Water Baby: Ruth Gordon on freestyle, life and SUP

Water Baby Ruth Gordon

Canadian freestyle kayaker Ruth Gordon has quietly made a name for herself as one of the world's best competitive paddlers. In the past five years, she's scored podium finishes in all of the biggest events, including a gold medal at the 2007 World Championships on Buseater, her home wave on the Ottawa River. Now, Gordon is branching out—but she's still a freestyle force. She left her beloved Ottawa to live in Reno, Nevada with her boyfriend, Toby Ebens; she rocked a pink Jackson Star to a second-place finish at the 2009 freestyle championships in Switzerland as a part of her grassroots Paddle Pink campaign in support of breast cancer; and she fell in love with standup paddleboards, signing as a Surftech-sponsored paddler. Canoe and Kayak caught up with Gordon to talk about her year. – C&K: Interest in freestyle kayaking seems to be waning a bit in North America. What was the scene like at the 2009 World Championships in Europe?

RG: There are ebbs and flows with every sport so I'm not worried. In Europe there are such dense populations so it is easy to bring the sport to the people…and the people to the sport. Thousands of boaters and spectators alike jostled for one of the seats overhanging the river. Beer was flowing and there was no shortage of entertainment.

C&K: Freestyle seems increasingly to be the domain of young, practically teenage, paddlers. Is this good for the sport?

RG: I beg to differ. EJ held four World Championship titles and if you look at the senior results from this year, you'll see a couple of youngsters with gold and the rest of the spots in the over-30 category. I think the mix is healthy; those energetic youngsters keep us older folks on our toes.?

?C&K: Tell me a bit about your Paddle Pink campaign for 2009. What was your inspiration?

RG: Paddle Pink was started to raise money for Susan G Komen for the Cure (ww5.komen.org). It was a grassroots fundraising idea that allowed me to meet paddling communities while giving something back. My grandmother, Betty Webster, is the reason I started Paddle Pink. She's a breast cancer survivor who has always followed her passion for tennis and still plays an hour a day (limited only by doctor's orders). She told me that her love of the game helped her speed through her recovery.

C&K: How have you enjoyed living in Reno? You must miss the Ottawa River.

RG: Of course I miss the Ottawa [with] its big water and great playboating. But I don't miss winter, so I'm happy to have extended visits [there] during the warm summer months. Living in Reno provides me with so many more adventure opportunities: kayaking, hiking, biking and skiing. Nevada itself doesn't have much in the way of whitewater so I tend to stick to the play parks when in state, but Reno is only miles from the California border and we all know Cali has a lifetime of boating. ?

?C&K: Tell me a bit about your interest in standup paddleboards. Why do you enjoy it?

RG: I'm a water baby. SUP is just another way for me to enjoy being on a river, a lake or the ocean. It's a new challenge and great cross-training—especially as I seem to spend lots of time swimming. ?

?C&K: What’s the potential of SUPs for whitewater boaters?

RG: I think some whitewater athletes, guys like Dan Gavere, Taylor Robertson and others, have already shown the potential of SUP is limitless. Surftech found a group of whitewater athletes and gave [us] the tools to learn SUP. Since we can already read whitewater the test is really the stand up skills themselves. Honestly, I still have a lot to learn.