By Marissa Tiel
For as long as she can remember, Tamlyn Bohm has been on the water.
Plunked in a boat alongside her parents, she was introduced to paddling early. She’d accompany her father down some of South Africa’s infamous rivers holding her paddle up dutifully when asked as they’d breeze through rapids.
Later, when given the choice between homework and getting in a boat, Bohm always chose paddling.
Growing up in South Africa, Bohm’s family vacations always revolved around paddling.
“I don’t remember ever going on a holiday that wasn’t a paddling trip ever in my life, other than with my grandparents or something,” she says. “It was: we’re going to the race this weekend, you get to hang out at the race all weekend, which is great. I saw so many places that most people would never go to.”
When her mother, Aurora, first made the South African marathon national team, the family packed for a two-month adventure in Europe. Bohm was around 10 years old.
“I remember pushing the backpacks on a trolley through the airport and my mom and dad had a double (kayak) on each shoulder while we walked through Heathrow,” says Bohm. “That’d be unheard of nowadays. It’s crazy.”
They travelled to England, Ireland, Spain and France.
“We rented one of those camper vans with a pop-up roof and lived in that for two months driving around Europe,” says Bohm. “It was pretty cool. Probably the best trip of my life.”
They’d do a week of racing and then a week of holidays.
Her father, Darryl, insisted they get their fill of history.
“So we saw every Roman bridge and castle that we could find,” she says. “We’ve been through a lot of museums.”
Around this time, Bohm also got her first boat. A pink polo kayak, its ends were bumpered for the full-contact sport. Darryl extended the bumpers to include the sides of her kayak and let her use it in the pool. Whether the bumpers were to protect the kayak or the pool is still up for debate.
In 2004, the family moved to Canada. They landed in Oakville, Ont., a hub for paddling in Canada.
On the GO train one day, Aurora and Darryl spotted a legion of kayaks spread out near the Credit River. They quickly signed up with the Mississauga Canoe Club.
Bohm joined her parents six months later after finishing up her semester in South Africa.
She began working full-time at a Montessori centre while paddling part-time. Soon, the scales would tip the other way as she went back to school part-time, training for paddling full-time.
In 2005, she attended her first ICF World Marathon Championships. She would continue to compete for Canada for the next 10 years, making a name for herself as one of the top marathon paddlers in the world. Bohm was the top Canadian at worlds (she has dual citizenship between South Africa and Canada) in 2011 and 2012, finishing sixth and 11th respectively.
In 2013, representing Canada at the Sprint Pan American Canoe Championships, she earned a gold and two silver medals. At her final World Marathon Championships in Oklahoma City in 2014, she finished eighth.
After graduating, she took a year to go “full-on competitive, but it just didn’t happen,” she told Searching for Sero a few years ago. “I decided I wasn’t getting any faster so it was time to get a real job.”
Enter the Kelowna Paddle Centre. Bohm accepted a position as club manager and moved across the country for a new start in Kelowna.
She’s hoping to get as many people paddling safely as possible.
She’s helping breathe new life into the club, membership rose from 27 people in 2013 to 350 in 2015.
“I’m trying to create that love of paddling in people,” she says.
She now brings her own experience and enthusiasm for the sport to members on Lake Okanagan.
And while she’s retired from marathon racing, Bohm hasn’t slowed down.
Embracing one of the club’s disciplines, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), Bohm has entered the racing scene as a SUPer to watch.
In 2017, she earned the title Queen of Kalamalka after finishing as the top female in the 16-kilometre race. The same year, she won Board the Fjord.
Bohm has now signed on as an athlete ambassador for Vaikovi, Blackfish Paddles, One SUP and Fresh Air.
She remains committed to hard work.
“I like feeling broken at the end of a practice,” she says.
Bohm now trains around six times per week year-round.
And while her priorities for training have shifted from high performance athlete to become more social, she still loves a good competition.
“Part of me just loves racing,” she says. “I just can’t resist.”
On the docket this year are four events: the Canadian Downwind Championships in Squamish, the Kalamalka Crossing, the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge and the Kelowna Paddle Centre’s Waterman Paddlefest.