Campfire Conversations - -

a "virtual" chat with Justine Curgenven

She's known to us as the gutsy lady who makes stimulating adventure video - and with memorable titles like TITS and TITS2, who could ever forget Justine Curgenven?

MikeB - How did you get started in the world of kayaking - was there any specific inspiration like Scouts, Guides / canoe club etc?

Justine Curgenven - After I left university and worked in Jersey for a while, my best friend dragged me along to 'Jersey Canoe Club', telling me "It will be great fun". It wasn't at first, I didn't like the structured tuition I was given and didn't think much of paddling around in circles. My attitude completely changed when I joined in on a 'Sunday morning paddle' and was taken on a journey around some of Jersey' granite cliffs.

We went inside long caves, did a few gentle rockhops and saw a couple of oyster catchers really close by. I was hooked by the exploring aspect of kayaking how close I could get to birds - that was inspiration enough to paddle in a few circles to get better equiped for the journey.

MB - Where do you see the sport going? What would be the biggest change required to make the sport more attractive to more people?

JV - It's exciting for me to see sea kayaking growing so much at the moment. More people are taking it up and more people are pushing the limits. There seems to be an increasing number of people going on long, remote and challenging expeditions. At the same time 'playing' in sea kayaks is creating a lot of interest. I think quite a few people have always surfed their sea boats but magazines and videos are suddenly bringing it to the attention of a bigger audience and dare I say it, seakayaking is becoming a bit cool!

I think the future will see these trends continue and more people will be attracted to it. I just hope it doesn't become too competitive. For me, it's about the personal experience, not about being the first, the best or the fastest.

MB - What's your inspiration for your paddling - notably the bigger, more challenging trips?

JC - I want to be the first, the best and the fastest. Just kidding, sea kayaking just fits my personality really well. It's such a diverse sport that I can get a lot out of it on many different levels. I love the adrenaline of challenging conditions, I like the exercise and the feeling you get from being fit and strong. On longer trips I really enjoy the decision making and thought processes and I love the thrill of the unknown - the excitement of the adventure unfolding. I get a buzz from being self-sufficient and love being able to explore and camp in remote areas.

Meeting people is always really interesting and you get to glimpse very different ways of life. It's also a return to a more basic way of life which is always wonderful after the hecticness of everyday life with all it's obligations and pressures. Only the simple things matter - food, warmth, safety and friendship.

MB - Balancing home / work / expedition paddling must be a challenge - how do you deal with that?

JC - Expedition paddling is partly work for me because I film my trips - although I don't expect I'll get a lot of sympathy on that one. In the last year I've been producing a 6-part TV series AND producing my second seakayaking DVD so my expedition paddling has been put on the backburner a bit. Having said that, several times last year I just said 'oh bugger it, I'm going paddling' and had great trips to Newfoundland, the Great Lakes and Orkney.

These were all with my boyfriend which was great as well. We all have to find that balance and between our passions, the people we care about and money in the bank and I don't find it easy to fit it all in. Next year I intend to work less!

MB - You've done some significant trips - what was the best one / the scariest / funniest moment on one?

JC - The best trip is 'the next one'.... and before you ask, I'm not sure where that will be yet. I'm compulsive when it comes to 'seeing what's around the next corner' so I'm always looking forward to visiting new places. I consider Kamchatka, Tasmaina and a solo trip around part of Iceland as my two biggest 'achievements' but I have just as much fun ( sometimes more! ) on shorter more exploratory trips like the Lofoten Islands or around Jura.

MB - I guess you've seen some interesting wildlife?

JC - Seeing wildlife from a kayak always brings a smile to my face. It's as close to being in their environment and sharing it with them as I'll ever get. I spent a month in Alaska kayaking with a wildlife photographer who takes photos of humpback whales from his kayak. Seeing 5 or 6 humpback whales launch into the air together bubblenet feeding is really amazing ( I'm making a film of it so watch this space).

We saw albatroses in Tasmania which were wonderful - they seemed to appear when it was rough and windy so it was reassuring to know that someone else was out there with us! We didn't see any sharks - something I'm very glad about. Kamchatka has the world's largest population of brown bears and we saw dozens of them from the sea and the land. Fortunately they always seemed just as scared of us as we were of them! I was more terrified of the leopard seals that jumped into the water besides us on one occassion. Even the fulmars who seem to fly straight at you are wonderful to see when you're on the water.

MB - Are you a culinary genius when you're paddling, or a fan of "army rations" and hard-tack garnished with boiled sea-gull?

JC - I'm not a culinary genius at home, never mind when you have to carry everything in your kayak! However, I do believe in eating well when you can and usually take fresh vegetables and fruit on trips - even bacon and eggs sometimes. And of course red wine and whiskey! On longer trips it tends to be a mixture of healthy, fresh food and the odd instant packet-meal. Some evenings you are so tired that anything other than pouring hot water and a dehydrated pasta meal into a pan would be too much effort.

I love food anyway and on trips eating is even more of an event! Plus you can eat as much as you want so it's great to make the most of it! Poridge is my usual breakfast, but after 6 weeks of it in Tasmania, I've finally lost my enthusiasm for it!

MB - So what's next - you sidestepped that earlier on!

JC - I'm off to New Zealand soon, which is obviously very exciting..... I'm going to be spending some time with Paul Caffyn and filming him for my next DVD. I've also offered to help him out and sell some of his latest book release, the story of his circumnavigation of the South Island of NZ. I've put the book on my website for sale for £15.99 each - this is for a signed copy. If people order them then I'll bring the books back from NZ with me on March 22nd. I don't make any money out of this - he sells them for NZ $30, which is £13.50 - the £2.50 extra is to cover paypals fee, and postage. The book isn't avaliable anywhere else in the UK so this is people's only chance to get hold of one.

Paul's done some interesting things - amongst others, in August 1991, Paul paddled into Inuvik, in the North-West Territories of Canada, to complete the first solo kayak trip along the entire coastline of Alaska. Commencing from Prince Rupert in British Columbia, this 4,700 mile trip took three northern summers to complete. Highlights of this trip were: a herd of walrus swimming around the kayak, a large brown bear ripping open Paul's tent while he was asleep, being charged by a bull musk ox, and meeting the Eskimo villagers who are the descendents of the Inuit people who originally evolved the skin kayaks of the Arctic waters.

MB - Thanks Justine

Mike Buckley - 2006

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