Name: Steve Fisher
Date of birth: February 18, 1976
Hometown: South African traveller with a home base in Jinja, Uganda.
Sometimes a man and a mode of transport are simply made for each other. Such is the case with Steve Fisher and the kayak. Since he started paddling at the age of 6 on the Bushmans River near his rural hometown of Estcourt, South Africa, he’s hit the rapids in nearly 50 countries, conquering twice that many first descents. He’s also won numerous competitions, starred in the documentary Black Book, and opposed environment-damaging dam-building near his island home on the Nile River in Uganda. No wonder top pro kayakers have three times voted Steve the world’s best all-arounder. What drives him? “I used to talk about the rush of adrenaline,” he says. “Then I’d talk about how you can be the first human being to see a place. But you run a drop, the first thing you do is look up at your buddies. Sharing challenges and accomplishments with friends at the bar afterwards is the best part.” Especially when you’re the best in the world.
That’s not to say Steve’s success hasn’t involved a bit of soul-searching, however. Early in 2002, he was weighing his dream of being a professional kayaker against the potential financial struggles that might accompany such a course. Then, toward the end of an eye-opening first descent adventure along the Yarlung TsangPo in Tibet, land expedition leader Dave Allardyce recited a passage from Sterling Hayden’s The Wanderer that ended with: “The years thunder by, the dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?”
Those words spoke to Steve and helped him make up his mind. “What I chose to do is put that fear of bankruptcy on the shelf and give it a go, and as things happen to do, things worked out,” he says. “That was the turning point for me.” Soon afterwards, Steve started rocking competitions, including two wins at the Gorge Games in 2002 and a third-place finish at the World Championships in 2003. One Red Bull sponsorship later, and his pro kayaker dreams were an undeniable reality.
Though he got his start on the contest scene, Steve has spent the past few years seeking out the most breathtaking rapids he can find. Some of his boldest expeditions include the Irrawaddy in Burma and the Salween in China, but those may be just the beginning. Among other goals, he’s planning some first descents in Norway, heli-kayaking in New Zealand, and a plunge into the Black Dragon Tidal Bore in China, one of only a few places where the river flows down while the tide pushes up, allowing kayakers to go upstream by surfing the resulting wave.
Those exploits would pale in comparison to one he’s had his eye on for some time. “The holy grail is a source to sea journey on the Congo river, 4,000 kilometers down to the Atlantic,” he says. “There’s a lot of fear from media and sponsors that I’ll get killed. I risk that quite often, but to them it’s different if you get shot. The outcome is more or less the same in my mind.”
It takes a measure of bravado to speak such words, but Steve comes by his honestly. Negotiating monstrous waves and sweeping cliff drops may seem insane to some, but when you’ve kayaked further than you’ve walked, you don’t rattle easily. Rather, you get into a “flow state” and act with confidence, decisiveness, and speed. Known for his aggressive paddling style, Steve seems almost to attack the waves. “Paddling scared reduces your performance,” he explains. “I move quickly and with purpose. Even if I know I’m going the wrong way, I make it look like I’m going the right way, and that alone helps me to get through.” Considering Steve’s two worst injuries are broken collarbones suffered on land, his system clearly works.
Even as he conquers the raging rapids of the world, Steve recognizes the dangers that world faces, particularly on the environmental front. On his island in Uganda, he uses only solar power, teaches conservation farming to the locals, and aims to form a learning center that teaches environmental principles. “A lot of humanitarian efforts are in conflict with the environment,” he says. “I’d like to help both.” He’s also plotting to fight plans for four dams on the Nile that he says not only threaten the recreation of a thousand kayakers, but will also flood his island.
That challenge may prove more monumental than the ones Steve has faced on the water, but his uncompromising approach remains the same. “The river is a great metaphor for life,” he explains. “You enter a rapid, choose your line, and evaluate it. But it’s going, and it’s not stopping for you, so you either have to figure it out or you’re done.” First descent, anyone?
After many years of participatiing in the production of the many TV shows and films that he’s featured in, Steve has decided to try his hand at Directing and producing his own films under the family name of ‘Fish Munga’. The challenge remains to capture on film what happens when we least expect it – that’s at least if we don’t expect it. With years of experience as athletes, explorers and cinematographers, Steve and his brother Dave, bring you what they confidently call, ‘athlete generated content’. They shoot in the first person from inside the crew, and with recent advancements in portable camera equipment, retain and continue to improve on the production value expected by today’s audiences.
‘Halo Effect’, his first foray as Producer and Director of a feature documentary, has already collected numerous awards and filled theatres across the globe. Recent awards include:
- X-Dance 2011 – ‘Best Adventure Film’ (with 6 other nominations – more than any other film)
- US National Paddling Film Festival 2011 – ‘Best of Show’
- REEL paddling film festival 2011 (Canada) – ‘Best Film’
Since turning pro-kayaker in 1999, he won countless freestyle competitions and downriver races and invented many of today’s freestyle moves. He’s been called the “World’s Best All-Round Kayaker” but now focuses on expeditions and filmmaking. His list of first descents includes such greats as the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, and Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo. But In one way or another, all of this had simply prepared Fisher for this expedition on the Inga Rapids.