My happy place: Sam Sutton - kayaker

By Bronwyn Sell

Despite that "oops" look on his face, Sam Sutton's really enjoying himself here. Photo / Graeme Murray
Despite that "oops" look on his face, Sam Sutton's really enjoying himself here. Photo / Graeme Murray

From Lake Rotoiti, Kaituna River winds and tumbles its way to the ocean. Where this journey starts is where I find my happy place, Okere Falls.

Okere Falls is where I come from. It's a place I've not been able to better, no matter how far I've searched the world. It gives me stability in my nomadic life and has directed my path in life.

It's not just a view or the people that make it my happy place. It's the community, scenery and activities combined.

When I am in my happy place I have a feeling of fulfilment. I travel a lot during the competitive kayaking season, and that's a feeling I don't find anywhere else in the world.

Happiness is found in more than one location inside Okere Falls. If I'm lonely it only takes a short trip to the Okere Falls Store and I'm sharing a beverage and solving the world's problems with like-minded people. When life gets chaotic and stressful, some alone time in the turbulent depths of the Kaituna River can focus my mind on the present moment, and the simplicity of the non-materialistic things that are really important in life.

I've spent the majority of my life in Okere Falls and I have many memories of it. Like the first time we had enough courage to take a wooden cart - with wooden wheels, no brakes, rope steering and a bucket cut in half for a seat - down the biggest hill in Okere Falls, with not a thought about oncoming traffic. I rattled out of control, drifting down the hill, and it was pure happiness.

As a young teenager I found happiness in a little dinghy that gave us independence. We'd putter past the boundaries of Okere Falls and embark on an adventure over the lakes to Rotorua to Pizza Hut and Lady Jane's icecream. I'd putt along back to Okere Falls thinking, "Man, life is awesome."

A few years later, in the German Beer Garden at Okere Falls Store, I found enough courage in a beer to embark on a conversation with my now partner, the mother of my daughter.

When I'm away from Okere Falls, I think about the laughter, the smell of the native bush, the roar of the river and the chirp of the birds. I know it won't be long now until summer comes back to my happy place, which will mean the competitive season is over and it's my time to return. Being in my happy place makes my life feel complete.

Sam Sutton is a world-champion extreme kayaker, and owns adventure tourism company Rotorua Rafting, ph 0800 772 384.

- Herald on Sunday

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