I was asked recently how I—born and raised in New Orleans—fell in love with adventure sports. It’s a fair question; I didn’t grow up with ski school (no snow) or bike camps (no mountains). And the water near my house was too polluted to kayak in.
But, still, it happened. First when I started going to camp in North Carolina and convinced my counselors to let me spend all day climbing. Then when my parents started taking my brother and me out to the bayou to kayak. More still when I won a scholarship that allowed me to spend a month backpacking in the Alaskan wilderness.
So, looking back, I guess the question is not how I fell in love—that can be chalked up to timing and supportive parents—but rather why. And that answer, simply enough, is the people: The Brevard College students that taught me to tie a Figure 8 knot. The guys are the local outdoors store who got as excited as I did when I mentioned an upcoming kayak trip. The neighbor who took me fly-fishing before I set off for the Talkeetnas.
This community—the bikers, hikers, climbers, skiers and kayakers that form the backbone of adventure sports—is unlike any other I’ve encountered. Bound by a love of wildness, we push each other and protect each other; fall together and get back up together.
And that’s something worth celebrating—which is exactly what happens every summer when dozens of kayakers descend on Washington to pay homage to the kayaking culture of the Pacific Northwest and the rivers that sustain it.
Since it’s founding 2001, the Little White Salmon Race has come to be known as one of the “friendliest” competitions in kayaking, the perfect combination of serious drops and even more serious camaraderie. Taking place on one of the country’s most pristine river corridors, the race pits kayakers against one another as they duke it out on some of the Little White’s heaviest whitewater—and then spend the rest of the day cheering each other on.
This May, 54 competitors representing 10 different countries attended the event, which featured two races: a downriver race that covers about 4 miles of class IV-V whitewater and a slalom course on Spirit Falls, the river’s tallest waterfall. Evan Garcia and Whistler local Katrina Van Wijk walked away victorious in both events, but on the Little White, everyone’s just excited to be there.