PHOTO BY JOHN RATHWELL
(see more of Rathwell’s photos from the 2015 ICF Freestyle World Championships)
Adriene Levknecht paddles with a powerful style that’s hard to match. Known for her creek-racing prowess, the 27-year-old, six-time Green Race champ is just as at home surfing a fast, menacing wave like the Ottawa River’s Garberator, home to the recent 2015 ICF Freestyle World Championships. In the women’s preliminary rounds Levknecht worked the turbulent wave with ease, launching into an aerial attack of successive pan-ams and backstabs. When 40 of the world’s best women’s freestyle kayakers had finished, Levknecht’s name stood at the top with an impressive score of 950 — just 65 points shy of what was needed to qualify for the men’s quarterfinal. According to Levknecht this is exactly what she is out to prove. "I’m coming into this event with a bit of a different mindset," Levknecht says. "I don’t really care if I win. I just want to show people there is no difference between men and women. Women can go just as big. Just as aerial." Few would question Levknecht’s ability to throw down with the best of any gender, paddling the Southeast’s burliest creeks, and posting Green Race times which beat out the large majority of a 2014 field approaching 200 participants.
A fun-loving ambassador of the sport with an energetic personality, Levknecht believes her passion for kayaking shows on the wave, and she hopes that passes on to others. She takes this initiative to heart through a cause she wears on her sleeve, helmet, and boat for that matter. First Descents, a nonprofit organization providing young adult cancer survivors a free week-long outdoor experience in either kayaking, rock climbing, or surfing, with the goal of empowering survivors to, "out live" their diagnoses. Levknecht is a lead staff member, helping to ensure the camps go off without a hitch, and bringing paddling into the lives of a group who have an entirely different type of challenge. "It gives them the ability to meet other young adults who have gone through such a terrible diagnosis. It widens their friend base, and widens their ability to fight later if they do have a relapse," says Levknecht. "It’s an awesome, awesome, organization. I am so much in love with First Descents."
In the semifinals the unpredictable Garberator was harsh to Levknecht. Two early flushes led to the Greenville, S.C. paddler missing out on Saturday’s final. Following the round, Levknecht ferried back on the wave, looking to finish the day on her terms. The crowd, heartbroken the prelims leader did not advance, provided an ovation with each move she threw — their support reflecting back the impact she has had on the sport, and its reach far beyond a 45-second ride.