The most inspiring among us don’t seek accolades or recognition; they simply follow their passion for paddling.
Story by Nick Hinds
The yellow and red Lettman Mark V kayak glistened in the window of the Aspen Kayak Academy. Scott Gerber had just learned how to execute an extended paddle roll--a state-of-the-art skill in 1973--and he'd grown frustrated with the homemade fiberglass boat in which he'd learned the contorted pry stroke. So he took the wages from a summer of slinging weenies at Donnie's Dog House and bought that Lettman.
Then he nearly drowned in it.
He flipped on the Roaring Fork. The roll didn't work. He couldn't wedge free from the thigh braces and extricate himself from the tiny cockpit. At the end of his last breath, Kirk Baker, his mentor from the Academy, rammed into the kayak, right there with a T-rescue.
That panicked moment could've ended Gerber's paddling career. But he didn't stop.
Forty years later, Gerber and I are sitting at our first night's camp on Oregon's Illinois River, having paddled six wild miles of continuous and pushy rapids in our loaded kayaks. We're laughing about the last four decades that Gerber has paddled Class V, back to the days of the moustache, the VW van, the hockey helmet, the horse-collar life jacket and soaked wool sweaters. He tells me about snapping the Lettman on his first run of Colorado's Taylor River, after moving to Crested Butte to start a career as a ski patroller in the winter, paddler and finish carpenter in the summer.
I started running rivers with Gerber after he'd built a home in Steamboat Springs, where he raised two children. I remember the day, at age 56, when he decided to finally run the Rockies' waterfall proving ground that is Oh Be Joyful in his well-worn WaveSport Y. At that time, he had been running technical whitewater since before I was born. He wasn't some crotchety old man. He wasn't out to prove anything with his lines. He kept it smooth and safe, and could hang with anyone in our crew.
On every subsequent shuttle and on every river added to the list, his advice always stuck and his cautious approach rubbed off on me. We both relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where Scott's wife of 41 years, Jan, would have respite from endless winters, and Scott could kayak year-round.
He is more selective these days with water levels, weather, paddling groups. But as the sun set on another shared day on the river, I had to know. After the bad swims, the scares, the injuries, after all the paddling friends who have given up whitewater, how, at 65, does he keep at it? Like everything else, my friend kept the answer simple: Don't ever stop.
"You just gotta keep going," he says. "You gotta make sure you don't give it up. Even if it's just going once every two weeks, you gotta keep going.
"And you have to let it be known that you are a better person for paddling."
EXTRA ORDINARY PADDLERS CONTINUED
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