Six Questions with the Female Athletes of NRS

Photo: Kalob Grady


Adriene Levknecht (SC)
With one of the most impressive lists of competition results in the sport, Adriene Levknecht is one of the most well-known names in the industry. She has won the Green Race eleven times, competed in three different Freestyle World Championships, and won bronze at the 2013 Freestyle World Championships. Her athleticism doesn’t stop at kayaking either. In 2018 and 2019, she won back-to-back titles of the GoPro Mountain Games Ultimate Mountain Challenge, in which she competed in six different sports throughout the weekend.

How many years have you been paddling? 26

Where have you paddled in the world? I was lucky enough to be a student at World Class Kayak Academy for two years so I traveled to Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Ecuador, Australia, Uganda, and Zambia. After school, I traveled around Europe and the UK finding rivers everywhere.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud paddling accomplishment? Being the first woman off of the line during the 2018 Green Race. Usually, this goes to the male who won the year before, but Eric Deguil couldn’t come to the race so the organizer decided to give me the #1 pole position bib. It was freaking sweet!

Who do you look up to most as a paddling role model, past or present? I was lucky enough to be taught by some of the best in the industry, Shane Benedict and Whitney Lonsdale were the first ones to really push my kayaking. The late Maria Noakes will always be my role model, though she does not walk on this planet with us. I also really look up to Benny Marr (not because he’s way taller than me) but because he really is just a good human being all around. He has helped me fall in love with kayaking many times over.

Who is your biggest celebrity kayaker crush? Jessica Fox, I would die if I got to meet her. Right there, drop dead.

Tell us your most embarrassing paddling-related moment. Ok confession, I pooped in the back of my sprayskirt and didn’t realize until I tried to put it on my cockpit.

Anna Bruno (WA)
If you start listing up-and-coming youth kayakers around the world, more often than not, they will have one thing in common: Anna Bruno as one of their teachers. She has taught more kids to kayak than anyone can imagine and is continuing to spread her legacy as World Class Academy’s newest Dean of Students.

A love of warm, big water led her to the Nile River in 2007, where she taught kayaking for three years before relocating to the Ottawa River, where she served as the Keener Mom for the Wilderness Tours Keener Program for a decade. Anna’s passion for kayaking and for teaching kids to kayak has led her around the world, notably working for World Class Academy and competing at the ICF Freestyle World Championships as a member of the US Freestyle kayak team. She won the 2015 ICF Bronze Medalist in the Squirt Boat Category. Originally from Pennsylvania, she now splits her years between two homes in Okere Falls, New Zealand and White Salmon, Washington.

2010 Montreal Eau Vive; Photo: Damien Larrigaudiere

How many years have you been paddling? 19

What is your ‘real job(s)’? I’m the Editor for Kayak Session Magazine. (All those words in the magazine that nobody reads, I help write and edit.) I’m also the Dean of Students for World Class Academy.

If you could only paddle one river for the rest of your life, which would it be? And why? Too hard. If I had to, had to, had to choose, I want to be able to paddle the Kaituna for the rest of my life because it has almost everything: playboating, creeking lines, squirty eddies, warm water and good people.

What is one piece of advice you could give someone just getting into the sport? Let go of the ego, embrace failure, and learn to laugh at yourself. Also, take a swiftwater rescue class! Then re-take one!

Tell us about your weirdest paddling experience. We once had a legit Tea Party, complete with cheese, crackers, sandwiches, and fancy dresses.

Who do you look up to most as a paddling role model? Or who has been your main role model in the past? Clay Wright. He has done it all and has an incredible memory and passion for the sport. I love speaking to him about all things kayaking and I don’t know if anyone loves kayaking as much as he does. I also respect how he is constantly working to try and make others enjoy the river as much as he does.

And then there’s Tanya Faux. She was the first “Pro Kayaker” who was nice to me. I’ll never forget watching her go back to do a second run on Fish Creek at the Steamboat Rodeo with a local girl who had won the right to compete against the pros. It was a miserable, cold, rainy day, and this girl had swam on her first lap. You could tell she was intimidated and wasn’t sure if she wanted to do a second run. T. Faux had already won the race, and she went back to do a second run and set safety, saying to the chick, “You can follow me, I’ll make sure you’re okay.” I thought to myself, that right there is the kind of paddler (and person) I want to be.

Anna Levesque (NC)
When you hear Anna Levesque’s name, a litany of claims-to-fame should run through your head. This list could include five times on the Canadian Freestyle Kayak Team, a podium finish at the 2001 Freestyle Kayak World Championships, named one of the “Most Inspirational Paddlers Alive” by Canoe and Kayak Magazine, holds a first descent of the Tulle River in California, and voted the “Most Inspirational Outdoors Person in The Blue Ridge” by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.

