Video: Olympic slalom kayakers venture into the wild

Mike Dawson and Joe Clarke took their slalom kayaks into the rugged wilderness of New Zealand's Southern Alps.

Roaring artificial pumps circulate millions of gallons of water through concrete channels and carefully sculpted river features. Specialized teams prepare for the worst and a conveyer belt returns paddlers to the top of the course for another try after every run.

This is the experience of a modern-day Olympic slalom kayaker.

In preparation for the Rio Olympics, Mike Dawson (NZL) and Joe Clarke (GBR) left the safety of artificial slalom courses behind. Instead, they saddled up on a helicopter and took their fiberglass slalom boats to New Zealand’s remote Whataroa River. Red Bull built a slalom course on a steep boulder garden in the heart of the canyon to test the athletes’ skills.

According to Clarke, “In a place like this, you have to be able to sort your own sh-t out. If something goes wrong, you’re on your own.” This is the kind of focus that the athletes hope to channel at the Rio Olympic course this summer.

— Mike Dawson is nominated for Male Paddler of the Year at the 2016 Canoe & Kayak Awards. Check out Dawson’s expedition to some of Angola’s un-run rivers in this C&K exclusive two-part digital feature.

— See how other Olympic paddlers are training in our ROAD TO RIO story series.