Thursday, September 1, 2011

River Leader of the Month – September 2011: The Other Side of Pat Keller

I do realize a lot of you already know Pat Keller or at least heard of him.  You probably know him as a big name in the paddling community, may have read prior interviews with Pat or seen footage of him on the internet, maybe met him in person or even had the opportunity to paddle with him.  Pat’s well known for his many paddling accomplishments including multiple first descents, Green River Race wins, World Kayak Freestyle Championships, river expeditions and the list goes on.  You can read about all of this in his other interviews.  But I’d heard there was much more to him than just all of these wins and accomplishments.  My mission: Meet the other side of Pat, the one that’s having fun while getting others involved in paddling.

Recalling the first time I met him, I didn’t think much of it.  Simply a really nice guy at the Dagger tent one demo day.  After that I continued to see Pat come up in cool videos and articles online and hear his name around town amongst my paddling buddies.  Even one of my friends that has been showing me the ropes (as I am just beginning to paddle) was stoked about having paddled the Green River Narrows with Pat for the first time a couple months back.  I didn’t think much about it and then realized, huh, this guy’s really trying to get others out there and into paddling, opening up, sharing his knowledge and leading the way as a role model for a younger generation of paddlers. 

It all began for Pat with his first experience on the water at age 3 when his father took him down the Nantahala River.  As a youth he continued to return to the Nantahala and progressed over the years to inflatable kayaks eventually getting his first boat, a Dagger Blast.  NOC is a home to Pat having grown up visiting the gorge frequently as if it were chapel.  But Pat was an active child involved in paddling, gymnastics, karate and skiing.  At age 9, when he tore his ACL all else ceased and he turned only to kayaking.  He began attending NOC Paddling School Youth Camps where he learned to steer, ferry and turn.  This made kayaking easier and allowed him to focus his attention on fewer things at once having the basic skills coming to him naturally.  “Learning to kayak is such a fun progression. A fun dance!” as Pat likes to put it.  “It builds self-confidence and awareness even with all of the real consequences.”  He pushes himself now by blending the skills he has gained from years of paddling across disciplines, combining freestyle, slalom and creeking to create new challenges.

 A Few Fun Lines on the Green River Narrows with Pat
Good role models are hard to come by in athletes these days.  We hear it almost everyday on the news and in the media about scandals: baseball player Mike Jacobs testing positive for HGH, Tiger Woods’ infidelity, Michael Vick’s dog fighting fiasco, and many more.  Pat desired to not only further himself and his paddling career meeting personal goals but also wanted to help others get into the sport and be a role model for paddling.   In 2001, he became an American Canoe Association certified instructor and began teaching at NOC’s Paddling School.   “To not spread the love seems bad. Everyone’s welcome.”  He continues to get friends and beginners out on the water even offering his own gear for use, showing the way and giving pointers.  “The life experiences paddling has brought me and the fun of it is satisfying.  Bring others in and you see it click.”

Pat is now living his life as a chameleon: working in the “real” world and continuing to progress his involvement in the paddling world.  He is a “suit and tie” at Merrill Lynch a few days a week working toward his professional career goals.  But he has “a foot in both worlds” and feels comfortable.  His passion for paddling continues to consume his free time.  “I haven’t lost who I am.”  Pat is a Dagger Team member, an Ambassador for American Whitewater and is working on his latest venture: a creek boating safety video.  “Your level of knowledge influences perception.”  Pat has plenty of paddling experience he has gained over the years and now he’s sharing it.  This year he’s looking forward to accomplishing a few personal goals as well and continuing his “Grand Adventure” with paddling in Mexico, getting back to the Green Race and skiing throughout the winter.  “My life is good!”  So, be on the lookout as Pat’s making waves and paving the way as a role model in the paddling community. 

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