Those are just a few of the many incredible accomplishments by Anna, but what we’re most impressed with is how many people she has gotten hooked on the sport. Founder and owner of Mind Body Paddle, Anna has taught literally thousands of women to paddle. She runs in-person clinics, tours, retreats, and creates instructional DVDs and online courses that are geared toward inspiring women in the sports of whitewater kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

How many years have you been paddling? 25

Where in the world have you paddled? Canada, USA, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, France, Uganda, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Barbados, China.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud paddling accomplishment? Standing on the podium with a bronze medal finish at the 2001 Freestyle World Championships in Sort, Spain.

If you could only paddle one river for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? Probably the Gauley because it’s got everything and it’s beautiful.

What has been your weirdest paddling experience? Jessie Stone and I set up a sting operation to catch thieves in the Kaituna parking lot in New Zealand. My backpack had gotten stolen out of the car, so we decided to hide in the woods with a camera to see if we could catch them. We did catch a few thieves and a full police chase ensued. We ended up on the cover of the Rotorua newspaper.

Tell us your most embarrassing paddling-related moment. After my raft flipped at high water Coliseum on the Ottawa, my shorts fell to my ankles as I was being pulled into the rescue Zodiac. I was stuck for a moment flailing and yelling at the guy to let me back in the water. This was in front of a full raft of guests. Back in the water, I pulled my shorts up and held them while I got pulled back in. It was mortifying. And of course, the raft guide with a boat full of guests all told me I had a nice butt.

Brooke Hess (MT)
Brooke grew up in Missoula, Montana where she learned to ski before she learned to walk. She was in a climbing harness before she could read and a kayak before she could drive. In high school, Brooke was President of the National Honors Society, concertmaster of the youth symphony, and class valedictorian. Today, she lives in her truck…although she does have a degree in Geoscience. Her undergraduate thesis focused on Fluvial Geomorphology on the Slave River. In the years since graduation, Brooke has taught kayaking and climbing—and math and science—at World Class Academy and paddled all over the U.S., BC, Quebec, Ontario, Northwest Territories, Uganda, New Zealand, Spain and Argentina on the hunt for big waves.

Not a stranger to the competition circuit—or podium—she has competed in the Freestyle World Championships (2017), Nile River Fest, Unleashed and the Kaituna Time Trial. But she’s most proud of her first-place finish at Montreal’s Eau Vive where she stood on the podium beside two of her icons, Emily Jackson and Claire O’Hara. These days, she’s more content surfing big, beautiful waves with good people and just exploring the limits of her own paddling. At the same time, she’s also motivated to help increase the number of women in the sport paddling at a high level. And so, she recently co-founded a coaching business with the hope that if more women are kayaking and competing at a higher level, we can all raise the standard for women within the sport all-around.

Photo: Kalob Grady

How many years have you been paddling? 14

How did you get into kayaking? Who taught you, and what hooked you?  The short story: Peer Pressure. My dad taught me to roll when I was 13 years old. When I was 16, the USA Team Trials were in my hometown. I was kayaking with my dad at the whitewater park a few days before the competition (not planning to compete), when Hannah Kertesz, one of the junior women competitors ran up to me and basically peer pressured me into learning how to loop. She coached me from shore, and I ended up getting my very first loop that day. She then pressured me into competing—I did—and scored a whopping ten points with a right spin. But either way, I was hooked, and Hannah and I are good friends to this day.

What was your worst paddling-related injury/illness? Antibiotic-resistant Typhoid from a trip to Uganda. I spent more than two months in and out of hospitals trying to figure out what was wrong, then two years dealing with gut issues following the illness. Still can’t eat gluten or dairy after all that. Hands down the worst experience of my life. But I’ve also broken my back and severely concussed myself… so maybe I’m just unlucky!


What has been your weirdest paddling experience? I may or may not have shared a Wag Bag with a (really) good friend on a multiday in Idaho one time…

If you could only paddle one river for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? Mistassibi River, Quebec. In the spring when it’s high, it scares the tits off me. In the fall when it’s low, it also scares the tits off me.

Who do you look up to most as a paddling role model? Or who has been your main role model in the past? When I was 13, Erin Clancey was living in my hometown and giving kayaking lessons to help fund her graduate school studies. She was on the U.S. Freestyle Team at the time, so I thought she was hot shit. I remember saving up all my lawn mowing money and hiring her for a kayaking lesson. She gave me my very first “freestyle” kayaking lesson, and then six years later took me on my first trip to Skookumchuck!

