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Meet Cooper Lambla: Explorer, Paddler, and Curator for Explore

Posted on September 20 2016

Moving can be tough. Especially as an adult to the other side of the coast. I recently made a huge transition from sunny and sandy California to the cool mountains of North Carolina. Knowing little to no people, I needed to rebuild my community. And although, I reside in Asheville I am constantly on the road or in the air, jumping from state to state.

Long story short, I am extremely grateful that the U.S National White Water Center exists. It's literally an immediate outdoor community at your fingertips.

US National Whitewater Center

*Image Courtesy of U.S. National Whitewater Center

The USNWC’s 1100 acres offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for all ages and skill levels. Guests can enjoy whitewater rafting and kayaking, flatwater kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, zip lines, ropes courses, a canopy tour, and mountain biking on our 25+ mile trail system.

Throughout the year, the Whitewater Race Series challenges participants through various competitions in different sports including trail running, kayaking, mountain biking, triathlons, ultra-marathons and more.

Not to mention there are outdoor concerts, beer on tap, and amazing people running the facility. It truly is an outdoor enthusiasts slice of paradise in Charlotte.

Outdoor Community

*Image Courtesy of U.S. National Whitewater Center

It is no surprise that anytime I find myself near Charlotte I am on the bike hitting the trails followed by a cold beer with new friends.

What has really interested me is their recent addition of EXPLORE. Basically it is a publication and movement for story telling of the outdoors inspiring connection, community, and conservation. Check out what they are all about!

Exploration challenges the limits of what is possible. By questioning the inhabitants, landscapes, and thoughts surrounding us at any moment, each and every one of us has the opportunity to explore.The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a catalyst for the active, outdoor lifestyle. Our mission of promoting healthy and active lifestyles, developing environmental stewardship, and encouraging family and civic interaction permeates through all that we do. EXPLORE takes that mission beyond our borders and into the lives of storytellers, artists, and adventurers from around the world.

EXPLORE tells the story of those who engage the outdoors in ways that exemplify the innate, human desire for adventure. Wherever you may be reading this, be it your living room or halfway around the world, exploration is hardwired in each and every one of us.

This I can dig. So when I had the opportunity to talk to one of the curators who happens to be a total badass kayaker and explorer, I was pretty stoked.

Cooper LamblaCooper Lambla has calm and unassuming presence. Once you start hearing about the epic adventures he has been a part of, you will get the travel itch. I was curious to find out how he got to where he is now, what inspired his kayaking, and an inside glance of EXPLORE.

*Image Courtesy of by Ben Luck


Check out the interview below!

CS = Christine   C = Cooper


CS: So when did you start kayaking?

C: I started kayaking when I was twelve years old. A neighbor’s son was a professional kayaker and him and his friends they’d all kind of show up in front of the house with big rigs full of kayaks, people falling out of the trucks left and right and I was just like ‘Wow that looks pretty cool,’ and I went up and learned how to roll and got hooked.


CS: When did you know you first got hooked was there like a moment or was it kind of a progression?

C: It was pretty immediate. Definitely kind of the first time I went down a river in a kayak that was for sure a good day but he also gave me an old VHS called Dashboard Burrito.


CS: What is Dashboard Burrito?

C: It was like this, when you went on a road trip and you’d get burritos from a gas station or wherever and you go kayaking and they’d leave the burritos on the dashboard to heat them up so when they got off the river they would be warm and it was this like thirty to forty minute kayaking video, VHS and I’ve watched it so many times it literally wore thin, and so like the tape of the VHS would start to like flutter, you know when you got to certain parts.  And so I was pretty much addicted from the start.


CS: Was it more the community of it or the actual sport? Or both?

C: It’s a lot about everything involved, it’s the community the places you see, it’s the actual activity, the physical engagement and then there’s this kind of connection to the river so it’s everything in mind for sure.


CS: Was it pretty difficult to stay motivated and dedicated to the sport growing up? Starting at 12 is pretty young. Through your teenage years I am sure there were other things pulling you in different directions or distracting you from the sport?

C: No I was probably the most addicted through my teenage years, I talk about it like I’m so grown up now. My peak addiction period.

