Ben Hayward’s financial risk pays off big time

Ben Hayward’s financial risk pays off big time

Throwing my savings into a wooden camper was a bigger win than I could’ve imagined

By Ben Hayward for CBC Sports
July 14, 2015
Ben Hayward's home on wheels measures about seven square metres. (Sean Scally/Away Magazine) Ben Hayward's home on wheels measures about seven square metres. (Sean Scally/Away Magazine)

I am sitting in a small wooden house, with my feet up on the couch, looking out at a race course framed by my back door.

I'm in a space I built, that one year ago existed only as a thought. The feeling is surreal and I can't help but smile.

I'm home. Yet I am 5,500 kilometres away from Canada.

I have been described as one of the paddlers most comfortable with risk on the international circuit. My paddling style is aggressive and I usually pick the tighter, direct line rather than opting for lines that are conservative and safe.

The water is always unpredictable and the safe lines have proven to win races in the past. But I believe the sport is changing.

Boats have gotten shorter, lighter, and they radically improve in design every year. There is no winning paddling style, and no ideal body type. Ultimately, I believe creativity is the secret to success in my sport.

It is what I love the most about my sport: the creative problem solving, and sometimes risk, involved when facing a whitewater racecourse that no one has been given a chance to practise before.

No right answer

There is no right answer.

Looking to my long-term goals of the Pan Ams Games in Toronto, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, I wanted to perfect my own paddling style based on my theories about kayaking.

I needed to have the best opportunity to do this, and that recipe is simple.

The best facilities are in Europe, so I needed to go there. The best sparring partners would push me, so I needed to get in their circle. The best coaching knowledge comes from Europe, so I needed to find someone there to work with.

The brick wall for me, as it is for many Canadian athletes, has been money. There is simply no way I could afford the hotels, rental cars, and facilities that are accessible to my fully funded competitors.

I needed to change the game in order to dramatically reduce the financial burden that a national team athlete incurs.

An idea came after I met Adam Williams. He is a Welsh engineer and has an inspiringly non-conformist attitude to society. He lives in a sailboat in the Cardiff Marina.

It costs a fraction of what traditional living arrangements do and it gave me the idea to live small, yet comfortably, and create my own home base in Europe.

Hayward chose the sport of kayak because it is a constant dance with chaos. (Photo Courtesy of Sean Scally) Hayward chose the sport of kayak because it is a constant dance with chaos. (Photo Courtesy of Sean Scally)

A friend indeed

Adam was instrumental in providing the inspiration and enthusiasm to take on this project. I had some background studying architecture and Adam had power tools, so we took two weeks before the 2014 World Cup series to design and build a wooden house on the back of a flatbed truck.

My new mobile home needed to be more comfortable than the hotels I was avoiding, cheaper to run than a rental car, reliable enough that I could drive throughout Europe with confidence, and inspirational enough that I could successfully crowd fund the project.

I can't remember how many times I doubted that we could actually pull this off. We had such a short time frame to get it ready but we got into a daily routine.

Adam and I would wake up early and fix the mistakes from the day before in my computer model. We would usually head out to the hardware store for supplies and then work all day until the sun set and we couldn't see what we were doing.

The finished exterior was a quaint timber frame home, a bow top roof, a big round hobbit door on the back, and room for a king sized bed above the truck cab.

The next challenge I faced was how I was going to finish the interior and make it livable. I had been wanting to launch a crowd-funding project for a number of years and finally had something worthy of a campaign.

I took this as another opportunity to do something different and I built my own website to have full control of the look and feel. I produced high-quality donor rewards like a self-designed tee shirt and a cook book. I shot and edited a campaign video featuring catching a fish with my bare hands, time-lapse construction of my van, and also a call to action.

On the first day I achieved one third of my campaign goal, and within two months, had exceeded it.

I moved into the "Hobbit Van" after the 2014 world championship. I finished my interior which included a full wrap around kitchen, with a dining room table, electrics, and a big couch. Every aspect is bespoke design that makes the home an exciting and beautiful place to live.

To show all of my donors what I had done with their support, I made a thank you video documenting the construction of the interior.


Expenses near zero

The lifestyle is so much more than what I had hoped for. When I am parked, my expenses are near zero because I generate electricity thanks to a wind turbine and two solar panels. I have the freedom to go to the races I want while sleeping in my own bed and cooking in my own kitchen.

Taking on daunting projects often leads me into a roller coaster of ups and downs. I’ll admit that throwing all of my savings, and donations from others, into building my own wooden camper van was risky.

But it was also an opportunity to creatively solve a problem and ended up being one of the most fulfilling challenges I have tackled in my life thus far.

After spending almost the entire off-season in Europe and living in the Hobbit Van, I was able to win both of my events at Pan Am team selections. I had never won both events before at team selections but I came into my race with the confidence that I was better prepared than any of my competitors.

I am now working as my own agent, web designer, publicist, electrician, carpenter, architect, and video producer. All of which are building incredible life skills that I would never have learned if I was fully funded from the start.

I chose my sport because it is a constant dance with chaos. It is possibly the only sport where you can never run the same race twice. Creativity is at the forefront of the race plan and the run depends on how much you trust yourself to try something you never have done before.

The ultimate challenge is still in front of me with the Olympic Games quickly approaching.

I am prepared to risk my entire athletic career on that race. The best part, however, is going to be the creative journey, both on and off the water.

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