The whitewater kayaking community lost one of its stars and great teachers with the death of Jeff West.
West, 42, founder and owner of Ace Kayaking School in Ocoee, Tenn., was found dead after attempting an unprecedented one-day solo run down the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River in British Columbia.
“It’s like the home team has lost its quarterback,” area kayaker and whitewater paddleboarder Ben Friberg said. “He was teaching all the time, even missing big kayaking events at other places to stay and teach others on the Ocoee.”
While West had won many kayaking competitions over the years, those close to him say teaching others how to kayak and overcome their fears was his true passion.
“He helped so many people learn how to kayak,” said Joe Grudger, a friend and co-worker at Ace Kayaking School. “He’s probably done more for boating than anyone else in this area.”
Since his death, West’s friends have posted remembrances and tributes on his Facebook profile talking about his passion for kayaking and how he pushed himself and others to be the best.
“Since 2006, if I ever worked with you on the water, gave you advice about improving your paddling or paddled with you in a clinic, I was sharing with you ideas, concepts and an approach towards coaching and instruction in which Jeff West was major influence,” wrote former Olympic kayaker and United States Canoe/Kayak exectutive director Joe Jacobi, a former Polk County resident. “We will miss him greatly. Sharing Jeff’s spirit and pursuit of the sport with others in the future will be an honor and a privilege. RIP my friend.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a news release that West’s body had been recovered Tuesday after being found by rafters.
The Stikine is a 350-mile river that flows through northern British Columbia before draining into the Pacific Ocean. It is known as one of the most challenging whitewater rivers in the world, although West had successfully navigated it before.
The Grand Canyon section of the Stikine runs for 45 miles and contains daunting Class V-VI rapids running between 1,000-foot cliffs. According to several area kayakers, a one-day solo run through this section has never been completed, although West and two others made the trip in a single day in 2010.
The day before his death, West had paddled much of the Grand Canyon section of the Stikine with kayaking pioneer and adventurer Doug Ammons, who was the first to complete these rapids solo over a three-day period.
According to an article on paddlinglife.net, West was last seen alive when he passed rafter Mark Cramer going down the river. Cramer discovered West’s body floating in an eddy near a section called Wolftrack.
A native of Dahlonega, Ga., West is survived by sisters, Pam Mayer and Cindy West Owen; brother, Mark West; and mother, Barbara West.
“He was totally dedicated to being the best he could be,” Mayer said on Thursday. He would push himself and others, and he was totally dedicated to enjoying and protecting the outdoors.”
The family is planning a public memorial service to celebrate West’s life, but is waiting to set a date until West’s body can be returned from Canada.
Grudger said friends and kayakers are planning a memorial trip down the Ocoee for Sept. 29. Details will be announced later.
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...