By: Conor Mihell
It’s been almost a decade since British paddler and filmmaker Justine Curgenven redefined sea kayaking with the launch of her first This is the Sea video. The film injected excitement and youthful vigor into ocean paddling, capturing the thrills of long-boat surfing and the drama of expedition paddling to battle the stereotype that sea kayaking was a sport for graybeards in floppy hats. Curgenven followed up with another three TITS volumes, driving the rough-water sea kayaking trend and inspiring countless paddlers to set off on their own adventures on the world’s oceans.
After releasing volume four in 2009, Curgenven decided to move on to other projects. She produced This is Canoeing, an open boating video using her trademark formula of combining a series of short films, as well as an instructional feature with Greenland-style kayaking experts Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson. Producing sea kayaking films with a global array of talent “kind of suits my lifestyle,” says Curgenven, who operates under the banner of Cackle TV and has also shot for National Geographic and the BBC. “I get to go to different places and meet different people. This is the Sea is my way of putting that all together in one DVD.”
Now, Curgenven is preparing to debut This is the Sea 5 March 8-10 at Madison, Wisc.’s Canoecopia tradeshow. Her latest production features eight vignettes spanning a total of three hours, including a documentary about her and partner Barry Shaw’s first-ever circumnavigation of Tierra del Fuego in the winter of 2011-12, surf-ski footage with legends Oscar Chalupsky and Greg Barton, and the usual complement of rough-water thrills, including American Paul Kuthe surfing Welsh tidal races and Londoner Harry Whelen riding ferry wakes on the River Thames.
To get the inside story, we Skyped Curgenven at her home in North Wales.
CanoeKayak.com: Why such a long break between TITS 4 and volume 5?
Justine Curgenven: After every [This is the Sea] film I’ve made I’ve said that’s the last one. And after the fourth one I started hearing negative feedback from people who hadn’t even bothered to look at it. I needed new challenges so I made This is Canoeing and This is the Roll. Then I started getting messages asking, ‘When are you going to make another This is the Sea?’
Do you have any special memories in producing the fifth edition?
It covers four years of filming. The oldest segment goes back to an expedition in Sardinia in 2009, and the newest was surf ski paddling with Oscar Chalupsky and Greg Barton late last year. Filmmaking is another excuse for me to go out and try something new. I just really enjoyed having a go at surf ski paddling with Oscar and Greg.
The Tierra del Fuego segment must be pretty important to you as well.
Those expeditions were challenging in many ways. In the first attempt my partner Barry [Shaw] got tendonitis. We spent six weeks down there but only paddled eight days. I felt like I needed to go back there and have some positive memories. I took many lessons from the experience. I wanted the physical challenge, but the challenge the first year was not kayaking-related—it was about having patience and good organization. In a way it was very humbling. When we went back again and completed the circumnavigation it made it all worthwhile.
Tell me how digital technology has changed what you do.
The GoPro range has made a massive difference. On one hand, it’s made getting tricky shots a lot easier, but on the other it has brought the ability to produce high-quality footage to the masses quite quickly. It’s now possible for people to spend days watching footage for free on the Internet, and that’s had an impact on my sales. But I think it’s great and I don’t want to be negative about it. It’s moving the sport forward.
Do you at all feel responsible for the shift towards more ‘lumpy water’ and adventurous sea kayaking?
I think I’ve only recently realized what an impact the first film had. But I don’t feel responsible for it. Recently, we’ve seen really good paddlers doing really cool stuff, and people like the Hurricane Riders have told me that they were inspired by my videos. That’s really nice to hear. Of course, you have to realize that people have been doing this stuff for ages, but it’s more mainstream now and a lot of people are putting it out there. In the case of the Hurricane Riders, they’re pushing each other, learning a lot and making some great videos. My biggest challenge in making a living is staying ahead of that.
What do you have planned for the launch at Canoecopia?
Curgenven: I’m doing a showing on Saturday night at the High Noon bar, and I’ll be showing the extracts a couple of times during the weekend as well. I will be talking about Tierra Del Fuego and just hanging around, meeting people and selling DVDs.
Film-wise, what’s next?
I need to finish off filming of a second rolling DVD with Cheri [Perry] and Turner [Wilson]. That film will cover more advanced rolls and some of the Greenland-style strokes and should be coming out later this year. I might also make a film with the Hurricane Riders. I think it would be pretty cool if I can figure that one out.