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Athletes & Explorers

Aug 28, 2018

Outdoor Moms: Emily Lussin – Breaking The Stereotype

The Outdoor Journal is pleased to launch a new series, 'Outdoor Moms' - profiling mothers pursuing their sport, all while taking care of family.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Outdoor sports and adventure have a history of male dominance.  It is less common for women to be successful, and even less common for a successful woman to be a mother. Whitewater kayaking is no exception to this. Despite the challenges, Emily Lussin is one such whitewater mom breaking the stereotype.

As I paddle toward shore, there is no mistaking the sound of a motorboat putt-putting its way to a stop just a short distance away.  I pause my warm-up for a second and crane my neck to see who the mystery boater is.  

A small woman, not much taller than five feet, jumps onto the rocks and ties the boat to a tree branch.  She then proceeds to start unloading the contents of the motorboat onto the barnacle-covered rocks. Two paddles, two freestyle kayaks, two lifejackets, two helmets, and a cooler bag are all stacked up on shore in a jumbled mess.  The final unload happens when her partner on the boat hands her what looks like a big bundle of blankets, and she takes off up the rocks with the bundle in one arm and the cooler bag in the other.

I continue with my warm-up routine and don’t notice the woman again until she drops into the wave for a surf.  I immediately realize who it is.

Emily waving at Mya as she takes a turn on the wave

Emily Lussin isn’t a world-famous kayaker. But she should be.

Emily Lussin isn’t a world-famous kayaker. But she should be. Today we are kayaking the Skookumchuck Rapids in the Sechelt Inlet on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. The wave is good for kayaking when the tide is at max flood, and today the tide is just right. Emily and her partner, Dru, live in a cabin across the Inlet from the Rapids.  As soon as Emily gets in her kayak, you can tell this is her home wave. She maneuvers her kayak with minimal effort, performing aerial spins, flips, and barrel rolls that I have only ever seen performed by the world’s top male freestyle kayakers.  I watch as she throws a pistol flip- a 180 degree spin combined with a front flip- and then flushes off the back of the wave. She casually paddles back to shore, jumps out of her kayak, and joins Dru on the picnic cloth they have laid out on the rocks.  What I previously assumed to be a bundle of blankets is now a babbling and laughing toddler. Now that Emily has taken her first ride, it is Dru’s turn to go kayaking. Throughout their kayaking session, the couple will take turns kayaking and care-taking. Each of them gets equal time on the wave, as well as equal time with their daughter, Mya.

Emily watching Mya in between kayaking rides.  Kayaking time is family time.

“The instructor I had a crush on, his name was Dru… is Dru. And yea, we’re still crushing!”

Emily started kayaking in her teenage years in her small hometown of Kingfisher, BC.  She had a crush on one of the instructors, which is what originally brought her to the sport. “The instructor I had a crush on, his name was Dru… is Dru. And yea, we’re still crushing!” Emily learned how to kayak with Dru as her instructor on the Shuswap River in Central British Columbia.  Since then, she has represented Team Canada in two different Freestyle World Championships, and has kayaked rivers all around the world, including Africa and Europe. Almost twenty-one years later, Emily and Dru are still kayaking together, but this time with a third family member in tow.  

Eleven years ago, Emily and Dru moved to the Sunshine Coast and bought land on the Sechelt Inlet.  “We moved into this ½-acre jungle with a tent on the beach for a long time. That’s how it all started.”  The couple built a cabin completely from scratch- lumber mill and all. With 24-hour power generation from a small hydro turbine, they lived completely off the grid for four years.  Being that their cabin is only accessible by boat, they decided to buy a second house on the mainland when Mya was born. But Emily says she prefers living at the cabin with Mya. “I like having Mya at the cabin.  I find it easier to entertain. Maybe because I’m used to life here. I feel more at home here because it is also a house that I built from scratch.”

Emily and Mya taking a break from kayaking

The family now splits their time between the cabin and the house on the mainland.  When they are at the cabin and the tide is right, they all hop in the motor boat and head over to Skookumchuck for a family day full of kayaking.  

“You don’t just stop doing something after you’ve done it for this long, right?”

Getting back into kayaking after becoming a mother was no easy task for Emily. One of the biggest challenges she faces is dealing with motherly instinct.  She described the first time they took Mya to Skookumchuck on the motor boat this year as one of the most terrifying experiences of her life. She was so worried about having Mya in the boat that she couldn’t get herself to go kayaking once they arrived at the wave.  “After that first time in the boat where I just lost my head, I remember saying to Dru afterwards, ‘That’s it, I’m done. I am not going back there that way. I’m not. I don’t care if I never go kayaking again.’ My heart was pounding so hard. My emotions on the top.  That’s the worst I’ve ever had it.”

Despite the instinctual challenges, the family keeps coming back.  Emily describes their kayaking time as family time. “I don’t think I have been to Skooks yet without Mya.  The day may come when I want to do that. Maybe if she had something more fun to do. For now, I ask her and she says she wants to come.  I think she feels our vibe from it. Dru and I usually get pumped to go kayaking.” When Emily says she gets pumped to go kayaking, she is not lying.  Watching her kayak is like watching an Olympic gymnast perform their routine. It is as if the kayak is an extension of her body. She is a master of the sport, and in my opinion, one of the best in the world.

