What first attracted you to whitewater sports?
I grew up canoeing with my dad [Kyle] from even before I could remember. We saw some freestyle kayakers doing it out on the Coosa in Wetumpka. It was us and a big group of people we would canoe with. Everybody said they were going to get into it. We bought kayaks on the way home but then we were the only ones that really got into it. It just stuck. We stopped canoeing. Once I started kayaking, it was game over for all other sports. I made the transition to kayaking when I was 11 years old.
You‘ve got a lot of sponsorship support, including some of the sport’s biggest names such as Dagger Kayaking. How far does that go to help you as far as you traveling nationally and internationally to train and compete?
I’m in school full-time and I work on full-time. I work for Eco-Landscaping. It’s a great company—I love it. I also teach personal lessons with Whitewater Express. Plus, I try to kayak as much as possible.
The sponsorships really help to travel. Like when I fly out to Colorado for a month last summer for GoPro [Mountain Games], which I finally won after competing in for years. Not only are you spending a lot of that month but you’re also not making money that month.
Honestly, the sponsors that I have are only way I keep going and do what I do. I’m really grateful for the ones that I have.
You and three other kayakers were called ‘lunatics’ for riding the rapids during Hurricane Irma by reporter Chuck Williams in a Facebook Live post for the Ledger-Enquirer in 2017. Was that a fair thing to say? Or was it due to a misconception about your sport?
I definitely see his point of view and I understand the point that it was really hectic, so if something did happen, it wouldn’t be the best thing.
Everyone that was out there was a world-class athletes. And i know this river — I’m out here everyday. It was anything crazy to where I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be out here.’ So we were like ‘hmmm’ about it, but I’m not going to start an argument or anything.
How dangerous is the whitewater here for the average person?
It’s the ultimate spot to start. Because it’s hallow and a lot of people don’t like shallow. At this spot, you can start from the bottom over there where it’s shallow and pretty much calm. and then feel your way out further and further upriver. Eventually you’ll be doing the entire run of rapids. The whole thing is deep. You can swim down it.
It’s kind of intimidating when you first walk down here and see it, but it’s a great spot for sure.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about ‘The Wintering Grounds’ and all the paddlers parked in RVs downtown. What have you noticed as far as the development of the sport’s scene here in Columbus?
I’ve definitely noticed that everyone flocks down here in wintertime. It’s hard to beat. You can be on the water everyday. It’s warm. Well, it’s not cold to people from Canada, who come here for it, along with people from all over the world. It’s brought everyone together.
It’s funny—my winter training was something that I had on people. But it’s cool to see everyone here.
I come out here in the evening a lot because it’s the only time I have to train. There’ll be 10 paddlers out here some nights. It’s pretty awesome to see it evolve.
And now Columbus has a signature event in Paddle South.
I’m super stoked that has happened here. I feel like it could be a lot bigger. As long as we keep doing it, it’s going to grow into something. We could get other events involved and make it something really something.
It gets the the sport out there in the community and I feel like it’s all in all good for the community.
How was it going to Argentina to compete for Team USA at the World Championships in 2017?
The team did pretty good. I ended up bubble boy—number 11—so I was pretty upset. I was pumped I made the team, though.
The best thing about it was that I got to go down there with my best friend Bennett [Smith]. We’ve been training together our whole lives. We both made the team for the junior world championships back in 2013, which was the year that I won. We’ve gone through a lot.
Can you make a comfortable living doing this full time?
You definitely can. And people prove that you can. It’s not easy. You have to really work at it. For me, i just want to be well-rounded at everything. I‘ve always played all kinds of sports. I want to have a degree. That’s why I’m in school and trying to face everything at once. It’ll all pay off eventually.
Are you going to be join Team USA in Japan for the 2020 Olympics?
Sure hope so.
Education: I was homeschooled then I got my associate’s at Southern Union. Now I’m at Auburn, studying business management with a minor in entrepreneurship.
Best place you’ve been for whitewater: Besides here, I’d have to go with Ottawa, Canada. Some amazing whitewater out there, especially when it floods.
Proudest moment in a kayak: Some of my prouder movements I like to event in the sport and keep the sport progressive. The next combo, the next link. Clean up everything and become the cleanest paddler. I really focus on my style.
Scariest moment in a kayak: Pushing the limits of my waterfall skills are when it’s scariest. And it’s constantly getting scarier because I want to 100, 110. Right now I’m at 80.
Secret to success: I’d say the work 5-9, and not 9-5, rule . I wake up every morning at 5 and just go hard. Number one thing to success for me is a hard work ethic.