Team members: Rob Hansen
Hometown: Campbell River, BC
Race vessel: Epic 18 X Sea Kayak
Human propulsion: Paddle
If we were the kind of people who care about facts and figures, interpreting data, or any kind of pie chart that isn’t edible—we might point out that Rob Hansen of Team SeaSmoke uses the word “wild” 8 times in his application materials. We might even say that’s a statistically significant deviation from the norm of racer application vernacular. Or that Rob Hansen’s notable and frequent return to words like “wildlife,” “wilderness” and “wildness” creates a sort of theme, or motif—you might say, that could help us postulate his motivations for racing this year. But obviously, we’re not that kind of people.
We’re the kind of people who point out that Rob Hansen has spent his life tapping the mic of gravity and asking, “Is this thing still on?”—tobogganing down stairwells, paragliding through *and into* Chile, white water kayaking down rivers in Patagonia, and jumping off roofs with nothing more than a umbrella’s worth of hesitation. Or that Rob’s adventures have introduced him to wolves, bears, whales and one particularly eco-conscious crocodile on the Zambezi. Or even that his go-to pick-me-up tune is “Rave On” by Buddy Holly, and just say:
That’s pretty wild.
Rob is keen to connect with wildlife along the race course—especially the whales of the Pacific Northwest, and whatever species of racer life-form flock like self-destructive moths to the light of a beach bonfire. Either way, bring marshmallows.
We sat down with Team SeaSmoke over a bowl of broken bones to talk about inertia, sore jaws, and whether the only thing longer than a croc’s mouth really is the time it takes to swallow you whole.
What are the necessary components of a good adventure?
A journey that piques my curiosity and excitement. Destinations that have pristine wilderness and wildlife, especially ocean kayaking trips. The joy and consequence of the solo journey, the unknown, the beautiful and the mysterious…..
What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?
Biting off more than I can chew when propelled by passion and a distorted view of gravity. This has resulted in falling out of the sky in various pursuits. It started by jumping off the garage with an umbrella as a kid. Progressed to paragliding high mountains in Chile with various mishaps, running various unrunnable/class 5+ rapids in a white water kayak and kitesurfing over land with a painful ending. There have been a few surfing incidents too……I guess I’m a slow learner.
What’s your claim to fame?
Not much fame in my life, more obscurity. However, surviving being attacked by a crocodile while kayaking the Zambezi river was notable in that apparently it was the first plastic whitewater kayak attacked. I didn’t used to eat crocodile steak before that.
I did manage to kayak from Costa Rica to Panama with a surfboard on my deck, surfing unknown waves. However, when I got to customs in Panama a few weeks later, I was locked up as an illegal alien as they said a sea kayak does not qualify as an official boat (even though I had followed the embassy’s advice). Go figure….
It’s drizzling, freezing cold, and you’ve missed the tide. The cabin is leaky and the stove won’t light. How do you keep the good vibes going?
I’d be lucky to have a cabin where we are going! Total Prepare Inc. Canada has helped me out with some magical meals that don’t need a stove. The buddy Buddy Holly song “Rave on” always helps in moments like these….
Forget the 10k or the steak knives. What does success look like for you and your team?
Enjoying the journey, meeting some of the other colorful characters and seeing and paddling with many whales on route. The occasional beach fire as the sun sets. Hopefully I will arrive in Ketchikan and not be blown to Japan.
Defend your vessel. What makes it worthy?
I am paddling an Epic 18 sea kayak designed by Gregg Barton. They make great surfskis which I paddle a lot. The boat is seaworthy and has a surfski-like footplate which is a better paddling position ergonomically. The boat handles well in downwinds, which I hope come our way.
Blank space, baby. Share some things:
My friend Martin Rother, who is doing the race phoned me and said he thinks I should also apply. I asked who else was paddling solo and he said an Irishman and an Australian. So, a German, an Irishman, an Australian and a South African arrive at a bar in Port Townsend. This is the beginning of a very bad joke! What choice did I have?
I consider myself fortunate to be an Afro-Canadian. Both countries with incredible wilderness, wildlife and magic. My medical career has allowed me to work and explore in both places. Also had some memorable and stunning kayak trips in Alaska. One from Dry Bay to Elfin Cove in late September (storms) was also biting off more than I could comfortably chew, but infinitely memorable.
I’m grateful to the race organizers’ tenacity and humor to pull off an event like this. It brings back the spirit of self reliance, wildness of being and improbability, to a world that is losing track of this kind of soulfulness. I’m grateful for fellow friends and adventurers over the years. I’m grateful to my beautiful wife Monique, for allowing me the time and space to follow this kind of crazy adventure, even when it’s not convenient. This is love.
Rob describes himself as “healthy as a dolphin.” We’re not sure if that means he has between 14-and-240 conical-shaped teeth, or that he only sleeps with half of his brain—either way, we’re excited to meet him and we’ll be sure to have Ric O’Barry on speed dial, just in case. Welcome to Race To Alaska, Team SeaSmoke.