This story is featured in the Beginner’s Guide 2013 issue of Canoe & Kayak Magazine which can be purchased here.
Words: Zoe Krasney
Photo: Brent Hall
New Mexico is better known for its arid landscape than for canoeing and kayaking, but that hasn’t dented Kelly Gossett’s enthusiasm for the sport. For six years, Gossett has been the sole proprietor and teacher at Albuquerque’s lone paddling school, New Mexico Kayak Instruction. His single-minded enthusiasm has revitalized the state’s paddling scene—he even got Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry to join 40 other paddlers on the Rio Grande. “He was a quick learner,” Gossett says of Berry, an avid outdoorsman.
Though the ex-hedge fund manager never planned to make a living based on his passion for paddling, Gossett’s entrepreneurial spirit found its niche when he moved to New Mexico in 2005. “People kept asking me, ‘What can we do on the water in New Mexico?’ and I knew there was an opportunity. Sure, there were rafting companies, but I wanted to teach people so they didn’t need a guide,” Gossett says.
Gossett began teaching, and quickly recognized the need to build a paddling community, so that his students could share their experiences with others. He began a kayaking Meetup club to plan local events and statewide trips. The club has grown to over 500 members, and is one of the most active Meetup groups in the city.
“What got me hooked was a trip with my brother many years ago,” Gossett explains. “I’ve kayaked in many countries, many states. I might forget the rapids, the names of the rivers, but I always remember our road trips and the people.”
As his students are discovering, New Mexico does indeed have water. Gossett teaches whitewater techniques on the Class I-III rapids of the Taos Middle Box section of the Rio Grande, and offers sea kayak rescue, recovery and navigation classes on Abiquiu Lake, a reservoir just upstream. He leads trips to the state’s hidden watery treasures, from the Wild and Scenic fast-flowing Rio Chama, to the haunting sacred pictographs of the Rio Grande through Bandelier National Monument.
Gossett says his greatest satisfaction comes from teaching the people who have the most to gain from kayaking, such as seniors, veterans, disabled children and at-risk teenagers. For years he has volunteered with special needs PE classes, giving hours of his time to help change the lives of young people with autism and other challenges. Gossett is now in the process of setting up a nonprofit, Kayak New Mexico, to create more instruction opportunities for these non-traditional new paddlers.“If I can take a group of special-needs kids, teach them in a pool, then take them to a small lake for a day,” he says. “I can only imagine what it would be like for them.”