We caught up with outdoor action photographer Freya Fennwood at the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium (SSTIKS) this past weekend while she was training for her upcoming trip to participate in the Greenland National Kayaking Championships. She brought along a sporty new kayak, custom-designed by her father, John Lockwood, owner and designer of Pygmy Boats, the Port Townsend manufacturer of wooden stitch-and-glue kayak kits.
After the rolling demo we sat sat down to talk with her about her preparations for Greenland. Here is the full transcript of our interview:
Andrew: What inspired you to take the trip to Greenland?
Freya: My father designed a boat specifically for me and specifically to do Greenland rolling. We came to SSTIKS actually, and Dubside was like, “You guys should go to Greenland with this boat! Freya is really good! I think she could compete and do well!”
It’s really not about doing well. It’s just a really good excuse to go take this boat there and go participate in the paddling culture, which is something that I’ve been born into and been in my whole life. To go to the birthplace of kayaking sounds like a really awesome experience, so I’m really excited to see what it’s like there, to meet the people, and participate in what they do.
Andrew: Can you tell us about what you mean about being born into the kayaking culture?
Freya: I’ve been paddling boats — in boats— since I was 18 months old. My dad designed the first kayak for me when I was 5. It was built by the time I was 6, and I paddled that. Then he designed me another boat, maybe when I was around 10, the Osprey 13. And that was my next boat, and then he didn’t really design me another boat until he designed the Freya. He decided to call this boat the Freya after me, which is pretty sweet! Can’t complain. Gotta boat named after me!
Andrew: How did your father get interested in Greenland style?
Freya: Really it’s not something he’s been into for super long. He probably picked up a Greenland paddle about 5 years ago. I remember as a little kid at kayak symposiums, seeing people with Greenland sticks and just thinking it was the silliest thing I’d ever seen. And then my dad comes up to me — he is just raving about this paddle and how it doesn’t hurt his shoulders, and how he can paddle twice as far as he could with the Euroblade. And I was like, OK, I’ll try it out. And I tried the Greenland paddle and I was like, Oh, I’m pretty young but this does actually NOT hurt my shoulders as much. I can paddle just as fast or faster, and longer with the Greenland paddle. So that kind of interest in Greenland paddling started from using the paddle first and then getting more interested in the boats.
The Pygmy boats my dad designs are definitely based off of traditional Greenland kayaks — he’d have to tell you —some big book of classic Inuit designs. His designs definitely take from that, but we’re only starting to come out with lower volume boats that are really made to do Greenland rolls really well in the past couple years.
Andrew: Tell us about your kayak. Was it designed specifically for rolling?
Freya: The Freya is really optimized to be a rolling and a kind of rock gardening play boat. We optimized it specifically for rolling, to do forward finishing rolls really well, and to do layback rolls really well. So the boat has more rocker than any other boat my dad has ever designed. It has more volume in it than a traditional, typical rolling skin-on-frame kayak, which actually helps it pop and roll up more. But it has a really low rear deck. My dad has designed this recess that is actually something that he came up with, that Pygmy has got a patent on, that really allows the back deck to be super low and then pop up to have nice volume, to have the boat flip back up. So really people are surprised when they see the boat. They think it looks really too-high volume, like, “Oh, thats probably not going to be that easy to roll.” And I’m like, “No, I’m decent at rolling but my boat is really good at rolling.”
Andrew: So you are taking the Freya to Greenland? What does it take to get a kayak over there?
Freya: We took the boat, and the shop cut it into 3 pieces. So it’s actually a three-piece take-apart kayak. We got the specs from the airlines — exactly how long the segments are allowed on the flights — and we cut the boat to those specifications. It’s bolted together at the hatches essentially.
Andrew: What kind of training have you been doing to prepare for the kayaking competition?
Freya: We’ve been thinking about potentially going for couple years and so I’ve been slowly learning. I learned how to roll about 4-5 years ago. I didn’t actually know how to roll, like as a little kid. Most of our kayaking is flat water stuff that is really close to shore. You would needn’t to use a roll.
So I learned how to roll, and then I ended up being kinda decent at it. And it was fun just to learn all these other ones. And then the possibility of going to Greenland really motivated me to learn a lot more rolls. I probably wouldn’t have learned this many rolls if there wasn’t a purpose to it. A roll generally for me is for a purpose. I learn to roll so I can go into rougher, wilder conditions. To roll in 30-some ways, the purpose for me is to go experience Greenland.
Andrew: Have you been consulting and asking for advice from some of the other people who have participated?
Freya: I’ve talked to Dubside, and he’s taught me rolls here at SSTIKS, and has really informed us about Greenland. I was just up in Victoria with James Manke. He went and competed last year in Greenland, and he gave me a ton of information. I learned that I was supposed to preregister, and the registration was due last week! Hopefully it worked out. He contacted a person who is the head of registration, and was like, “We have this girl, Freya. She’s coming to Greenland! She really wants to participate! She had no idea there was registration that needed to be done!” So he’s been a huge help with his knowledge. But there’s a lot of information that’s hard to find.
I’ve talked to Helen Wilson, and she’s been super helpful. But there’s just a lot you don’t really know until you get there. They all say you just have to go with the flow, and go with the intention of just participating and having fun. The schedule may be two days late, so I’m just going and hoping to hang out in a beautiful place and meet other people who like to kayak.
Andrew: Do you know if there are any other international competitors going?
Freya: I have no idea if there are other international competitors. I don’t believe if there are any Canadians. I don’t know if there are any Americans. I don’t think so, so I'll find out!