Known For:Unmatched big wave prowess and big water style. First D of Site Zed on the Stikine and the Congo’s Inga Rapids with Fisher, Sturges and Bradt. Also, the hair. This Year:Ben Marr’s springtime “stakeout” exploits in Eastern Canada consistently produce the most impressive images in freestyle kayaking, and this year was no different as he explored the potential of new waves on the flooded rivers of Ontario and Quebec. Marr also pushed the limits in his creekboat on the exploratory Destination Torngat expedition to Labrador. He placed fourth in the Rey Del Rio waterfall competition, and a trip to Veracruz, Mexico, showed Marr catching hair-raising eddies at the lip of enormous waterfalls. The irreverent Out to Lunch video series, produced with partner-in-crime Rush Sturges, combines amazing paddling exploits with off-water antics.
Dane Jackson Age: 21 | Rock Island, TN Known For:Unparalleled interdisciplinary whitewater versatility, learning to kayak before some kids learn to read. This Year:Whitewater’s prodigal son continued to dominate competitions in all disciplines of whitewater throughout 2014 and 2015. On the freestyle side, Dane won the competitive Ottawa XL Freestyle. On the race side, he placed second in a near unbreakable tie with Isaac Levinson at the Green Race. Beyond competitions, he also upped the ante by logging an impressive first descent of the 110-plus-foot Encanto Falls in Veracruz, Mexico. What’s next? Defending his title as Freestyle World Champion at Garburator Wave on the Ottawa River in August.
Evan Garcia Age: 26 | Bozeman, MT Known For:Paddling’s foremost globetrotting huckster. Sending big drops with unparalleled grace and style and spreading whitewater stoke worldwide as a founding partner in Substantial Media House. This Year:Per usual, Garcia’s online videos of global paddling dazzled our collective eyeballs. The 2013 C&K Paddler of the Year put out impressive edits from classic destinations like Norway and British Columbia that have upped the ante for style and grace in freefall and big water.
Fabien Lefevre Age: 33 | Bethesda, MD Known For:Dominating international slalom events, first person to win a world championship in Men’s C-1 and Men’s K-1 Known For:Lefevre joined the USA Slalom team in 2012 and, in 2014, he won a gold medal for the home team at the world championships in Deep Creek, Maryland. As a two-time Olympic medalist on the French team, Lefevre brings youth, determination, and raw talent to team USA. What’s Next:Lefevre hopes to win gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Geoff Calhoun Age: 29 | Bethesda, MD Known For:Podium stalwart for the East Coast’s biggest races This Year: When it comes down to cranking hard forward strokes and lacing smooth lines, no one does it quite like Calhoun. The Washington, D.C., native is a threat at every major kayak race. His major achievement this year: winning the overall title for the King of New York race series.
Gerd Serrasolses Age: 26 | Catalonia, Spain Known For:An insatiable appetite for big, technical whitewater, and a consistent force in extreme race competition. This Year: Gerd Serrasolses is a paddling machine, plain and simple. The Spaniard won a slough of the world’s most competitive kayak races this year, including the Little White Salmon and the Payette River Games Boatercross. After winning the expert division at last year’s North Fork Championship, he received an official invite for the NFC IV.
Isaac Levinson Age: 25 | Atlanta, Georgia Known For:Southeast native turned PNW local. Consistently paddles fast and smooth in chaotic Class V races, especially in a longboat. This Year: It was a big year for Levinson. In addition to recovering from a broken back, Levinson won his second title as Green Race Champion and took home gold at the 2014 GoPro Steep Creek Championship on Homestake Creek, Colo. Rad footage from Levinson’s trip to Mexico shows that an elite slalom background doesn’t just help with creek racing- it’s always a sure fire way to lay down enviable lines on waterfalls over 60 feet.
Joe Morley Age: 25 | Nottingham,UK Known For:Dominating technically challenging extreme races with smooth slalom style. This Year: The Adidas Sickline in the idyllic mountain valley of Oetz, Austria, is one of the most competitive races in the world. Many of the world’s top pros fail even to qualify for the event. After Sam Sutton won the race three times in a row, many paddlers began to wonder if another champion could ever dethrone the Kiwi on the Wellerbrucke rapids. Great Britain’s Joe Morley rose to the challenge and won the event back to back in 2013 and 2014. It’s safe to say that Joe is consistently one of the fastest whitewater paddlers on the planet.
Jules Domine Age: 24 | Grenoble, France Known For:Making high-volume river expeditions look easy all over the world, exploring the deep wilderness rivers of Medellin, Colombia. This Year: Jules won one of the most difficult and dangerous races in whitewater: the third North Fork Championship. In addition to his usual rampage of exploratory paddling in Colombia, Jules also notched a complete descent of the Stikine by running Site Zed. What’s Next: Jules is excited to do more exploration in northern British Columbia and Alaska, with one mission combining big mountain skiing with expedition kayaking. He also plans to return to Colombia in search of more unexplored whitewater.
Kalob Grady Age: 21 | Lapasse, Ontario Known For:Sticking freestyle tricks that his elders haven’t even heard of yet. This Year:Hailing from Ontario, Canada, 21-year-old Kalob Grady is one of the young guns on the block. Grady grew up in big wave paradise in eastern Canada, and it shows in his smooth freestyle moves. He can also crank out forward strokes, which helped produce a win at the Ottawa XL Boatercross. Grady proved he can hang with the best when he notched a seventh-place finish at the 2014 Whitewater Grand Prix. These achievements at a young age are just a glimpse of what’s to come for one of whitewater’s young chargers.
Pat Keller Age: 29 | Asheville, NC Known For:Inspiring the old-school longboat renaissance, firing off first descents, and dominating at the Green Race-all while holding down a day job as a designer at Liquidlogic Kayaks. This Year: Pat’s smooth style and racing chops carried him to an impressive double victory at November’s Rey Del Rio World Waterfall Championship in Mexico. It didn’t hurt that he was paddling a brand new boat of his own design. Pat also put down a dominant first place at the Moose River race in New York, and a predictably strong third place at the Green Race.
Rush Sturges Age: 30 | White Salmon, WA Known For:Paddling, and capturing on film, some of the most challenging whitewater ever run. This Year:Despite spending the past several years on a hectic schedule as one of paddling’s foremost filmmakers, Rush hasn’t lost his edge on the water. The veteran paddler took first place at the Northwest Creeking Competition and placed second at two of the year’s most impressive events- the Little White Salmon Race and the Rey Del Rio World Waterfall Championship. Sturges pushes the limits of new techniques like the crossbow lean boof on his home river, the Little White Salmon. What’s Next:Sturges is working on the release of his next documentary film, Chasing Niagara.