Sports Staff Writer
Skiing, snowboarding and climbing are all well-known mountain sports popular for producing rushes of adrenaline and excitement.
For 30-year-old Pat Keller the beloved adrenaline rush and excitement comes from a different local mountain sport.
“Whitewater kayaking is my life,” UNC Asheville alumnus Keller said. “My job is in the industry, my family both blood and not is in the industry and I don’t think I’ll ever retire from kayaking as long as I can avoid it.”
Even Keller’s dog Ashlu is influenced by the kayaking world.
“I named Ashlu after a river in British Columbia and yes we’ve been kayaking together, but just on a short trip,” Keller said
Keller said he began participating in watersports at 3 years old when he went out in a canoe with his dad.
“My parents were raft guides so I grew up basically with water in my veins instead of blood,” Keller said. “I went in my first inflatable kayak alone at age 6 and quickly went into a hard kayak at age 7.”
Keller said he began competing first in slalom racing, or competing with the aim to navigate through a course of upstream or downstream gates on a river in the fastest time possible, but he was not too stoked on it because of all the paddling.
He started competing between the ages of 8 and 9, but he had not been completely motivated to pursue kayaking as a sport just yet. His mind was in a different world as far as watersports were concerned.
“I didn’t give a whale’s nut about who I beat,” Keller said. “I was young and just having fun.”
It was not until he went down his first waterfall that kayaking grew into something more than a hobby.
“My first fall was on the Great Falls of the Potomac in Virginia,” Keller said. “It was the day before my 13th birthday, the water was low so there was extra height and the fall had a nice fanning trickle that hooked me from age twelve until, well now.”
At age 14, Keller said he went to Adventure Quest, a traveling kayaking school based in Vermont.
Kayaking itself is typically done for recreation to sight see, fish or get exercise, while whitewater kayaking, as a sport and for competition, is a completely different beast.
Kayakers must be able to read the river, watch for dangerous objects in the whitewater and navigate all while using all of their energy to go as fast as they can, as cleanly and safely as they can.
“Whitewater kayaking looks insane, but we won’t drop in without calculating the fall or river to succeed,” Keller said. “We also consider potential hazards like rocks and logs to make sure everything goes smoothly, even if there’s a possibility it won’t.”
Kayakers must be able to react even when things are going wrong. Keller said the more comfortable you are, the better.
“You have to be willing to push to get the peak experience,” Keller said. “Flows, that’s what I’m looking for.”
Keller competes in kayaking competitions to this day and the Asheville native said his favorite one is, of course, the race closest to home.
“My first Green Race was in 2001, I was using a short boat at the time, but now I stick to long boats typically for the speed boost,” Keller said.
The Green Race has been held annually on the first weekend in November since 1996 on the Green River Narrows, drawing in kayakers from all around the world.
Keller said he raced the Green every year except for two since his first in 2001, due to injuries. He has been in the top five of the longboat class every year except for one since he started.
“It’s my home turf, so the crowd is good and all my friends are there which just adds to the already good energy from the area,” Keller said.
The kayaker lives for learning new things and putting them into execution. This is why he continues participating in the kayak community in more ways than one.
Keller started his career working for Dagger Kayaks and he now works as a boat designer at Liquidlogic.
“I always drew boats as a kid,” Keller said. “Me and my childhood best friend Scott would even play with wood and carve out boats just for fun.”
Keller said his current boss Shane Benedict is actually his old coach and teacher from his time at Adventure Quest.
“I took his boat building class and from then on I was hooked,” Keller said.
Keller said he admires kayakers like Mike Dawson for his speed on the water and Andrew Holcombe for giving back to the kayaking community by teaching kids both skills and a passion for the sport.
“I always hope I can get people stoked on kayaking which is why I work in the industry,” Keller said. “I want to keep that stoke going for as long as I’m around.”