Natalie Anderson is my other big role model. She is the queen of big wave freestyle, and was also my adviser for my undergraduate thesis research. I hope to someday be as stylie on the big waves as she is.

Casi Rynkowski (MA)
Do you ever meet those people who seem to do everything? Let me introduce you to another: Casi. She owns and runs an adventure fitness business, Casi Performance Training and Outdoor Fitness. She surfs big waves, stand-up paddleboards, rock climbs, ice climbs, and teaches paddling. She also co-founded Camp Crystal Kai and Camp Bejan Blue, women’s paddleboard health and wellness retreats in North Carolina and Barbados.

Casi is also the founder of the non-profit SUP program called Paddle for Recovery, which offers FREE paddleboard classes for recovering cancer survivors and a friend or family member who supported them through their treatment. She is an ACA Stand Up Paddle Level 2 Instructor, an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer, and the SIC Maui athlete team manager. Oh, and did I mention she’s a mom of three?

How many years have you been paddling? 9

What do you do for work? I do a bag of tricks. I own a personal training business, Casi Performance Training, that specializes in outdoor fitness adventures for women, I also manage the Athlete Team at SIC Maui Paddleboards and I’m a mom of three: Chase 18, Sky 14 and Gray 11.

If you could paddle one place for the rest of your life, where would it be and why? I’m an ocean girl and love the Rhode Island coast. I would paddle and surf the coast every day possible if I could. If I had to pick a river, I’d choose the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Downwinding is fantastic there.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud paddling accomplishment? Establishing the Paddle for Recovery program is my most proud accomplishment. I believe Mother Nature truly heals and can provide relief to many cancer survivors.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud non-paddling accomplishment? My three kids are my most proud non-paddling accomplishment. Early on, I started taking them on one-on-one adventure trips, hoping the desire to be outdoors would stick. Fast forward 18 years later, my oldest Chase still asks me to plan adventures with him.

Tell us about your craziest paddling/surfing experience? I was the only woman to be invited on a BIC SUP surf trip to Barbados to film a Facing Waves episode. I was the novice surfer in the group, and the guys were the pros. They tossed me in some pretty crazy conditions and point breaks. I survived, a bit wounded with a slash to my nose but learned so much about myself.

Cat Hardman (AL)
You may not have heard of Cat yet, but make sure to keep this young gun on your radar as she is an up-and-comer to watch over the next few years. From throwing airscrews on big waves in her playboat, to running waterfalls in her creek boat, Cat’s life has been saturated with whitewater since she was five years old. The now 18-year-old spent the past two years traveling the world and learning (on and off the water) with World Class Academy, a traveling high school for elite youth whitewater kayakers. She has paddled all over the U.S., as well as Canada, Zambia, Uganda, Ecuador, and Chile.

Photo: Kalob Grady

How many years have you been paddling? 13

Who do you look up to most as a paddling role model? Nicole Mansfield, Riley Gardner, and Benny Marr. I can’t choose between them. I love each and every one of them for different reasons. Nicole and Riley came into my kayaking career when I attended World Class Academy, and they have taught me so much in life. I aspire to be like them. Then Benny Marr. He is just that epic. I met him on the Zambezi. He is super kind and he throws the biggest and steeziest tricks on a wave!

If you had to choose one river to paddle for the rest of your life, what would it be? The Futaleufu River in Chile

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud paddling accomplishment? I think what I am most proud of is learning to have fun while kayaking and not focusing as much on competition results. Riley Gardner (teacher/coach at World Class) once told me, ‘If you are not having fun, then what are you doing?’ He told me this before I tried out for the U.S. Team. I constantly felt like I was a failure as a kayaker if I didn’t win. But that isn’t true because a score doesn’t reflect the paddler you are. It has taken a while, but I just learned to have fun kayaking.

Tell us your most embarrassing paddling-related moment. I was either 13 or 14 when I swam on my local river. I was wearing my dad’s drysuit, and I accidentally peed myself because I got really scared and was super cold. My dad still doesn’t know I peed in his drysuit—but I guess he knows now…

Where is the weirdest place you have ever spent a night? We were on a multi-day in Chile with World Class Academy. It was supposed to be sunny, so I didn’t bring a tent. Of course, it started raining, so I ended up making a bed in the sand in my drysuit. I covered myself with a tent footprint and hunkered down for the night. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that much.

