Noted local kayaker Jeff West was killed Sept. 11 while attempting a solo run down the Class V-VI rapids of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine River in British Columbia. West, 42, was widely known throughout the kayaking community in Southeast Tennessee, and he introduced many boaters to the sport through ACE Kayaking School, which he founded and ran in Ocoee, Tenn. West's death has had a profound impact on the local kayaking community. This is just a small sample of the tributes to West's life and legacy.
REFLECTIONS OF WEST
"I knew him for 15 years and paddled with him for probably 13 years, and it's just hard to sum him up. He was really larger than life in a lot of ways. You knew that when you were paddling with him, and you knew that when you watched him teach and interact with the community. He was just a really fine individual."- Chris Townsend, longtime friend and kayaker
"With the passing of Jeff, there is now a huge void in the southeastern kayaking community that won't close anytime soon. He introduced thousands of people to the sport over the years through ACE Kayaking School, was continually and safely pushing the boundaries of what was possible in a creek boat, and owned a legendary status within the community; all while being the most kind and humble badass you ever met. He was a hero to many and the Ocoee River, or really any river for that matter, will never be the same without him. A friend put it best by saying, "We've lost a friend, but gained a River God," and that couldn't be more true." - Charlie Mix, kayaker and friend
"Jeff's death is a tragedy. He was unusually charismatic and used that charisma to inspire people to overcome their fears so they could discover and appreciate the joy of whitewater paddling, and in doing so, could live more fulfilling lives. He was also a one-man magnet to the river, and the county economy's going to take a hit from losing him." - Longtime friend who asked to remain nameless
"When I would go to the Ocoee River I would always end my day on the river with dinner at the Whitewater Grill, and I knew Jeff would be there talking about kayaking and other things. But it wasn't just me - many people went to the Whitewater Grill to sit with Jeff. He was charismatic, and he was always challenging himself and setting new goals for himself. But through it all he was always humble."- Ben Friberg, whitewater kayaker and paddleboarder
"Jeff was very experienced and strong, one of the best and most competent paddlers to go into the canyon, in my opinion. He had a powerful spirit, and a wonderful combination of strength and gentleness. It was an honor to paddle with him and be his friend. People should realize that the Stikine canyon is a place that draws people like Jeff - it is powerful and complex, difficult, strikingly dramatic and beautiful. It leaves all of us who knew him sad to feel the loss, but there could be no greater place to match his spirit than the Grand Canyon of the Stikine." - Doug Ammons, kayaker and adventurer who kayaked the Stikine River with Jeff West in the days before West's death
"Jeff wasn't just an amazing paddler but a true leader in paddlesports instruction. He was constantly thinking about creatively engaging participants as well as influencing new instructors. He understood that helping people to learn the sport was a critical element but aligning new paddlers with the true culture of the sport is what would really achieve full engagement." - Joe Jacobi, former Olympic gold medalist kayaker and executive director of USA Canoe/Kayak
Some of Jeff West's friends have set up a memorial fund to help pay the cost of bringing his remains back home and for the continued operation of ACE Kayaking School, the business West started and ran on the Ocoee River. Contributions can be made online at www.gofundme.com/1752o4.
Friends and family of Jeff West are organizing a memorial service and kayak trip down the Ocoee River on Oct. 13 to honor West's memory. Rafts will be available for non-kayakers who want to make the trip, and all of West's friends are welcome to participate. A celebration of West's life will follow. For details on this event, contact Chris Townsend by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.