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Offbeat Interview Series with Kiki

Kyle ‘Kiki’ Wykstra

As the second oldest of four, Kiki grew up spending copious amounts of time outdoors. From horseback riding to commercial rafting in the Grand Canyon, Susan, Kiki’s mom, instilled the love of recreating into her children at a young age. Between her mother and her grandmother, Kiki learned everything she needed to know about living in and loving the outdoors. After spending a semester abroad in Spain, Kiki graduated from the University of Arizona with degrees in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Spanish. She spent many years commercial guiding in Grand Canyon and is now pursuing a certification as a Yoga Instructor. Kiki recently became a member of the California Women’s Watersport Collective and has teamed up with them to teach yoga. In the non-river guiding seasons, Kiki resides in Sausalito with her boyfriend Galen, on a boat. In the bay where they are parked, she assists in teaching SUP yoga.

The Interview

If you could be a river superhero, what would you be?   Super-strength so I could smash down dams; My skin would act as a filter to clean chemicals and fertilizer from our water-ways; I would have webbed feet and hands, for swimming of course; I would have the ability to breath underwater and chameleon-like camouflage; Most importantly I would have the ability to talk to and play with otters (they just seem so fun!). I am still trying to come up with a name…Swampy? 

What is your favorite dress up theme?  Themes are the most fun when they are always different. Dressing up, any which way is my favorite. I’ll take any excuse to wear a tutu and a wig.   

What is your ‘go to’ crazy hat night creation?   My favorite is when Riley Greer makes me a beautiful crown out of the local flora.

What brought you to Canyons?   My inspiring friend and mentor Ari. We worked together in Grand Canyon and eventually I pestered her enough to get me a spot on a Canyons training trip. They still haven’t been able to get rid of me.      

How many years have you worked here?   2017 will be my 5th season with Canyons     

What is your favorite thing about Canyons?  The family. I have never worked for a company that had a more inclusive culture. From the moment I started, I was welcomed with open arms. Greg does an incredible job of making us all feel valued. In an industry where you can sometimes feel replaceable, it is refreshing to know that a company like Canyons exists. 

If you could describe Canyons in 3 words?  All are welcome!

When you hear the word Idaho, what comes to mind?  Wild rivers and wild spaces. Most people don’t know that it has the largest wilderness in the lower 48. Idaho is still the wild west!

What are your top three favorite camps?  Ooooh, I don’t know. They are all so good. I really like the small camps that we don’t usually get to camp at on commercial trips. I guess I would say Sunflower and Fly on the Middle fork and Fawn Creek on the Main Salmon!

Your favorite hike?   I don’t think I could pick a favorite, but any hike with steep elevation gain and I’m in! 

Top three favorite rapids?   Very dependent on water level, craft, and river! The Middle Fork and Main Salmon rivers are special because they are still free-flowing, and because of that, they change so much. I love Big Mallard on the Main Salmon and the first 25 miles of the Middle Fork always keep me on my toes.     

Currently, what is your nemesis rapid?   A wise guide friend once told me to never make a rapid your nemesis. If you are struggling with a certain rapid, stop at it, walk around, listen, look, get to know the rapid and make friends with it. This philosophy has served me well.

What river do you want to run that you haven’t yet?   I would love to run the Futaleufu in Chile. I have been hankering to get down there for a few years now.  

What do you consider a ‘real’ job?  River guiding is about as real as it gets!   

If you could only have one kayak in your quiver, what would it be and why?  Dagger Mamba. I love that boat. There is no boat that will do it all, but I sure do like running rivers in my Mamba.

What is your favorite thing to cook on the river?   Canyons’ breakfasts. Breakfast to order is the best!

If you could take a musician or band down the river today, who would it be?   John Craigie. He would write some hilarious tunes and he’s pretty cute to boot.

What is your most memorable swim in a river?  Fairly recently I was teaching a college student how to row a boat in Grand Canyon. Clearly, I could have given better directions, because he dropped us into some no-name keeper hole. We surfed an 18-ft oar boat for two minutes. I did not swim but lost a lot of things including an umbrella and some rubber ducks. The ducks were recovered but the umbrella is probably at the bottom of Lake Mead by now. That was certainly memorable. 

What is one of your river rituals or superstitions?   Sometimes I get sick to my stomach or feel like crying when I’m scouting a big, scary rapid. When I start to feel that way I put on glitter. Glitter makes everything better.  

What is your most valued non-river-related item that you bring with you on every trip?  My mom is a river guide in Grand Canyon, and when I turned 15 she gave me a Hopi migration bracelet that she got when she started guiding. One time I forgot it and my friend broke into my car in order to get it shuttled all the way to me at Lee’s Ferry!

What is your favorite groover spot?   My very first river trip I was a little kid on the San Juan. The first night we set our groover up in full view of the river. I thought it was so funny that you could wave at other trips as they were passing by when you were grooving! After that, I became a big fan of any spot with a good waving view of the river. 

About Ariana Lowe

Running rivers is one of the greatest passions in Ari’s life. Ari’s warm demeanor, kind spirit, sense of adventure, and endless creative talents are a huge part of TEAM CANYONS. Ari is an avid kayaker, skilled oarsman and talented watercolor artist.

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