We caught up recently with Mike Dawson, 25, coming off his recent win at the Teva Mountain Games and currently looking ahead to his first Olympics representing New Zealand.
Canoe & Kayak: What do you think’s been key to your own success in competing in creek racing’s main international events?
Mike Dawson: I love creeking and racing, so naturally creek racing is what I enjoy to do the most. It gives me a chance to put these two things together in an environment that's competitive but somewhat more lax and a whole lot different than the canoe slalom scene. Coming from New Zealand, since a young age we’ve been exposed to hard races and people always wanting to beat you. Even now I can go out on the Kaituna River at 6 a.m. and have a fun race against Sam Sutton, Kenny Mutton and a bunch of other guys all capable of winning the major international races if they were there. In terms of the racing, I’m enjoying it so I’m able to keep a pretty clear mind about what I’m there to do–I have nothing to lose or nothing to prove. This helps a lot and means I don’t get to intimidated by the 2000 people at the green, or the $2,000 up for grabs at Vail. I just enjoy the atmosphere and doing my thing. After a couple of good races it’s always good to know that if you’re on it it should be enough, but it’s always good to get surprised or upstaged so you get fired up.
When was your breakthrough year, or when did you realize that slalom training crossed over so well to extreme racing?
I’ve always been training slalom and doing all the NZ extreme races. I was pretty stoked when I was 17 to beat Steve Fisher and take home a cool $1,000 bucks. I think the best thing slalom does for you as it gets you used to racing. The more you race the better you are, and that's the biggest cross over. My first international extreme race was in Voss and then I realized that I could do alright in this. Since then I’ve been going to as many creek races as I can fit into my schedule with out ruining my slalom season. At the beginning I thought creeking was bad for my slalom, but now I’m beginning to realize that racing’s racing and it all helps. The last few years I’ve been trying to keep my creeking mindset and take it to the slalom races and it seems to be working.
Where is your head at now in terms of goals with the Olympics right into the creek season and Grand Prix finale?
2012 is going to be epic. The Olympic Games are easily the biggest event in the world. It’s bigger than me, than kayaking, than racing, than sport—it’s an ideology and it’s going to be great to be part of it. I’ve stopped setting goals the last few seasons and just focused on getting out there and doing my thing every time, no excuses. That’s the goal for the Games–try not to be thrown by the billion people watching or intimidated by everything and just race my race. If I can do that then it should be OK. I’ll be at the Teva Mountain Games a few weeks before the Games–I love this event. Post the games it’s non-stop straight to do two more slalom world cups, up to Norway for an expedition, Sickline, Green Race to battle Isaac, Mexico, WWGP in Chile. Home in January all going well.
What are your biggest challenges then in meeting those goals?
The coolest thing about the games is that you are always busy–there are some many opportunities created by this Olympic machine, and at the same time this could be the downfall of many athletes. I want to make sure that everyday I wake up and I’m stoked to get out there go for a paddle or run or weights session. Be fired up after every session and not be stressed about trying to fit to much into 24 hours. That way I’ll keep fired up and stoked to be on the water everyday. If I can take this into the games and have a good time I’ve really got nothing to lose there. Extreme racing has given me a unique opportunity events like TMG and Sickline have the live coverage, sponsors, people, media etc., and in a way it will help me prepare for the start line in London.
Check out the video below of Dawson and Czech slalom legend Vavrinec Hradilek running their slalom boats down a hairy practice course set up on New Zealand’s Kaituna River this winter at full flow. Said Dawson: “Knowing how tough the competition and the course in London is going to be, we decided to think outside the box and utilize what we had right here in our back garden.”