Welcome to the Family Cohen Atkins
We would like to introduce Cohen Atkins as a new member of the Badfish family! Cohen is a 24-year-old local of Charlotte, NC. His training grounds is the US National Whitewater Center. Cohen offers something a little different to the sport of whitewater SUP in that he is one of the few that didn’t start out with a whitewater background. When you watch Cohen paddle you can tell he sees the river differently than most of us. His style is a mix between parkour and skatboarding. He sees the river as his playground, making each feature into a new opportunity to express himself. And now we give you Cohen…
What’s Your favorite paddling destination:
The Nolichucky Gorge
You don’t come from a whitewater background…so, what got you into stand up?
I never learned how to paddle as a kid; I don’t think I had even seen whitewater until I was 15 or 16. I grew up in the city and we just didn’t do that kind of thing. We went on one trip as a family, maybe when I was 15, and we paddled duckies down a section of the Nantahala. Looking back at it now, I could not have imagined paddling the same stuff standing up on a board…. or maybe I could have, but that was years before I even knew it was possible. Something about that experience must have latched on somewhere deep down and got pulled back out when I started working at the USNWC.
I first learned how to paddle board in flat-water and instantly fell in love. It was like a mixture of all these different sports I had been doing as a kid. Eventually some other coworkers talked me into trying a go down the whitewater channels. My third time ever trying WWSUP at the center, I never wanted to do it again; I hated it. I was stubborn and didn’t like the taste of defeat, so I kept trying. I fell in love with the challenges that it offered. Rapid after rapid I learned how to get my board to do what the river wanted it to do. I learned everything there. I owe a great deal to Trey Knight in getting me involved in WWSUP. He pushed me and helped me in tremendous ways.
So, that’s how I got into paddling WWSUP and not having any other type of whitewater background put me at a little disadvantage to start. Learning the river dynamics was the most challenging. The sensation of swimming was scary at first, especially through some of the chunkier rapids. I adapted and got better each time I paddled. I think that not having previous whitewater experience has helped me forge my own paddling style. It allows me to see the river more like a skate park than as lines, eddies, holes, and waves. I would say that you don’t necessarily need previous whitewater experience to be successful at WWSUP. I think for some, if they want to learn WWSUP, its better that way.
I find both big water and technical paddling equally rewarding. I love seeing how big I can send it. One thing I love about this sport is the adrenalin rush. Who doesn’t love staring down some big GNAR or some JUICY wave trains with the full intent of making it out of there standing. “Sending it” is fun and all, but I find my most meditative paddles, where I can really feel the river, doing attainments or seeing how many eddies I can catch moving down the river.
What do you do when you’re not paddling?
When I can’t get out and paddle, I try and find anything to get me outside. Hiking and backpacking have always been my go-to. Taking pictures is a lot of fun and my camera comes with me just about anywhere. Mountain biking is a good hobby to keep me in shape during the off season. My Onewheel always keeps me entertained and good for balance training. I love to read philosophy and science journals. Exploring space-time, consciousness, and the metaphysics of reality are some of my favorite subjects to learn and talk about.
Dogs or cats?
Dogs for sure, but I don’t hate cats. I am down with all animals.
Is there anything you feel is missing within the sport of whitewater SUP or something we need more of?
Short downriver gated style races.
Park style races and competitions.
Down river free style races.
I feel like we need a stage to show the world this sport. It is very difficult to do that on long sections of river. Shorter section races could possibly allow for more crowds to help grow the visibility of the WWSUP, gain more people who may want to try it, and in turn get more people to grow the economy of the WWSUP industry. Just like me, there are people out there willing to try this sport without any pervious whitewater experience. A place like usnwc and events like Tuckfest are ideal settings for the sport; a small centralized platform for WWSUP to take center stage in a place that highlights a number of different outdoor sports. There are many different types of people that get exposed to sports they would have never otherwise been exposed to. People want to see the action; they want the carnage. Think about the turn out the green river race gets and people generally only sit in one spot. Look at the gopro mountain games. There is a ton of exposure just because the venue has so much spectator space. Imagine WWSUP short downriver races in the summer Xgames. I love to race a 9 mile stretch of pristine whitewater but I believe the future is going to grow away from endurance races and more focused on shorter distance sup-cross style races that are easily observed by larger spectator crowds.
If I had the resources to go paddle anywhere, I would go to Quito, Peru and paddle some of the rivers high on the Andes and deep in the jungles. Explore old Inca ruins; find some crystal skulls or cities of gold. It would be like Indian Jones, but on a paddleboard. It would be epic.
To keep up on what Cohen is up to and for some impressive paddling videos follow his Instagram @atkinscohen!