Cedar Ravine Best Kayaking Adventure Trips

*Image Courtesy of Cooper Lambla:  Alsek River which is located in the Yukon Territory, British Columbia and Alaska

CS: Well it’s adrenaline rush right?

C: Well and that’s the thing, it’s not. Well, part of it is an adrenaline sport there’s no denying that being in a large white water rapid there’s adrenaline involved but that’s not necessarily the draw. I think the draw is more like what we were just talking about, the total combined effect of that physical kind of exercise, your location where you get to go the connection with your environment your surroundings with the river, the community, and then there’s this whole adventure getting to and from the river that’s a large part of it. So many experiences and adventures that go along with simply trying to get access kayaking. Where I grew up the white water center was not here and so you have to drive you know three, four hours to get into the mountains to the closest river and as like a twelve year old you don’t have a driver's license or anything you kind of develop this network of friends who are all around thirty or forty years old and every weekend you’re tagging along with them.


CS: Your friends were all thirty to forty years old?

C: For sure and still some of those guys are still my best friends.


CS: Still kicking it?

C: Oh yeah I saw a handful out here tonight so you know it’s the combined aspect of it that’s most addicting for sure. It’s the biggest draw.


CS: What keeps you motivated to pursue such a challenging sport?

C: You know I can’t specifically say what keeps me motivated. I suppose that part does change. At first it’s the desire to, well for me at least, it was the desire to improve my skills and be able to run harder, more challenging rivers and then all of a sudden as that kind of happens you realize that A) you are growing this really incredible community so that is something you want to be more and more apart of. You get to go to these, it seems as though the heart of the river, the more challenging the river the more remote and the more special these rivers became like you’re getting to go to cooler and cooler places.


CS: What’s your favorite place you’ve been?

C: Yeah that’s hard. I can’t name one favorite. You have to give me at least five.


CS: Okay how about three, your top three favorite?Cedar Ravine Best Kayaking Adventure Photography

C: Top three and this is a very loose top three because there’s more than three. The Altai Mountains in South Central Siberia, Russia are an amazing, amazing mountain range really kind of spiritual place there and again really cool people super cool river running community with and incredible history. West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand I owe that place a lot. Again unbelievable rivers, super gorgeous, really dramatic exotic landscapes with again an amazing river community. Then  you know you can’t leave the Himalayas off the list, it’s the largest mountain range in the world. Between some of the largest mountains are some of the largest rivers. They are simply incredible and that whole region is going through such dramatic change of every kind right now. It’s a super powerful experience to get to go experience the river in the Himalayas.



CS: Cool. Is there any place on your list that you haven’t gone yet?

C: Yeah I mean there’s tons there’s always different places.


CS: What’s like top bucket list item then? Top three.

C: I got to go to Alaska last year for my first time and it was a game changing trip. To see what was up there and begin to understand what still is left to be explored. There’s so much in Alaska we’re trying to go back this summer for sure. I’ve always wanted to go to Madagascar, lot of people have talked very high words about Madagascar. So many different places I mean I’ve never actually paddled on the Tabbinet Plateau and I think that would be really, really special there’s amazing rivers down there some that have been done and some that haven’t, so that would be pretty special.


CS: Cool. So are you curating the Explore magazine or what’s your role in that?

C: Yeah so, Explore is the Whitewater Center’s way of saying “look this lifestyle has been around for way longer than the Whitewater Center’s been here and people have been experiencing this lifestyle forever and they will continue to do so” It is engrained in the human blood to be active and to be outdoors and so it’s one of our ways in engaging folks in those lifestyles. My role has been to help curate it and trying to figure out how to grow it and morph it and continually let it evolve. It started out with a trip to the Zambezi White Owl Rivers. We went over there and shot a whole bunch of footage, came back and made a short film about it. Then we launched the explore website and after that we started getting more and more people involved sharing stories and photos and images. From there we continued to do trips and we now have a journal in print that comes out quarterly.


CS: What is the main goal of Explore magazine?

C: Explore is 100% part of the US National Whitewater Center so the mission of the organization is to promote the active and outdoor lifestyle,  it is to engage civic and family interaction, community interaction, as well as to foster a stewardship for the environment from interaction within the outdoors. So it’s a little bit of everything again you know. There’s never quite one goal but they’re all related so, interconnected.


