Chris Wing is one of the most inspired and passionate kayaking instructors I know. His life revolves around teaching new paddlers to love the sport. I get inspiration by his motivation and vision. I’ve gone with Chris down various rivers, paddled with him in boater-cross events at the USNWC, and worked with him to do some amazing science and kayaking videos.
Chris was born and raised in Cleveland, OH, on the shores of Lake Erie. He grew up fishing, swimming, sailing, and being an all-around water baby. He learned to kayak when he went away to college. While he admits that he should have been an architect, the prospect of living in a studio quickly became unappealing, so he latched onto whitewater kayaking. He loves all forms of paddle sports and can be seen doing any variation of them.
Why do you love kayaking?
That’s like asking why do I breathe. It’s become a necessity. I do it to survive. It has become a lifetime fitness activity—fitness for my body and my mind. I do it because it makes me better, and therefore I want to make it better. I do it because people depend on me to do it, because I have become a catalyst so they can make themselves better. I do it because I am passionate about it, and I believe if you are not passionate about something in life then you have let a piece of yourself go.
Why did you get into sports when you were young?
My mom said I went from crawling straight to running. I’m not sure why I was more involved with sports than other kids, but it did seem that way at times. I have fond memories of playing basketball in the summer heat for hours on end. I liked the way I felt when I moved and pushed my body. I still do, although I would say I am finally at a point where my brain has caught up with my body and I enjoy sitting and thinking just as much.
Who are your biggest role models?
That’s a touch question. As with anything in life, those change. Currently, my biggest role models are folks who are self-employed and are constantly problem solving. Some people would observe that these folks are making things up as they go, but really, doesn’t that sound appealing? The folks at Untamed Science have been a big inspiration for us. I have also found myself relating a lot to David Hughes of the Patagonia Study Abroad program. He ran a kayaking high school called New River Academy for over a decade and has now transitioned the same concept to college-age students. Pretty cool stuff.
Why are you so passionate about education in this sport?
I suppose it’s due in part to those who first taught me. I became involved at a university level, so the focus always was on education and making people better. Those that taught me were so passionate about it themselves, and it was contagious and fun. When I decided it would become the path that I would follow (for now) I sought out any venue where I could be around whitewater and teaching. I became hooked. I enjoyed watching people have their “a-ha” moments. All that and it’s just downright neat!
What role does science play in your teaching?
Science is in everything we do daily. It’s not hard to see. But whitewater kayaking so blatantly derives its curriculum from physics, and I have always been enamored by physics. It’s all vectors, displacement, dynamics, and how our kinesiology plays into that. I have been known to totally geek out while teaching, thankfully in a way that seems to still be relatable to the students I teach.
What advice would you give young kayakers getting into the sport?
Do your homework! You’re going to have a tough time convincing your parents that it is a sport that you won’t get hurt doing. On the surface it really does look like a lot of aimless daredevilry with very little premeditation. It’s quite the opposite! However, you have to do your homework and assure that you are taking the necessary time to build the base knowledge and kinesthetics to be successful. Getting hurt can be a reality if you jump ahead to fast or if you don’t keep yourself trained and honed both physically and mentally.