Name: Adam van Koeverden
Hometown: Oakville, ON
Bio: One of Canada’s most well-known Olympians, sprint kayaker Adam van Koeverden has won four Olympic medals — gold (2004), two silvers (2012 and 2008) and a bronze (2004) — and is a 22-time World Cup Champion and 67-time Canadian Champion. At the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Van Koeverden was our country’s only double-medallist. In 2008, despite winning silver, he was given a Guiness Book World Record for the fastest 500 metres ever recorded in a canoe or kayak. In 2011, his World Championship victory was by a margin of more than three seconds. Suffice to say, this 31-year-old can paddle.
Explore Magazine: When did you first “discover” kayaking?
Adam van Kooeverden: I wasn’t much of an athlete growing up, I tried out for a lot of teams and different sports but didn’t find too much success in the early-indicator sports that tend to put young kids into categories like “future athlete.” I have some trouble with how we judge people like that, how a young "talent" will usually get more attention than other kids. It’s the reverse squeaky-wheel effect. It’s the fastest, strongest kid with the best ball skills that gets the grease. The squeaky kids usually just run cross-country. I ran cross-country and I still love it… I’m not knocking running at all.
So there was a recruiting ad in the local newspaper — The Oakville Beaver — the Burloak Canoe Club ran it in 1995 to get some new kids on the water. It read “Future Champions Wanted.” My mom called in advance to make sure that non-athletic kids were also invited. I think she had to convince me not to bring my acoustic guitar down to the club with me. I didn’t realize I was aimlessly wandering into a high performance training centre.
I suppose the aimlessness only lasted a day. The coaches down at Burloak (which included Olympic Champion Larry Cain, and my current coach, Scott Oldershaw) had me setting goals and planning my week’s training schedule around school, my jazz band commitments and the hair appointment that they scheduled for me (I had a Kurt Cobain-esque pony tail at the time, and they insisted that it come off). It took a few months to become an athlete. Once that was done, I could start concentrating on becoming a kayaker.
EX: When did you start to take kayaking/paddling seriously — that is, when did you decide to "go pro?"
AK: That first day. I got a training schedule and a goal sheet. That’s not to say that I “went pro” on day one. I swam a lot on days 1-100, but I was taking it very seriously. I guess “pro” is up for interpretation when it comes to kayaking. What’s that mean? I’m still waiting for my million-dollar shoe deal…
EX: What’s your current favourite gear – kayak, paddle and any other item(s)?
AK: I race and train only in Nelo kayaks, which are made in Portugal, and [use] a Turbo Strength, paddle which Peter Patasi makes in Smiths Falls, ON. He’s a Czechoslovakian immigrant, a tool and dye maker and a Canadian Olympian — he raced for Canada in Montreal in 1976. He still paddles every day, and makes the best paddles in the world.
I wear Oakley eyewear on the water and Asics shoes and apparel to train in. I go through a lot of spandex, my shorts only last a few weeks, especially in saltwater; they look like swiss cheese after a few weeks of turning them inside out and backwards to find a seat without holes… But Asics is still the most durable.
EX: Where is your favourite place to paddle recreationally in Canada?
AK: Algonquin Park! It’s like my home course. I have a little cabin there, and it’s an awesome place to escape to for a few days. It’s water-access, so I need to paddle to get out there and back. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a sprint kayak, but there isn’t a lot of cargo space, so the gear-list is usually pretty minimal by necessity.
EX: Can you give me a quick rundown of your training regime?
AK: We’re out on the water 10 times a week, usually racking up close to 200 km. We do all sorts of paddling throughout the season, from marathon 25 to 30 km sessions, to 10 km time trials, intervals of every distance and length, to short maximal sprints of five to 10 strokes dragging some resistance like a few tennis balls around a bungee cord. A few tennis balls doesn’t sound like a ton of water-resistance but it makes a crazy difference. Milos [Raonic] sends me his leftover balls after he’s done crushing 300 km/hr serves.
I do a lot of cross training. Everything from weight training, running, swimming, cross country skiing, boxing, cycling. I’d like to say outdoor hockey and snowboarding are also “cross training” but I suppose that’d be a stretch. When we’re really full-on training, my main leisure activities are gardening and reading since I can barely walk up the stairs without having a break halfway.
EX: What do you feel is the most important element (or elements) of your success?
AK: I think the most important thing in every endeavour is to enjoy every aspect of the process, and to find happiness and fulfilment in the mundanity of daily training. I approach my training and preparation as the real reward, and view the racing, medals and hopeful-successes as icing on the cake. I’ll always train and exercise, but one day I’ll have to give up the racing, so I’m glad that the element of this lifestyle that I truly find the most rewarding is the day-to-day stuff, the things I never have to give up.
EX: If you had three tips for the average paddler to improving his or her kayaking, what would they be?
AK: Kayaking is a technical sport. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish on the water, consider how Bernoulli would move a boat forward with a paddle, and watch some video of the best kayakers in the world. My first coach, Dean (my current coach's, Scott, brother) used to say that I “couldn’t afford the luxury of an imperfect stroke,” since I wasn’t the strongest or fittest or biggest dude in a race. Maybe we should get “What Would Bernoulli Do?” (WWBD?) bracelets made for kayakers, since he’s the father of fluid dynamics and all. Let’s just not make 'em yellow.