Devon Barker-Hicks (ID)
Devon is the ultimate Idaho kayaking legend. In the 40 years she has been paddling, she has spent twelve years on the USA Freestyle Team, stood on the podium too many times to count, and won the 2005 Surf Kayak World Championships. She currently lives in Riggins, Idaho on the banks of the Salmon River, where she teaches kids to kayak through her Dare To Kayak program. Her ‘day job’ however, is teaching middle school English Language and Social Studies.

Lochsa River; Photo: Matt Rusher

How many years have you been paddling? 40

If you could only paddle one river for the rest of your life, which would it be? I would have to pick the Salmon River it’s a free-flowing river with larger, pool-drop rapids and an abundance of surf waves for all levels. I hope to still be paddling it in my 80s. I want to keep my roll sharp so I can always keep paddling.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud paddling accomplishment? I think winning the World Championships was a huge highlight. I had a really great heat. I remember thinking to myself, now is the time to show everything. I said, just do it now. I was in the zone and everything came together at that moment. It was also wonderful because I had all of my Basque friends there as well. It was an honor to represent as a Basque American at the Worlds.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud non-paddling accomplishment? In 2018, I was awarded the Idaho Human Rights Educator of the Year. This was in part because of a project I did with my students. The Idaho Anne Frank Memorial in Boise was vandalized. My students wanted to stand up to hate and decided we should do that by making more memorials. So, we created a beautiful basalt boulder with an Anne Frank quote on it for our city park.

Elaine Campbell (VT)
On the water, Elaine is widely acknowledged as being one of the top big wave freestyle kayakers in the world. Off the water, however, she’s known as “Elaine West,” a former Top 40 Radio DJ (this is not a joke…) She’s also a four-time USA Freestyle Team member, a three-time USA Squirt Boating Team member, and a one-time USA Wildwater Sprint Team member. Essentially, she is really, really good at kayaking. When not on the water, Elaine can be found eating donuts in her RV with her husband Jeff, their dog Brook, and cat Laya.

How many years have you been paddling? 18

Which river would you consider your Home River? The Deerfield River in Vermont. Check-out this short film NRS sponsored highlighting My Home Run.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud paddling accomplishment? I feel like it was in 2013 when I made two USA Teams and competed in two World Championships—one in freestyle, one in wildwater. That was a pretty big year for me.

We know you’ve been a top 40 Radio DJ in the past, but today, what is your ‘real job’? Operations Coordinator for Pau Hana Surf Supply

Who do you look up to most as a paddling role model? When I first started paddling and dating—my now husband—Jeff, he had been paddling for like 15 years already so he had a lot of friends that were paddlers. Through him, I met Kaz Armstrong, Joanne Grogan and Kim Sekera. They were super badass women paddlers in the area. They were all running hard whitewater and really good freestyle kayakers. They were so smooth and confident. We all became great friends and I wanted to be as good as they were. Kaz was from New Zealand but lived in NYC and was on the New Zealand Freestyle Team. She competed at the World Championships in Graz, Austria in 2003. I think Kaz probably put it in my head to be a competitive paddler. It was a few years later when I entered my first freestyle competition in 2007.

Tell us your most embarrassing paddling-related moment. I was getting ready to paddle the Independence River in New York. I always pee before I get in my drysuit, so I headed into the woods to use the ladies’ room. I was wearing a uni-suit, so the arms and back were dangling while I was doing my business. I finished peeing and started to put it on and realized, ‘$#%&! I flipping peed all over it!’ At this point, my back and arms were already covered in pee because I had tried to put the uni-suit back on. I didn’t have anything else to wear, so I rinsed it off in the river, put it on all soggy and cold, and went paddling. The river was high that day and I took a vicious swim. I blame it on the pee!

Erin Clancey (ID)
A former U.S. Freestyle Kayak Team member, Erin has recently switched gears to expedition paddling, spending the majority of her summers on month-long canoe trips in the Arctic. In 2019, Erin and her husband did the first attempt of a first descent of the James River in Nunavut, Canada. In 2018, they survived a six-week expedition on the Back River in Nunavut in which they ran out of food. But the talent we may be most impressed with? Erin’s ability to accurately imitate a velociraptor (at least we think it’s accurate.)

Photo: Scott Muismer

How many years have you been paddling? 14

What is your ‘real job’? I have a Ph.D. in biology specializing in animal behavior. This pretty much means I have a Ph.D. in poop and sex and this comes in handy on a daily basis because I currently teach animal behavior and students love poop and sex. I guess to answer your question, I’m an instructor at Washington State University.

What do you do for fun that isn’t paddling? Research interesting facts about kangaroos on the internet. Did you know their testes are actually located above their penis? Now you do.

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud non-paddling accomplishment? I can integrate by parts. Literally, if you gave me a calculus question right now I could do it.