CS: Cool. So if you could give anybody advice for inspiring people to preserve the Earth what would it be? What do you think the everyday person can do or how do you think they can make steps to head in that direction?

C: It would be doing something different in the simplest way. Go out and interact with nature. That’s what we’re doing here (The White Water Center). Get out there and interact with it, whether literally you’re sitting on the grass drinking a beer that is interacting with the outdoors. You’re outside as opposed to inside a building or looking at a screen and so to get out is the first step. And then from there let the outdoors inspire you because it will. It will talk to you and push you and pull you in different directions. I think you have to allow that. You know everyone gets passionate about one thing or another and if conservation ends up calling you the strongest then you’re going to know what to do.


CS: So it’s funny you say passionate because I was thinking one of the things I wanted to ask you what you would say to people that are still looking for their particular passion?

C: I would say that everybody’s searching still. I definitely have a huge passion for paddling but it’s funny I mean even in the past two years I’ve been drawn more and more to other things as well. I bought my first pair of rock climbing shoes this year. I’ve been riding my bike more and more and more and I just bought a new road bike recently I’m just digging. There’s just so much around you. So literally if you’re always curious and remain curious in the world and communities around you, then you’ll be entertained and invigorated for many lifetimes. There’s so much out there so everybody’s always looking. If someone thinks that, you know if someone acts like they know what they’re into then that always worries me a little bit because you’re like “ahhh there’s a lot more out there.”


CS: Totally, people tend to get focused on one particular sport or another.

C: Yeah and which is cool and can lead to really cool things I mean you know the superstars or pioneers of sports and communities wouldn’t get to where they are without feeling that way. They don’t get to where they are by not being passionate in something. So it takes those people to really drive hard at one thing to get somewhere, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do that, you know? It’s totally fine. I think I was like the quote by Yvon Chouinard that he’s an eighty percenter. I’ve always considered myself an eighty percenter. After eight percent there’s just too much time involved to actually get that ninety and above proficiency level yet you look at that guy and he’s climbed you know FitzRoy, paddled the Baker, was on the first descent team of the Muir Wall, El Capitan, , obviously fishing in the falconry. He does so many different things.

Absolute legend. And you know I’m sure he has some way to put it but he’s like a happen stance entrepreneur. So I think there’s all sorts of opportunities out there if you’re curious.

Cedar Ravine Best Kayaking Adventure

*Image Courtesy of Cooper Lambla; Stikine River, BC.

CS: Yeah it’s good advice. So you’re wearing a MSR hat, but what is one piece of gear that you could just not do without?

C: I’ll tell you my favorite piece of gear. I got this folding camp bowl when I was in New Zealand and they don’t make them anymore. It’s a pure origami folding camp bowl. So it’s a bowl that folds up but it also lays flat.


CS: It’s like those camping dog bowls?

C: Kind of and it’s absolutely brilliant. They make them with snaps but those don’t work because the snaps just pop off immediately and then they break whereas this is an origami bowl made out of a tough plastic so you can use it as a cutting board and fold it up and everything you cut is in that bowl. Pour it in your pot when your foods done, put it back in the bowl you got a great eating bowl.


CS: That’s rad. Now what is the gear you couldn’t live without?

C: It’s my favorite piece of gear I own. But the thing that I probably couldn’t live without would be like a spray skirt. Spray skirt is what connects you and keeps you in the boat and keeps the water out and it’s a pretty huge part of kayaking.


CS: Yeah it’s kind of essential.

C: Yeah, potentially the most essential piece of gear.


CS: Do you have any adventures coming up planned? Or are you staying pretty local and working on Explore?

C: My next adventure is with my family actually. We’re taking a family trip over to Denmark and riding bikes around Denmark.


CS: Sounds like we have a lot of great material and inspiration to look forward towards from Explore! Thanks for sharing and your time!

Explore has released some pretty powerful videos I had the pleasure of viewing at at Keen event (also huge fan of this brand and the work they are doing!) Check them out here and be prepared to have your backpack ready to go!

Chapter One -

Chapter Two -

Chapter Three -

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