is about kayaking that he likes so much, and his answer is likely to be straightforward and full of folk wisdom.

“Kayaking is my happy addiction. I love the excitement, travel, scenery and exercise, but mostly it’s the great people,” Cox says. “Kayaking is too much trouble for people who aren’t nice to bother with.” And this is exactly why Cox is certain Cox to be surrounded by good paddling buddies for a long time to come.

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  • kim

    way to go..was raised in St. John, NB & saw the falls every day from my living room window. wish you were around back then..that would have been amazing to see! KEEP DOING WHAT YOU LOVE!!!

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