Semit Lee nominated for Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year

Nat Geo honors Semit Lee, a Chinese paddler completed a 3,411-mile solo source-to-sea of the Yellow River.

Wild Fox Gorge (Qinghai Province): The Yellow River suddenly narrowed down from a few hundred meters wide to a gorge with no more than four meters wide. With the impact of the riptide, I had to try my best to leave here alive. Photograph Courtesy Semit Lee
Wild Fox Gorge (Qinghai Province): The Yellow River suddenly narrowed down from a few hundred meters wide to a gorge with no more than four meters wide. With the impact of the riptide, I had to try my best to leave here alive. Photograph Courtesy Semit Lee

Over 234 days, Semit paddled 3,411 miles through rapids and remote gorges to document the social and environmental conditions along the revered Yellow River. Lee, an electrical engineer by trade, took up paddling in 2007 at age 33 amid a boom in Chinese adventure sports.

The Yellow river is thought of as the cradle of Chinese civilization. Lee negotiated fierce rapids and steep gorges, but the trip also had a different purpose—a cultural and environmental survey of how people live along the river banks.

Lee had not gotten into kayaking for such death-defying moments. Raised in China's industrialized south, where he had worked for years with a multinational electronic company, he began paddling in 2007 at age 33. Inspired by the new craze for outdoor sports in China, Lee adopted a pseudonym, Semit, from the Semitic people who came out of Mesopotamia thousands of years ago to, as Lee put it, "explore the world and discover the unknown."

Lee joins an all-star cast of paddling characters who’ve been nominated for the honor in past years. Ben Stookesberry and his crew of explorers earned the award last year for their ambitious expedition to Papua New Guinea.

Polish kayaker Aleksander Doba earning the honor last year after, at age 67, spending six months paddling 7,716 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in the longest open-water kayak crossing in history. Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa and Sano Babu Sunuwar took home the 2012 honor for paragliding off the summit of Mount Everest and then kayaking out to the Indian Ocean. Other recent honorees have included blind kayakers Erik Weihenmayer and Lonnie Bedwell (2015), Dave and Amy Freeman (2014), Steve Fisher (2013) and John Turk and Erik Boomer (2012).

— Do you think Semit Lee should win National Geographic’s Adventurer of the year award? Visit this link to vote for Semit every day until December 16.