Photo Essay: Kyle Hull at the North Fork Championships

Aaron Schmidt

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Photographs by Tait Trautman

Each summer, Idaho’s North Fork Championship brings together the best whitewater boaters in the world. The event features several races, but the most highly anticipated showdown takes place on the North Fork of the Payette’s infamous Jacobs Ladder rapid, a Class V maelstrom that’s led multiple competitors to call the race the “hardest in whitewater kayaking.” We caught up with Kyle Hull, a California native, who’s competed in every North Fork Championship since the event began four years ago.

– C&K – You seem like a pretty fun-loving guy. How does your happy-go-lucky attitude translate over to your boating style?

KH – Kayaking is a serious sport with serious consequences. I love having a good time lifestylin’ and hanging out next to amazing rivers in beautiful locations, but there is a fine line between not being serious enough on the water and being so serious you don’t take the time to have fun.

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C&K – Tell us a bit about your equipment. What kind of gear do you bring to the NFC and why?

KH – Idaho in the summer is one of the best warm water kayaking destinations so it was easy to choose what I needed out there. Swim shorts, light weight long sleeve under layers, dry top (but I only used it two days), Werner Sho-Gun paddle, throw bag and of course my Pyranha 9R.

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C&K – Are you visualizing your run in this photo? What else is going through your head?

KH – I am just visualizing how to be smooth through Rodeo Hole, Rock Drop and Taffy Puller; those are the crux features in the top of Jakes. After that, remembering all the fast lines through Golf Course and where the holes are is always a challenge as well. In my first race lap, I found one of those holes and went for a bit of a ride.

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C&K – Kayaking can have some very serious consequences. How do guys at your level deal with the danger or bad memories of harrowing times?

KH – All the kayakers that race Jacobs Ladder know and accept the consequences, but that’s the same for all Class V paddling, even when there isn’t a race. I don’t know how other paddlers deal with stress or the level of danger, but for me I just remember what I have made it through in the past. And to never underestimate the river no matter how big, small, powerful or calm. Also, in a race like Jakes the risk versus reward comes to mind. It is well worth the risk for that feeling at the bottom of the rapid.

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C&K – Kayaking is such a communal sport both on and off the river.

KH – The community is one of the reasons why I love kayaking so much. The bonds that run in these communities are as strong as ever. When something bad happens or when something great happens, the community as a whole always feels the reverberations. I trust the boys and girls I paddle with entirely, both on and off the water. I know my boys will do everything possible to get me out of a situation on the water, not to mention getting me back home for the night when we are off the water and you don’t remember where your bed is.

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C&K – Are you a competitive guy? What kind of challenges do you personally face when it comes to high-level events like the NFC?

KH – I am not the most competitive guy by any means. I like to talk shit and tell my friends that I am going to whoop their asses, but in the end I don’t get upset with myself if I don’t place well. For me, extreme racing is just an extension of my normal Class V paddling life. I love going fast and taking chances down hard stuff and seeing where I stand with the boys who do train and take the racing game a little more serious than I do.

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C&K – How did your run go? Were you content with your performance?

KH – During my first race run, I was not in the correct headspace for some reason. I had one touch on a gate, and I went for a ride in a hole in Golf Course. On the walk back up to the start line I just told myself for my second run to just concentrate on the moves and be smooth. I did that and gave it my all. I was pretty stoked to end up ninth with my second run.

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C&K – What’s special about the NFC for you?

KH – The North Fork Race has a special place in my heart. It is not only the best extreme race in the world, but it’s the people that come to paddle, watch, and help out that makes this event what it is. It is an amazing get-together of some of the most amazing people in the sport.

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C&K – Looks like an important gal in your life… ?

KH – The most important woman in my life–the one who brought me into this world and helped make me the man I am today, and my biggest fan–is my mother Mary Hull.

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C&K – How did this year’s NFC compare to the years previous? What’s next for Kyle Hull’s paddling escapades?

KH – I’m stoked to have been part of every NFC so far and number IV was definitely the best. All the kinks are getting sorted, the paddlers are getting better, the parties are getting bigger, and the energy just keeps growing! Right now I am working everyday and getting ready for when the water comes up again. I have some unfinished business in Ecuador and I have always wanted to check out New Zealand.

More from C&K

Video: Faces of the North Fork Championship IV

Photo Essay: Whitewater Journey Through Chile

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