Going to extremes
June 22, 2003
Editor's Note: Extreme kayaker Sam Drevo has been paddling since the age of 9 and competed in his first World Championships at 15.
Now semi-retired and based in Portland, Ore., he operates Northwest River Guides, a kayaking and rafting multi-day outfitter and school.
When Sam is not in town, he's out on kayaking expeditions to far corners of the earth, documenting his travels through film and
logging some first descents along the way. WetDawg recently had a chance to grab a burrito with him in between trips and classes.
I first tried it at Valley Mill camp in Maryland when I was a kid. Back then, I was a competitive swimmer and trained
10 times a week. Then when I was 15, my best friend and training partner was killed in a car accident. After that, I
stopped swimming and started taking kayaking seriously. That same year I qualified for the junior World Championships in Norway.
Since the US Canoe and Kayak team was based in Washington, DC, where I grew up, I was able to hook up with some legendary
coaches and athletes. I learned wildwater kayaking, which involves racing against the clock for five miles over class III
water. Only you negotiate these rapids in a really long, skinny kayak that's hard to roll. I also learned slalom, which is
an Olympic sport. I actually qualified for the Olympic trials in slalom the same year I went to the junior Worlds in Norway.
By 1995, I was training so hard and developed overuse injuries, so I had an important decision to make - keep training and
go for the Olympics (after a 10th place finish at Nationals) or take some time off and enjoy the sport for the long term. I
decided to take a year off from paddling and school and learn to snowboard in British Columbia. Eric Southwick (1999 World
Freestyle Champion) and I spent the winter snowboarding at Whistler. We lived in a broken down RV in Whistler village, parking
lot 4 and only had a small propane heater to keep us warm. After that winter, I gave up the long and skinny boats and joined
the rodeo tour.
Winning the 2001 Gorge Games (Outdoor World Championships) Extreme Kayaking race.
Editor's Note: The Gorge Games Extreme Kayaking
race took place on Washington's White Salmon River in the class 5 Green Truss section, which includes a twisting
15-foot waterfall - BZ Falls.
I've been teaching since I was 15. In fact, I was the first instructor at Adventure School in Washington DC along with Eric
Southwick and John Trujillo. I really enjoy helping people learn how to paddle, and sharing the experience of kayaking. Last
spring, I produced my first instructional video, which was great fun to produce. I also really enjoy travelling and taking
customers on international trips. Next winter, I will be leading trips to Costa Rica and Laos with Northwest River Guides.
In 1998, I ran the Paonia Resevior Dam, located outside of Aspen, Co. It's a 150-foot slide. Fast and scary. And it still plays
sporatically on Real TV.
A full-time pro surfer.
I haven't had that many scary experiences. That's why I still paddle! Actually, I have witnessed many. The scariest experience
I've encountered was when a friend of mine and I ran the back channel of the fish ladder at Great Falls in Maryland. It's a
series of drops and that day, the water was really high. My friend was leading and I saw him bow-pin on a drop and the ensuing
swim cause him to fracture some ribs, cut himself on abrasive rocks. He barely made it to an eddy just before a 30-foot slide
littered with rebarb.
Several in Thailand, Laos, Canada, Japan, Dominican Republic and the US. Lots of waterfalls, and several full sections of river.
Every new river I run, however, has many attributes of a first descent- especially if I am with others who have never run it before.
An awe-inspiring journey with a lot of hiking, climbing, and groveling with a lot of gear. We went from the
rainforest to the desert in 15 miles, 2,500 feet and 3 days. A truly unique experince...One that I will never forget.
Committment, determination, endurance, focus and a little bit of luck.
The Clackamas River in Oregon, the mighty Mekong River in Laos, the Little White in Washington, the Ula in
Norway, the Kaituna in New Zealand, and the Verzaca in Switzerland.
I'm not so serious ALL the time.
Ask Sam a question through his Ask the Pro page on WetDawg!