He originally followed his younger brother into the sport of canoe slalom, but when Kaylen Bassett talks about the support of his Paddle Australia “family”, he’s referring well beyond the immediate Bassett clan.
Kaylen says his sporting highlight was making his first World Cup semi-final in Slovenia last year, in the same event where his younger brother Lachlan made his World Cup debut. It was a special family moment, and the brothers will band together for Australia this year at the Wildwater World Championships in Germany.
But Kaylen admits it’s his broader Australian Canoe Slalom “family” that is front of mind as he begins the 2023 international season.
The 25-year-old, originally from Melbourne, will this year represent Australia at the Canoe Slalom World Championships in London and across the World Cup Series, aiming to book an Australian qualifying spot in the Canoe Single (MC1) category for next year’s Paris Olympic Games.
Still young in terms of his own sporting career, Kaylen says he feels blessed to have been supported on his athlete journey by so many coaches and teammates, including Olympic gold medallist Jessica Fox and dual Olympian Lucien Delfour.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been in this melting pot of knowledge,” Kaylen says of the coaches and teammates he’s learned from over the past few years. “I think I learn the most out of the people I train with, being able to watch their wins and learn from their mistakes as well. Just having such a great culture has been very beneficial for us.
“It’s been a really supportive ‘family’ is the best word to describe it. We all want to see each other succeed, we want to be there for each other in the down times as well. One person’s win is everyone’s win, so that’s been a really amazing part of the Australian team. It’s something that not every country has and it’s something that we are looking to continue to strengthen.”
It may seem somewhat of a role reversal, that Kaylen followed younger brother Lachlan into the sport. Lachlan was competing at high school and Kaylen was 16 when he watched his brother compete at the national championships.
“I didn’t really find it too fun to sit on the sidelines, so I gave it a go,” Kaylen says.
“I just really enjoyed doing it, I found myself down on the river all the time … I was like, ‘yeah, okay, let’s take the next step’.”
Kaylen relocated to Western Sydney to pursue the sport and after three years competing internationally in Wildwater Canoeing, he was selected for his first Canoe Slalom Australian team, the Under 23’s, in 2020. However he didn’t get to compete, with COVID putting a halt on international travel.
“So I never really got that opportunity to put on the green-and-gold due to COVID, but I remember this feeling of relief and pride when I finally made the team … feeling like all that hard work had paid off.
“It was a bit of an uncertain period. The hard bit was going out of U23s into the senior team the next year … going from being the bigger fish in a small pond to a small fish again.
“But the first year in the senior team I was fortunate enough to make that step and make the senior team… I’m looking forward to consolidating everything I’ve learned.”
Kaylen says the sport means a lot to his immediate family, including Lachlan and his mum Jill, who is Paddle Australia’s Canoe Slalom Performance Pathways Coordinator.
“We have put a lot into the sport, [Lachlan and I] want to get as far as we can and see each other succeed,” he says.
Kaylen would obviously like to make his Olympic debut in Paris next year, but it speaks of his selflessness when he refers to his aim of booking an Olympic qualifying spot for Australia, not specifically himself.
“The biggest goal is definitely to try and qualify the country spot for Australia at the World Championships, that’s the biggest goal and the biggest thing we can take away into next year.
“Then of course trying to improve on last year’s results and get a best result at a World Championships. I’d like to see the whole team succeed really,” he said.
It is family, after all.