Rosalyn Lawrence: world champion kayaker

By Dean Mellor 30 June 2015
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World champion Rosalyn Lawrence talks paddling ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil.

ROSALYN LAWRENCE is a kayaker. Has been since she was a kid. In fact, she was only two-years of age when she first went paddling and now, just 24, she already has a number of world titles and championships to her name. So how did this unassuming country girl end up becoming an elite athlete?

“My dad was really into kayaking and my sisters loved it,” Rosalyn says. “We just went camping and kayaking all the time and it kind of moved from there into competitive slalom.”

Rosalyn’s older sisters have also had a degree of success in kayaks over the years. “Kate was world cup champion one year and Jacqui was an Olympic silver medalist in 2008. They’ve both retired now so I’ve got a great cheer squad,” Rosalyn laughs.

But a life of paddling hasn’t just come about because of her family heritage; Rosalyn simply loves being out on the water, enjoying the great outdoors. “I love being out on the whitewater in nature. It’s different every day and exciting; you can go and paddle off big waterfalls for a thrill or go and do slalom which is very technical. There’s just a huge amount of variety and I love being outdoors.

The best places to kayak in Australia

When it comes to creeking, or recreational whitewater paddling, Rosalyn says there are plenty of rivers she likes to paddle in Australia, but one of her favourites is the Leven Canyon run in Tasmania. “I’ve only done it once but was really good fun. It has rapids and drops and whitewater..

“There are a lot of great runs around Cairns that I’d like to revisit,” she adds. “The last chance I had to go creeking in Australia was on the Wollondilly River [in the Southern Highlands, NSW]. My mate Ben Hankinson, legend, tells me it was the highest it’s ever been paddled – I don’t think my heart rate has ever been so high for so long!” Rosalyn admits.

In terms of slalom, “I always liked the Nymboida Canoe Centre, Goolang Creek, but it’s closed down at the moment, unfortunately.” The water flow into Goolang Creek is dependent upon the hydro-electric power station that draws water out of the Nymboida River, but unfortunately the 90-year old power station is no longer functioning, so there’s simply not enough water to paddle on.

“There’s a petition running to try and get [the Goolang Creek water flows] open again,” Rosalyn says. “Hopefully something will come out of it because it’s a really important place for whitewater kayaking in Australia, and developing the sport.” Rosalyn has certainly proved that over the years, being crowned national champion in slalom C1 and K1, wildwater C1 and boater cross, “but I would be hard pressed to remember which years,” she admits.

Kayaking and competing overseas 

Rosalyn’s overseas success covers several kayaking disciplines, but one of her favaourite events is the World Extreme Championships Sickline in Oetz, Austria. “Racing at the Sickline event has definitely been a highlight. It’s a really fantastic venue and the organisers do a great job of ramping up the atmosphere.

“It’s a really good section of whitewater. It’s technical and exciting. Normally, when you go creeking, you paddle in, take a look at a rapid and find a line, do it once and you keep going. But this section, you can see it from the bank and because it’s a race you do it over and over again. For me it’s kind of nearly merging a bit of slalom and extreme paddling because I have to work out my line and try and perfect it every time I go down.

“It’s a really beautiful part of the world, with the Austrian lakes, beautiful places for swimming, going hiking in the mountains, kayaking, there’s great rock climbing.”

As well as the competition, it’s a love of nature that draws Rosalyn to different rivers around the world, such as the Landsborough River in New Zealand. “That was really good fun,” Rosalyn says. “We did the Landsborough; my sister and my dad and a good friend of ours who we met through kayaking. There was stunning scenery, exciting helicoptering, we camped out by the river overnight; I try and get away to do that kind of creeking whenever I can get away from doing slalom, where I’m committed to quite a lot of training and races overseas.”

Anyone competing at an elite level could find that the commitment and training required could become a chore, but this is not the case in Rosalyn’s experience. “Competition is definitely never a chore, it’s usually very exciting,” she says. “Training, I guess it could go that way, but I usually try and mix things up by going creeking or going to the beach and paddling there; it’s just such a dynamic sport that it really never gets boring. I enjoy it every day.”

When it comes to slalom, Rosalyn’s preferred discipline is C1, where she kneels in the boat and uses a single-blade paddle, but she’s had to shift her focus to K1, where she sits in the boat and uses a double-blade paddle. “I started C1 in 2008/2009 and I really enjoy it,” she says. “I feel a lot more comfortable and natural in the boat, so I would like to spend a lot more time doing C1, but it’s not looking like it will be in the Olympics until 2020 in Tokyo,” she says.

“My immediate priority is the 2016 Olympics in Rio [where there will only be K1 for women] so I’m doing a lot of training in K1.” This being the case, a lot of funding for the Olympics is based around K1, “So if I’m winning world cups and championships in C1, I can’t get as much funding for that as I can in K1 to keep paddling.. and I need to get as much funding as I can,” Rosalyn says.

And funding for kayakers isn’t easy to come by. “Some people have got no idea what kayaking is,” Rosalyn says. “You know, there are just so many people who have got a boat in their garage that they pull out once a year and go for a paddle in, but not too many people know many of the details about the different disciplines or any of the politics.

Kayaking in Sydney Harbour

“I just signed a new deal with Sydney Harbour Kayaks, one of my biggest sponsors so far, and they are obviously in the industry and I’m kind of an ambassador for them, whereas my other sponsors have been to do with providing me boats and gear and stuff like that. It’s great to have a sponsor who’s really happy to help me out. [Sydney Harbour Kayaks] want to get me to the Olympics, and I’m going to help promote kayaking there and hopefully take some classes.”

While there’s no whitewater in Sydney’s Middle Harbour, where Sydney Harbour Kayaks is based, Rosalyn says she still enjoys paddling there. “I love being on the ocean,” she says. “It’s a bit of a different experience but it’s still kayaking so it’s very enjoyable. I just love the open space, something a little bit different.

“I like anything in the outdoors. About every year I’ll pick up a new sport and say ‘Aaagh, I’m going to do heaps of this’, then I realise I need to do more training in slalom. I’ve done a bit of rock climbing over the years but I haven’t had the chance to go outdoors all that often. Actually, the weekend just gone I went outdoor rock climbing for the first time and it was awesome.

“I usually just pick up random sports, Rosalyn says. “I did a bit of boxing for a while, I did a bit of aerial silks for a while, I just love bushwalking and getting in the outdoors, but most of the time I’m in a kayak.”