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CreativeMornings: The After Party. Cooper Lambla talks about risk, adventure and kayaking

Cooper Lambla, the speaker at April's CreativeMornings/Charlotte event.
Cooper Lambla, the speaker at April's CreativeMornings/Charlotte event.

Cooper Lambla makes the impossible possible. Kayaking since the age of 12, Lambla has plunged into rivers and cultures in 20 countries and six continents. As curator of the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s EXPLORE series, Lambla now shares his global kayaking expeditions to inspire and empower others to seek adventure in their own lives.

On April 1, he spoke with the CreativeMornings/Charlotte chapter about the crucial interrelation of risk and respect in his work, and in our own creative endeavors.

But we didn’t want to conversation to end there. Enter: “The After Party,” a monthly series with CM/CLT where we ask guests some of the follow up questions provided by the attendees.

Lambla expands on CreativeMornings’ April theme of “Risk” and on ideas expressed in his talk.

Have you felt any spiritual connection on any of your river runs? – Sandy Cote

“The spirituality of nature is pretty difficult to describe, but very real. I remember paddling the Bashkaus River in Russia’s Altai Mountains when a good friend of mine, Vasilli Porsev, turned toward me and asked, ‘Cooper, can you feel the spirit?’ We were deep in one of Siberia’s most remote and challenging whitewater canyons and there was this feeling that the setting, people and experience had all aligned for a reason. ‘It is strong,’ he said.

You left a peripatetic and satisfying lifestyle for a career that’s grounded to a specific organization and place. How did you follow your own advice in “finding the line” and “going with the flow” in creating a work arrangement that felt right for you? – Tamela Rich

“The lessons of the river are always transferable to any aspect of life you choose. I imagine many folks find the same about the lessons they learn while pursuing their own passions. In order to create a work arrangement that felt right to me, it was important to allow the flow or direction of the USNWC to create the position organically.

“You can’t force your way through a rapid. It’s about putting yourself in a position to be able and ready to capitalize on opportunities when they arise. If it doesn’twork for the river, it doesn’t work for me. In this situation, the river just happens to be an employer and one that I’ve had a very positive relationship with for over a decade.”

How do you find focus and presence in the moment when adrenaline is not present? – Thom Duncan

“My experience on rivers has placed a high value on the importance of living in the moment. It’s certainly much easier to be focused on the present when there are higher consequences, but by experiencing success in those situations, you realize how much more enjoyable and productive you are when fully present in each moment. You then strive to recreate that heightened state of awareness in other areas of your life.”

Does the addition of film and photography elements change the nature of your adventures? – Tim Miner

“On one hand, it doesn’t change the nature of our adventures at all. We’re still out there allowing a lifestyle to act as a conduit for exploration of the world around us. On the other hand, we have a responsibility to share what we find and that adds a lot to what are typically already pretty complicated situations.

“Take for example our most recent adventure of riding bicycles across the length of Cuba, which will be featured in the upcoming ‘EXPLORE – Chapter Three.’ It’s one thing to go down there and figure out the logistics of each day, riding up to 120 miles a day, dealing with the bike issues, finding a place to sleep each night, places to eat and get water, etc. But to also document that whole process, as well as still completing the journey, requires a balance and commitment that can get pretty intense and actually has an entirely new set of risks associated with it.”


CreativeMornings/Charlotte is a monthly breakfast series for the creative community. Meetings are the first Friday of every month. Each event is free of charge, and includes a 20 minute talk, plus coffee! Everyone is creative. Everyone is welcome. More information at

Photos: Wiley Stewart Photography