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 six 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 fought 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.
Since transitioning several years ago from the contest scene to exploring the most breathtaking rapids he can find, Steve’s boldest first descent expeditions include the Irrawaddy in Burma, the Salween in China, and the Yarlung TsangPo in Tibet, home of the world’s deepest gorge. Yet with plans for dozens of first descents in 2009 and beyond, he’s only just begun. “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. His approach to overcoming gnarly conditions is 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.” What drives the man who claims to have paddled further than he has walked? “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.