As staff photographer for Canoe & Kayak, I approached coverage of this year’s GoPro Mountain Games a little differently. Of course I was going to shoot the impressive display of high-level paddling, but that might only produce imagery and recaps like prior years, or at best a deeper look at the characters behind the action of, say, the 8-ball shenanigans or freestyle McNasties unfolding before engaged crowds. Instead, what piqued my interest was the opinions from the core competitors, less about the individual performances, and much more about the collective representation of the sport, and their thoughts on us – the paddlesports media. What did they like about media these days? What is there too much of? How can we do better?

The results were enlightening and my riverside chats with both “the pros and Joes” that meet in Vail each June and that define the Games, provided valuable insight, and a little advice on improving our own content offering moving ahead. – AS


Adriene Levknecht persevered through 10 separate events at the GoPro Mountain Games to take the 2018 Ultimate Mountain Challenge title and the $2,500 first-place prize.

Adriene Levknecht, kayaking for 25 years, Greenville, SC

My point with whitewater kayaking as I get older is to get more people into the sport.  Even though it’s aesthetically pleasing to pro kayakers and people that are up-and-coming, the visuals of the boys hucking really big isn’t really the media that gets people into kayaking. A mom sees that and says my kids are never getting into kayaking, ever.

I think at some point there needs to be a media shift, to market towards being more family and user-friendly. We should be supporting the ‘club-boater.’ One thing that sticks out in my mind is Perception’s ‘Don’t Get Yakked Off’ video. It was so awesome at pushing the general public into buying a brand that is safe and actually useful.

Peter Holcombe

Peter Holcombe, 45 years old, Pro Photographer living the Winnebago-life, USA

The destination stories are great, I love to find new rivers and places to go. But, we need more historical stories. There are a lot of stories out there on the characters and pioneers of our sport. We need more of that. I’m getting bored of seeing waterfall pictures. If I see another Spirit Falls photo … I’m over it.  I’d like to see more stories that inspire paddlers to go on road trips and experience new places.

Nouria Newman, fighting the 8-Balls at the GoPro Mountain Games.

Nouria Newman

It’s hard to tell what’s out there sometimes. There are a lot of articles written by paddlers that could have been better, sometimes they turn into self-promotion and only show one side of the story. It’s OK, it’s just not the best journalism. I really enjoy long-format stories. Erik Boomer and Sarah are doing great things and are able to take their egos out of it to focus on the people and culture they encounter along the way.

A lot of the US media is ethnocentric and I’d like to see more international coverage. But since the US dominates the whitewater market it makes sense, even though when US athletes come to events like Sickline, they meet ‘no-names’ in the eddy and then get their asses kicked.

Erik, Stefan and Kari Sortland. // Erik Sortland makes his way down Gore Creek in the Kayak Sprint race.

Erik, Stefan and Kari Sortland, Vail CO.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything I don’t like. Love the visuals, and the documentaries and stories are great. Watching those guys drop mad waterfalls is sick!

Sage Donnelly performed very well at the GoPro Mountain Games. She made the finals in freestyle and won the SUP Surf Cross event.

Sage Donnelly, 17 years old from Carson City, Nevada

I really dig short videos with big airs, tricks and steep creeks. One of the things that bugs me though is people not being safe and posting it on social media.  Not having safety in play for creeks and people running stuff they probably shouldn’t have. Another thing is I think women are not represented that well. I think it is getting better but I still try to push badass women getting out there and having fun.

Jason Pientka getting a taste for the 8-Ball madness.

Jason Pientka, Kayaking four years, General Contractor from Steven’s Point, Wisconsin

I like what you guys do. You guys help me decide where I want to go paddle, the destinations that I didn’t know about. I always want to do something I’ve never done before. Like coming to the GoPro games, it’s super fun, getting to play with the big dogs.

Gannon White

Gannon White, Kayaking for 12 years, Boulder, CO 

I watch all the video magazines, which I think are great. I only get magazines when they are given away, like at events like the GPMG. I’m a professor in exercise science so I like anything that deals with performance. The GoPro Games are at high-altitude so that’s interesting. Really anything related to the physical or bio-mechanical aspects of the sport.

Rafe Ortiz expertly dodging the 8-Ball menace.

Rafa Ortiz, Pro Kayaker, Mexico 

It’s kind of interesting what’s happening right now. Media used to be very centralized and now we get media from all different directions, social media, etc. I think there will always be room for print, but it’s about adapting and most things are happening now through our phones. I like reading stories of expeditions and I also like keeping up with news, like new records and what’s currently happening.

Eric Jackson, jack-of-all-trades, seen here in the SUP Surf Cross.

Eric Jackson, Kayak Manufacturer

The media world tends to be like a high-school clique, they all watch and follow each other. (The media) should use people at events to clue them into what the best stories are. With my kayak manufacturer glasses on, we can be a good source of stories and content. It’s funny I don’t get contacted more as a source of writing and stories. People like new voices. I want the magazines to stay viable. It’s good for us, the events and the sport.