Emily and Mya watching as Dru takes a turn on the wave.

 “Down the road, I would love to keep kayaking with Mya. Surf the wave with Mya. That would be an awesome day.”

For the next two hours, Emily and Dru continue to switch between kayaking and caretaking.  As soon as the tide changes and the wave starts to slow down, they change into dry clothes and sit down on the rocks for a picnic with Mya.  Afterall, kayaking time is family time. “I want to keep going because I want to show Mya how to do it, and hopefully make kayaking part of her life too.” explains Emily.  “I like being an inspiration. I feel I can do that through the lifestyle, and kayaking is a big part of the lifestyle that I chose.” An inspiration is right. One of Emily’s current kayaking goals is to perfect the airscrew- a trick that very few female kayakers have mastered.  But her biggest and most important goal is to inspire Mya.

After all, the Hebrew word ‘Mya’ means Woman of the Water.

Dru, Mya and Emily. Photo: Patrick Camblin

Want to read more? Stay tuned for more in the Outdoor Moms series, and subscribe here.

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Environment

Sep 04, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.

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WRITTEN BY

Terry Hughes

That’s the conclusion of the latest five-yearly report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, released on Friday. The report assessed literally hundreds of scientific studies published on the reef’s declining condition since the last report was published in 2014.

The past five years were a game-changer. Unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2016 and 2017, triggered by record-breaking warm sea temperatures, severely damaged two-thirds of the reef. Recovery since then has been slow and patchy.

Fish swimming among coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

Looking to the future, the report said “the current rate of global warming will not allow the maintenance of a healthy reef for future generations […] the window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now”.

But that window of opportunity is being squandered so long as Australia’s and the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The evidence on the reef’s condition is unequivocal

A logical national response to the outlook report would be a pledge to curb activity that contributes to global warming and damages the reef. Such action would include a ban on the new extraction of fossil fuels, phasing out coal-fired electricity generation, transitioning to electrified transport, controlling land clearing and reducing local stressors on the reef such as land-based runoff from agriculture.

But federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s response to the outlook report suggested she saw no need to take dramatic action on emissions, when she declared: “it’s the best managed reef in the world”.

Major coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have devastated the reef.

The federal government’s lack of climate action was underscored by another dire report card on Friday. Official quarterly greenhouse gas figures showed Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen to the highest annual levels since the 2012-13 financial year.

But rather than meaningfully tackle Australia’s contribution to climate change, the federal government has focused its efforts on fixing the damage wrought on the reef. For example as part of a A$444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the government has allocated $100 million for reef restoration and adaptation projects over the next five years or so.

Solutions being supported by the foundation include a sunscreen-like film to float on the water to prevent light penetration, and gathering and reseeding coral spawn Separately, Commonwealth funds are also being spent on projects such as giant underwater fans to bring cooler water to the surface.

But the scale of the problem is much, much larger than these tiny interventions.


Climate change is not the only threat to the reef

The second biggest impact on the Great Barrier Reef’s health is poor water quality, due to nutrient and sediment runoff into coastal habitats. Efforts to address that problem are also going badly.

This was confirmed in a confronting annual report card on the reef’s water quality, also released by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments on Friday.

The Great Barrier Reef attained world heritage status in the 1980s.
AAP

It showed authorities have failed to reach water quality targets set under the Reef 2050 Plan – Australia’s long-term plan for improving the condition of the reef.

For example the plan sets a target that by 2025, 90% of sugarcane land in reef catchments should have adopted improved farming practices. However the report showed the adoption had occurred on just 9.8% of land, earning the sugarcane sector a grade of “E”.

So yes, the reef is definitely in danger

The 2019 outlook report and other submissions from Australia will be assessed next year when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets to determine if the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” – an outcome the federal government will fight hard to avoid.

An in-danger listing would signal to the world that the reef was in peril, and put the federal government under greater pressure to urgently prevent further damage. Such a listing would be embarrassing for Australia, which presents itself as a world’s-best manager of its natural assets.

Environment activists engaged in a protest action to bring attention to the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

The outlook report maintains that the attributes of the Great Barrier Reef
that led to its inscription as a world heritage area in 1981 are still intact, despite the loss of close to half of the corals in 2016 and 2017.

But by any rational assessment, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger. Most of the pressures on the reef are ongoing, and some are escalating – notably anthropogenic heating, also known as human-induced climate change.

Read more:
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief scientist: science will lie at the heart of our decisions

And current efforts to protect the reef are demonstrably failing. For example despite an ongoing “control” program, outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish – triggered by poor water quality – have spread throughout the reef.

The federal government has recently argued that climate change should not form the basis for an in-danger listing, because rising emissions are not the responsibility of individual countries. The argument comes despite Australia having one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the world.

But as Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – an outcome supported by government policy – the continued downward trajectory of the Great Barrier Reef is inevitable.The Conversation

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: A supplied image obtained Thursday, June 6, 2013 of holiday makers in the Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland, October 2008. ReefLive, a live 12-hour interactive online show about the reef, will be broadcast on YouTube from 10am (AEST) on Friday to coincide with World Ocean Day on Saturday. (AAP Image/Supplied by Tourism and Events Queensland, Richard Fitzpatrick) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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