Nigel started life young. Here's a photo of him when he was little...
Nigel followed his "big" brother Michael (picture right), kayaking and then buying his own kayak.
(Photo Peter Foster 1968)
Kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing and caving as a teenager, he liked kayaking best. His first kayak, shown here, was a skin-on-frame PBK-11. (more images)
A local outdoor activity center offered the opportunity to try white-water, sea kayaking and surf kayaking. He then followed a group of friends to compete in white-water racing, surf competition, slalom and long-distance racing, "...because it took me to interesting places to paddle!" Nigel admits. He claims to have never been a true competitor. But that multi-discipline approach rewarded him with spin-offs. Each type of competition focused his attention to a different set of skills, helping him become a better paddler.
Brighton (Palace pier in the background) was Nigel's home paddling area. Steep pebble beaches of flint cobbles offer dumping waves at high tide, or ridable surf waves at low tide when the tide drops to a flat sand bottom.
Standing a kayak on end in the shallows was a popular activity...
...although it often caused damage requiring fiberglass repairs.
Nigel Foster also began playing guitar as a teenager... another life passion! Here with his sister Debbie, who also plays guitar, and kayaks... (see Skye 07)
(Photo Peter Foster)
Rock climbing on sandstone outcrops in southeast England led to multi-pitch climbing elsewhere...
... here scaling Suicide Wall, Bosigran Cliffs, North Cornwall, not far as it happens from the Vyneck Rocks.
Below left... Anvil Chorus...
and below right, Suicide Wall...
July 1974, after nigel's first English to France crossing. From left, Tim Franklin, Keith Robinson, Nigel Foster, a French passer-by, Ian Matheson, and missing (taking photo) Jan McKecknie.
In 1975 Nigel made his first multi-day solo sea kayaking trip on the North coast of Cornwall, rounding Land's End, Cornwall's southwestern peninsula. It was near the Vyneck Rocks, in memorable sea conditions, that Nigel wished he was more at one with his kayak. That led to a prototype kayak by late 1976. In 1977 Nigel and Geoff Hunter set off to circumnavigate Iceland in a more refined form of that kayak, the "Vyneck".
Geoff Hunter (in his Vyneck) with fisherman-farmer Axel on the North coast of Iceland
(photo Nigel Foster 1977)
"It was a tough call to cut the Vyneck in half... the one that circled Iceland in 1977. However, we could fly the kayaks to Newfoundland on a regular scheduled passenger flight in shorter pieces." (photo 1978) Pictured left is Nigel's dad, Peter, and center, his younger brother David.
The same two Vynecks seen in the previous shot, hitching a ride on the schooner Norma and Gladys, Newfoundland, 1978. With the kayaks, but not pictured here, were Tim Franklin and Nigel.
Expedition paddling was Nigel's past-time of choice, while teaching outdoor education (that is adventure activities such as rock climbing, canoing and kayaking and also environmental studies) was his work. Of course it's hard to classify weeks-long surf seminars as work, or those exploratory trips to Norway, or the Faeroe Islands where Nigel took groups of schoolteachers during summer breaks. But somebody has to do that sort of thing, right?
After a few personal trips thrown in for fun, like the winter trip from the English Channel to the Mediterranean Sea via the rivers and canals of France, and a six-week coastal journey in Newfoundland, Nigel spent a break between jobs to kayak solo from Baffin Island to Northern Labrador, a trip that almost cost him his life. How he hitched a ride south on an oil tanker from uninhabited northern Labrador is another story, as is his more recent return in 2004 to the same area, when he paddled with Kristin Nelson around Ungava Bay and northern Labrador for five weeks dodging polar bears. (photo, rock-hopping in South Wales with his friend Andy Middleton of Twr-y-Felyn Outdoor Centre)
Photo by Ray Rowe; on river Ogwen in North Wales
The few years Nigel spent teaching at the National Watersports Center settled him in North Wales, where he then started his own kayaking business. He led trips to Iceland, arctic Norway, and Scotland, as well as teaching kayaking skills around the rocks and tide-races of North Wales. By then he was well known as a kayaking coach and in demand internationally. Gradually his business shifted toward traveling to teach local groups in different countries; Denmark and Sweden, Finland and Canada, United States and the Netherlands. He designed more kayaks, wrote some books, discovered he was living in the USA and produced an instructional video series. Then things began to get busy!
Nigel playing in the surf at Westport WA. (photo Kristin Nelson)
Here Nigel works a slow shoulder in the zebra-striped Necky Groovy (designed by Spike for Necky Kayaks and, incidentally, paddled by Nigel when he and Kristin kayaked the Grand Canyon.)
Kristin has helped Nigel a lot. She took most of the photos for his surf kayaking book. Otherwise she is well known for her whimsical "Kri-Kri" ceramics. The couple typically carry Kri Kri cups and bowls on their kayak trips. Nigel and Kristin instruct sea-kayaking together as a tight coaching team all over the world.
In 1999 Globe Pequot Press released his guide book to Sea Kayaking in Southern Florida. It was with Kristin's help he bought, licensed and insured a car and passed an American driving test all in one day. The car, casually known as the "motel Coup-de-Ville" served as office, motel room and transport until the summer grew too hot and humid, and the Florida research was completed...