Part 3 of our January campaign series featuring pro kayaker Bren Orton
Pro kayaker Bren Orton has not lived at home since he was fifteen. He has spent his last dollar, and then some, on multiple occasions. Hunger has coursed through his body for days at a time. For Orton, an inner desperation to pursue kayaking dreams fuels the body and mind to withstand extreme struggle. Strenuous, time-consuming, and even health-risking activity becomes more bearable when desperation comes into play. Orton decided years ago that he would endure any means to achieve his own end, kayaking.
After moving away from home, Orton worked any job he could to stay in the water. “I have done everything from working in a call center, to grave digging, along with some paid medical trials,” says the twenty-two year old. No stranger to couch surfing, Orton has crashed with friends and family kind enough to put a roof over his head, food in his stomach, and provide a ways to kayak for short stretches. Even on a starving wallet and body, Orton guts out paths to travel and train. “I’m amazed that I have managed to get around so much on so little money. Ultimately, I am a product of the two best qualities of kayakers, hospitality and kindness,” says Orton. At times, white water has taken a backseat to day jobs and nightshifts. Early on, a few months of constant working helped to build the funds to get back in the kayak daily. Paying for flights, the most difficult financial hurdle, costs premium dollars to access the highest quality runs.
“I’m amazed that I have managed to get around so much on so little money. Ultimately, I am a product of the two best qualities of kayakers, hospitality and kindness." - Bren Orton
On the go, Orton lives a vegetarian lifestyle. Rarely eating out, he devours rice and beans daily to stay healthy and keep costs low. “I’m very aware of my impact on the world from traveling so much. Being a vegetarian is a relatively good way to offset my carbon footprint a little bit, and it’s much cheaper,” admits Orton. For extra cash, Orton has sold video clips, but turns down most offers. Many platforms want to spin the footage into something it is not, shedding a false light on the kayaking community.
Since becoming a part of the community, sponsorship has opened up options for Orton. Before signing and with little travel funds, he could progress only so much at local watercourses. Sponsored travel budgets and gear afford more opportunities to compete and train around the globe. “Before these companies got fully behind me it was much harder,” says Orton. A kayak can cost between $250 and $3000, depending on the type and previous usage. The largest misconception about sponsorship is that signed kayakers all pull in cash and live comfortably. Still earning significantly less than a minimum wage job, Orton makes just enough to stay on the road. “No matter how good you are or how hard you work, you are likely to always be penny pinching and dirt bagging your way around the world, and that’s okay,” says Orton. The focus on constant growth in the kayak allows him to stretch funds as tight as necessary to access whitewater.
(Photo: Matt Dumoulin)
“No matter how good you are or how hard you work, you are likely to always be penny pinching and dirt bagging your way around the world, and that’s okay." - Bren Orton
For those looking to get in the kayak, the best place to start is a local kayaking club. Most will give free access to equipment and teach the fundamentals. Anybody can aspire to become a great kayaker, but other off-the-water skills are necessary to generate an income from the sport. Video editing has helped Orton position himself to earn a paycheck. Even though the big bucks aren’t in the sport at the moment, he stays motivated by more meaningful benchmarks. “I have an easy time being broke because my only motivation to earn more money would be to travel and explore more places in my kayak, and buy my mum a house of her own,” says Orton. On finding happiness, he quotes American professional rock climber Alex Honnold, “Whether we are sponsored or not, the mountains are calling, and we must answer”. The most two pointless questions anyone has ever asked Orton are “How do I get sponsored?” and “How much do you make in kayaking?” The only focus that will stick through rough financial stretches is “How do I do this better?” The river calls Orton and he will scrape up the means to answer, even if he must dig graves and become a human lab experiment. Like the rivers he runs, his journey doesn't always flow smoothly, but happiness still prevails.
(Photo: Kevin Kennedy)
“Big thanks and much love to all of the awesome companies that continue to help me do what I do” – Bren Orton
Through the month of January, 10% of your purchase of any product in our shop will go towards supporting Bren Orton. For adventure sports like kayaking, funding doesn't always come easy, and elite athletes often times have to incur large personal costs to compete at a high level. The Frynge is proud to provide a platform that allows readers and customers like yourself, to have a direct impact in supporting athletes like Bren Orton. So be sure to check back each week for new stories, gear and apparel!