Nouria Newman teamed up with filmmaker David Arnaud and Red Bull to create Wild Waters.
The film documents Nouria’s rise to become one of the most accomplished whitewater kayakers on earth. It also documents her journey to become the first woman to run a 100-plus-foot waterfall. We caught up with her to learn more about some of the experiences highlighted in the film.
A S T R A L : One of our favorite parts of the film is that it really gives us an in-depth look into your childhood and your start as a kayaker. It provides insight into the juxtaposition of slalom and river running. The film gives us the impression that kayaking has always come very naturally to you. Would you say that is true, or were there some struggles for you early on like a lot of us as we took our first swims?
N O U R I A : I think it is much easier to start kayaking young, maybe because you eventually forget how hard it was. Inherently kayaking can really suck at the start : you’re wet, cold, scared and you are going to swim – a lot. I have pretty traumatic memories of my early days in kayaking. On my first proper river I was too slow so my dad decided to tow me. Of course I flipped and got dragged upside down through one of the rapids. I remember crying because I was terrified and cold. But then I also remember very well the take out beach, playing with our small kids crew and all the good snacks. Amongst my worst early days memories there is also a time I peed in my boat because I was so scared followed by the public shaming from the kayak coach back then. Getting the roll sure helped avoiding these bad experiences and started making kayaking fun, but I guess that every bad swim or scary moment brings me right back to the struggle of my early days. Luckily once you are it past the struggles it’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced.
A S T R A L : Lousie Jull obviously had a huge impact on you and the entire kayaking community. You describe in the film that Lou taught you that “it’s not just about charging hard, going fast, winning races, doing big drops or any personal achievement, but also about what you are able to give, what you’re able to share and what you’re able to do in general as a person and not only as a kayaker.” Can you describe what Lou gave, shared and did as a person, and how that has shaped your actions off the river?
N O U R I A : At the time I didn’t not realized how important Lou was in my life. We were just a really good group of friends having good times. The “Tits Deep” days. We were rowdy. Going hard on the river and at the parties. But I guess she was just a bit ahead of me in everything. She had more experience in everything…international racing in slalom, traveling, river running, partying, relationships…I looked up to her. She didn’t have all the answers, no one does, and to be honest we were all a bit of a shit show back then. But she valued happiness and following your dream over anything else.
A S T R A L : While the film tells an in depth story on your progression, it spends a lot of time focused on your progression on waterfalls. How does the sense of accomplishment running a 100 ft waterfall compare to running Site Zed on the Stikine?
N O U R I A : Generally speaking I think it’s hard to compare big water with waterfalls and the sense of accomplishment is something very personal. When I went to the Stikine, I just bought a plane ticket and ended up there with no plans. I was actually lucky to be able to team up with the Quebec Connection boys on my first lap and I guess they probably just needed a way to do shuttle! I never planned to run Site Zed, on my second lap I actually started portaging to set safety for the boys but then I saw a clear line and felt good about running it so I hiked my boat back up. I had no expectations, I just saw the line and went for it. On Salto Don Wilo, it was the complete opposite. It was something that was on the table for over three years and there was a lot of expectations from myself, and from the project. Water levels weren’t ideal but I had a crew of almost 30 people on site. Whether you want it or not that adds up pressure and makes it harder to cancel the whole thing. If it wasn’t such a big project I would have probably decided to hang out at the farm with Don Wilo and Berta. Wait for more water, less of a sketchy kicker and a softer impact.
A S T R A L : What were the most enjoyable and hardest parts of working with David Arnaud and Red Bull on this project?
N O U R I A : The hardest part is to combine the kayaking with the production and marketing side of things. It’s not always easy to combine what you love most with work, and I always need to remember why I do things. I do the work because it helps me spend more time on the river. If it gets unbalanced I need to readjust it all. I have known David since I was 10 years old. He is a mentor and a long time friend. Corinna Halloran was also involved on the project and she is the first person at Red Bull who believed in my project and the storytelling potential. Getting to work with people I trust is definitely very important for me.
A S T R A L : If you could work on a film project about anything in the world, what would it be?
N O U R I A : I don’t really know. My dreams aren’t about the film project but about a river, a mountain, a trip. The movie is a way to make it happen.
A S T R A L : Lastly, what’s happening at the end of this footage? What are the women making out of the leaves? And who is underneath the sheet / blanket, and why are they under there!?
N O U R I A : In the end the ladies from the farm decided to treat me. Initially I just wanted to clean my hands because I had lost some knuckle bits the week before. Bertha cleaned my wounds and then put some boa fat on it. Since it’s supposed to be good for you they also had me eat a full soup spoon of it. I was pretty proud I managed not to puke. After that they all went out and came back with a lot of different plants. They boiled it. Next thing you know I was wearing Bertha’s pink and white underwear in the middle of the kitchen. They put me over the seaming pot with some blankets over my head. It was really hot in there. Every time I was trying to get my head out for some fresh air Bertha pushed me back in. The next day I wasn’t sore at all although it was probably the hardest hit I have ever taken on a waterfall.