Have you ever heard of freestyle kayaking? I hadn’t. That is until my interview with Katie Fankhouser, a 16-year-old from Colorado. A master freestyle kayaker, Katie explained the sport to me. “My favorite way to describe it is gymnastics in a kayak.” Yeah, you read that right. Gymnastics in a kayak! She continued, “You surf a wave and you do tricks, every trick you do in one minute is worth a certain amount of points... Whoever can do the biggest and best tricks wins.” So basically, it's one of the most rad sports ever. And Katie started before she was 10 years old!
Competing requires a lot of travel. Fortunately, on June 5, 2018, Katie got her driver’s license. On June 6, she hit the road. With her kayak strapped to the top of her car, this 16-year old wild woman spent her first summer driving from competition to competition, mostly solo. And being so young and on the road, she was on limited funds. She used her winnings from each competition to buy gas to get her to the next. That's not all, she converted her car, putting a bed in back, allowing her to live the adventure dream.
The thought of a 16-year-old girl traveling alone can seem scary, but she's not completely alone. She often joins caravans, a procession of freestyle kayakers traveling from one competition to another. She also has a lot of friends at each event she attends. Katie says prefers to traveling alone. "Well, maybe not alone," she laughs, "but I like traveling without my parents. It makes me feel very independent and it forces me to be mature about situations and solve problems by myself. But I think traveling with friends is a lot more fun.”
Katie has always had a deep-rooted love for the outdoors, and it is not just because of freestyle kayaking. While she began kayaking at 9, she has always loved the outdoors. “We did a lot of camping when I was little, and I was on skis the day I could walk. My parents used to put boards on my feet walking around the house so that I would get used to having something on my feet.” But she does feel like since she started kayaking, her connection to the outdoors has deepened. “Especially with the river. Sometimes I will walk past a river and it will catch my eye and I will just sit there and stare at it. It’s just so peaceful. I have so many memories with the river that I feel like I have a deep connection with it.” This is the kind of connection we all long for. Some, like Katie, find it through kayaking, others through mountain or rock climbing. With Katie’s built a connection with the river, she understands the movements in a way most of us never will.
When asked what advice Katie has for others she said, “Don’t be stuck in too much of a plan. When you’re doing something spontaneous like that, you can’t really predict what is going to happen. The first day that I went out, I was a mile from where I was headed and ended up having to change a flat and get my tire patched. Luckily, I knew how to deal with all of it, but it completely changed my schedule. I left thinking that I knew exactly what it was going to look like and I had an idealized version in my head. And then having that happen was like a reset and I was able to just go with the flow the rest of the time. Everything went super smoothly because I adapted. If you can adapt then you can deal with anything. Just don’t have an idealized version.” That is Katie in a nutshell, whether on the river and or dealing with a setback, life is best when you go with the flow and do it with style.
Thank you so much to Katie for making time to talk with us. She is full of wisdom and so mature for her age. She truly is a woman ahead of her time. If you want to learn more about Katie and follow her amazing adventures, you can find her on Instagram at @katie.kayak