Better Know a Hurricane Rider. My Interview with Rowan Gloag

Tuesday, 02 November 2010

Surfing a Wave. Photo Credit: The Hurricane Riders

Over the past year or so, The Hurricane Riders have been developing quite a name for themselves on YouTube with their crazy rough water sea kayaking shorts.

Last week I sat down (via a keyboard) with team member Rowan Gloag in what became the 1st in our 1 part series, Better Know a Hurricane Rider. I wanted to find out the story behind the Hurricane Riders and what keeps Rowan motivated as an instructor.

Tell me about The Hurricane Riders. How many members are on the team and how long have you been around?
Currently there are 6 members in THR. However, we may increase that number in the future. James Dunderdale and Marty Perry started the crew back in 2007.

Several members of the team are also guides and sea kayak instructors. Tell me about that. How long have you been instructing for and how often throughout the paddling season do you teach?

  • Rowan Gloag (Me) - I am a full-time instructor working for both for Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak (DCCK) and SKILS. I've been doing this since 1998.
  • James Dunderdale is the School Director at DCCK and works for SKILS. He teaches as much as he can. He has been an instructor since 2003.
  • Marty Perry is a full-time instructor since 2007 at DCCK as well.
  • Chris Wilson is a part-time instructor at DCCK since 2001.
  • Pawel Szopa taught as an instructor at DCCK from 2003 to 2009.
  • Kim Hannula runs Deep Cove Outdoors. (She is not an instructor)

How did The Hurricane Riders get started?
We had been play-boating in long boats for years and originally it was just about paddling long boats in more demanding conditions. As professionals in this industry, we needed an outlet that was just for us, that wasn't work, where we could push our skills. We started off with just pictures, but in 2008 we began shooting rudimentary videos with our point-and-shoot cameras. With no editing experience and armed with a new Macbook, I did my best to link images to music. It was a steep learning curve with over 50 hours going into our first video.

Rowan Gloag, Hurricane Rider. Photo Credit: THRSome people say that your paddling style is influenced by whitewater in that you are basically whitewater paddling on the ocean. Is that accurate? Would you view it that way?
Maybe. We do have whitewater experience and we still paddle rivers. But we are sea kayakers, and this is the sea. For myself, a major influence was (and still is) Michael Pardy from SKILS. I took my PC Level 4 Skills course with him in 2003 and he has inspired all of us to get better with every season. I honestly believe that this is just a natural progression for sea kayakers. Well, maybe not the seal launches - they're just for fun. I paddle in rough conditions because it shows me very quickly the holes that I have in my game.

As a team, how do you manage risk? In the beginning, did you formally sit down and develop a risk management plan for real-life scenarios or do you keep it loose and depend more on each other skills?
I'm really glad you asked this question. Due to the nature of YouTube, we can't explain everything that goes into our "stunts." Yes, we sat down and wrote our Incident Response Plans (IRP's). We discussed mandatory safety equipment, incident protocol, and communication standards. Most of the crew are certified Paddle Canada Level 4 paddlers so the sea kayaking skills match the conditions we are paddling in.

The classic question, any close calls?
Close calls - that depends on what you mean. I did get stuck in a boat two years ago. I capsized without my paddle and my legs were trapped in the cockpit. That was a long 47 seconds. I was scared. As for collisions - yes. As for injury - kinda, but nothing resulting in a trip to the hospital.

Personally I need to be injury-free to work so I’m a pretty timid paddler.  With a pre-paddle safety meeting, rescue and safety equipment, and IRP's in place, I feel pretty safe paddling with this crew. 

In the whitewater. Photo credit: The Hurricane RidersWhat’s the best part about teaching?
For me, the best part of teaching is facilitating change. Students generally come with a boatload of enthusiasm, but lack the technical skills for success. Using the right form of communication, students can achieve new skills, confidence and an amazing sense of pride. This can happen even when teaching something as simple as the pulling draw.

What motivates you to be a better instructor?
My students. I really enjoy watching people go through the learning process. The challenge of customizing each session to students’ own learning styles keeps me motivated to learn more teaching techniques. That, and sea kayaking is pretty dope.

How do you keep the passion and interest for teaching alive when you find yourself constantly teaching beginners how to forward sweep over and over again?
I don't get discouraged by constantly teaching beginners basic skills, although I have struggled with keeping my passion. In 2007, I lost it. I left the industry, sold most of my gear and went back to school then started a new life as a deck hand for a local tugboat company. The funny thing is that I missed teaching so much that I quit the tugs and came back to the industry. I can honestly say that I'm doing what I'm meant to do. I do this job because I love it, and that's it. I think passion is like anything else. If you don't use it, you lose it. For me, I do two things: I schedule a few challenging contracts every season and I make THR videos.

After you started pushing the envelope and getting out in bigger water, were you able to channel that knowledge and experience back into being a better instructor?
Yes, THR has had a huge effect on my teaching ability. There's nothing better than experience to refine your skills. THR has made me reassess everything that I originally thought. For example, I teach edge control and bracing very differently now than I did before. I am a "watcher' and "feeler" style learner and this has allowed me to dissect basic movement and therefore helped me be a better instructor.

Some people feel that the goal of The Hurricane Riders is to change and push the sport of sea kayaking to a new level. You say you are not out to do that.
Yeah, I don't think we are doing that. Maybe we are, but it doesn't feel like it. This is a part of sea kayaking and always has been. People have been paddling like this for years. The only difference is we are using YouTube to spread to word. A few years ago, we met Warren Williamson at Skookumchuck. He has been paddling ocean boats in currents for over a decade. I took my Paddle Canada Level 4 Skills in 2003. The Romany was conceived in 1979. The Tsunami Rangers were surfing in rock gardens when I was playing T-Ball. We’re not pushing sea kayaking to the next level...we just have a different soundtrack.  

Where do you see sea kayaking going in the next 5 years?
Boat and paddling style is something that I am very passionate about. I have the honor of helping Reg Lake and Sterling, from, on a very exciting new project: the Reflection. This is a sea kayak designed for playing in big water with back surfing as a focus. It reminds me of '97 when Salomon released the 1080's, the first pair of twin-tip skis. Back surfing is one of the coolest experiences I have ever had in an ocean boat. As far as paddling styles, I hope we see more THR-style crews come up and start laying down some sick style.

You guys make videos. Tell me about them. What have you done and which one are you most proud of?
I make the THR videos for us to keep our stoke up between trips. As a result of posting them on YouTube, other people watch them too. Honestly, I'm flattered by the support, comments, and viewer counts. With almost 100,000 views, it's a little overwhelming at times, but at the same time it makes me want to make more. We aren't going to make movies for sale. YouTube only. Free for you forever. Enjoy.

October Sessions is our most recent video…I’m pretty proud of it.

More info: or Hurricane Riders on Facebook

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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