What was your worst paddling-related injury? Sometimes my pride hurts, but it’s very healthy to be humbled now and then.

How many times have you had giardia from being on the river? Twice and once was accompanied by C. diff.

Jennifer Fratzke (HI)
Jennifer Fratzke is a standup paddler, long distance paddling racer, passionate angler and single mom. Originally from Oregon where she grew up floating the Deschutes, today she lives in Honolulu and has lived on the Island of Oahu for the past 14 years.

To say she thrives on a good dose of suffering would be an understatement. She first started SUP paddling and racing at 24. The SeaPaddleNYC, a 27-mile endurance race around Manhattan Island, was her first long-distance race. Since then, she’s raced across the 42-mile Kaiwi Channel from Molokai to Oahu multiple times, soloed an OC-1 at the MR340, a 340-mile race on the Missouri River, and placed 2nd in Canada’s Yukon River Quest (444 miles) paddling solo in a Wenonah Canoe. Now sheF’s training for the 2020 Yukon 1000 (1000 miles), this time opting to paddle a C-2 with a partner.

How many years have you been paddling? 10+

Who do you look up to most as a paddling role model? I really look up to anyone who just puts themselves our there and is eager and willing to learn and put in the work that it takes to get where they want to be—with no excuses! I look up to my Yukon1000 partner April Zilg. I’ve known her since the SUP scene when she showed up to race Battle of the Paddle back in 2014. We were both racing for Team Hobie back then. I remember thinking, ‘Damn, who is this woman? She has so much passion and fire in her eyes I want to know her!’ Years later, after not seeing her or talking, here we are, about to start an intense journey together. Funny how the universe works that way.

What is one piece of advice you could give someone just getting into the sport? Don’t skip technique. I think it is the single most important piece to the puzzle. The technique will keep you efficient, prevent injury and overall just make your strokes look clean and your paddling journey more successful. Also, don’t forget to look up and appreciate nature and enjoy what your doing.

Where is the weirdest place you have ever spent a night? MacLehose trail in Hong Kong on a secluded beach while doing a five-day solo trek. I was in a solo tent during the most intense thunder and lightning storm, pouring rain with wild dogs and monkeys fighting outside my tent and cows stomping around. It was out of control. I thought I was going to die.

What is your most embarrassing paddling-related moment? Probably coming into the later checkpoints at the MR340 and smelling like urine and body odor in front of my support partner. He had to change my pants for me because my whole body and hands were locked up from paddling 200+ miles and not sleeping. It was a really a long, embarrassing moment letting this person see me at my worst for the first time and try and be ok with it.

Share one crazy/weird fact about you that has nothing to do with paddling. I am really good at rap karaoke songs and can spit every State in the US in alphabetical order in 16 seconds.

Kaitlyn Fowle (VT)
Kaitlyn is the Queen of New England sea kayaking and skiing. As Director of Ski Patrol for Bolton Valley Resort, she spends her winters shredding a different form of whitewater and reserves her summers for big days paddling in the Atlantic. She has spent three years working for the University of Maine’s Maine Bound Adventure Center, and is experienced in canoes, whitewater SUP and kayak, open-water sea kayaking, and SUP racing. She can do literally every single discipline of whitewater or sea paddling.

Photo: Andrew Tonra

How many years have you been paddling? 15

How did you get into kayaking/SUP? Who taught you, and what hooked you? Short answer, the University of Maine’s MaineBound Adventure Center. I was a student-worker there when I was in college. It exposed me to lots of different types of paddling. From there, I spent a few summers on the North Carolina coast, which definitely hooked me. Being in Maine, there is so much available in terms of paddling—an incredible coastline, amazing whitewater, multi-day wilderness canoe trips, even surf every once in a while.

If you could only paddle one river for the rest of your life, which would it be? Kennebec River, Maine. Dam Release class 3+, followed by fun class 2, flat water, tidal race and surf where it meets the ocean. What more could a girl want?

If you had to choose one, what is your most proud non-paddling accomplishment? I successfully ran a SheJumps Jr. Ski Patrol day with 30 girls at my ski resort on close to the worst weather day of the winter so far. The team of 20+ female patrollers from around the region kicked ass and there was not one single negative attitude all day long!

How many people have you taught to paddle? I can’t count that high…

Tell us about your craziest paddling experience? One day the ocean was so calm crossing Penobscot Bay, my crew of sea kayakers was able to paddle right up to the Tall Ships and have a conversation with the crew onboard the boat. They gave us cookies and bananas!

Editor’s Note: Brooke’s and Jennifer’s profiles written by Ashley Peel