I started kayaking with my dad when I was 10, but got more serious about it around 16.
When I was just learning the basics, I was always with my parents on the Rogue River and even went to a kayaking kids camp on the Rogue. After that, I visited some Northern California rivers such as the Salmon and Klamath, but I spent most of my time on the Rogue—anywhere from above Lost Creek Lake to down into the Wild & Scenic Rogue.
I think my parents have themselves to blame for worrying about me now because they were the first to bring me on the river, put me in a kayak and teach me to roll. My dad paddled and, of course, I wanted to be out there with him, so I just tried to keep up! I really look up to the Knapp brothers and crew from Southern Oregon—and pioneers of California High Sierra rivers like Lars Holbeck, Chuck Stanley, Royal Robbins and Reg Lake. The list goes on and on, though, as there are so many motivated and creative people in the kayaking world.
I don’t think I ever really “decided” to make paddling my life, other than when I nailed my first Class 3—it just is. I have always loved it and wanted to pursue it more than anything. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work hard and have things fall into place to make it a career.
An early milestone that allowed for vast improvement was learning to confidently roll in whitewater. After that, my first waterfall on the White Salmon River in Washington made me realize how amazingly fun kayaking can be and how to push my comfort and skill. Then my first proper expeditions in Pakistan and India were huge in pushing me to make kayaking a more significant part of my life, and go on more expeditions.
Despite, and until, its tragic end, our expedition through Central Africa was amazing. It was the best trip ever, and it was getting better and harder and more committed, but also more dependent on and integrated with the places and people we were passing. I see future expeditions following that mold: long, more committed, and for the appreciation of the whole place, not just the whitewater.
I’m packing right now to go to a pretty unlikely kayaking destination, Hawaii, but hoping to find gold in waterfalls and the volcanic geology.
I’m sure we’ll find a way to make it hard.
My favorite run will always be on the Rogue, ten minutes from where I grew up. Not difficult, but a good paddle any day. On the other end of the spectrum is Tokatee Falls on the North Umpqua, which is up there as my favorite waterfall in the world.
For more on his adventures, see Chris’s blog, Same Deep Water.