I first met Fergus Coffey when we moved Untamed Science HQ to Charlotte, NC. I knew that to make our company a success, we’d have to team up with some of the best and smartest sports gurus in town. Only a few days after meeting him, we told Fergus we were going to film the second-to last space shuttle launch in Florida and asked if he wanted to come…in two days. Turns out he’s both a kayaking nerd and a science geek at heart! The best of all worlds.
Fergus was born to an aeronautical engineer and a nurse and therefore got dragged to multiple air shows and lectures as a kid, which developed into a healthy curiosity. He studied biology and chemistry before a need to be outside more tled hime to work in the kayaking industry. Since then he’s run the kayak operations at the USNWC and helped create the whitewater facility in Dubai.
Why do you love kayaking?
I’ve been kayaking for almost 20 years, and it still provides avenues for improvement. My real passions in the sport outside education are racing and creeking, and a combo of the two. Racing is all about efficiency, so you are constantly looking for ways to make yourself faster without expending more energy.
Why did you get into sports when you were young?
I don’t think I had a choice as my dad is very active. I was an active kid, so it was going to happen. It took a while trying several sports before getting hooked on slalom. Once in that sport I realized it was a perfect blend of mental and physical skills. Plus it was individual, so I was the only one to blame when I screwed up.
Who are your biggest role models?
I’ve never really been into role models; I’m more interested in trying to pick up pieces from different people. Early on it was the fastest racers like Paul Ratcliffe and Martikan that were just able to use the available water better than anyone. After that I just admired people that did whatever it was with efficiency which lead to style.
Why are you so passionate about education in this sport?
Education in many sports has been reduced to learn-by-rote and assimilation-of-rules. While generalities exist, this can lead to a stagnation of people’s learning curve as they try more complex moves with a beginner progression that later on needs to be dismantled and reworked. My passion at these levels is to educate both the instructors and the students how to impart the workings of the sport so that the participants not only understand the concepts but are given parameters which can be manipulated. Watching students taught with this approach massively accelerates their curve without any of the side affects later on in their progression.
What role does science play in your teaching?
Basic physics and kinematics play massively into my teaching. Without these, their comprehension goes out the window and you revert to rule-based learning. Within this, you have momentum, leverage, hydrology, and getting them to understand how they all interact. Once you know what’s happening, this is where you can really start playing around.
What advice would you give young kayakers getting into the sport?
Think, experiment, and don’t be afraid of the odd beat-down.