EDWARDS – There’s a young kayaker in town, and his name is John O’Neill.Four years ago, some boaters in Denver piqued the 15-year-old’s inner desire to run the rapids.”We were walking along the river and we saw some people playing in some waves,” the Edwards native said. “They let me try their boat and I went in the eddy and I’ve been doing it ever since.”O’Neill began cautiously, paddling relatively tame waters until last summer when he charged bow first into the sport after securing employment at kayak outfitter Alpine Quest in Edwards.He got better, and is now one of the youngest competitors this week in the TEVA Mountain Games. O’Neill signed up for the amateur rodeo, which began Thursday and ends Sunday as well as the “8” Ball Kayak Spring – similar to skier or boarder cross.
Overall, O’Neill is part of a group of young kids moving into the sport.”I think it’s really going to allow the sport to grow by leaps and bounds,” TEVA spokesman Ian Anderson said. “Just a few years ago it was a sport that wasn’t accessible for young people because there wasn’t equipment for these kids.”As kayak equipment caters to the younger crowd, more and more kids will be drawn to the sport, Anderson said.Media coverage also is helping ignite interest among the masses.”A lot of the individual extreme sports are starting to gain a lot of attention,” O’Neill said. “It brings more people into the sport and that’s good.”O’Neill compared the growing popularity of TEVA to the shift from traditional sports toward events like X Games.”Baseball was super great and then it started to die out,” he said. “I think the same will happen to football and people will have to watch extreme sports.”
In general, the challenge of kayaking gets O’Neill out on the river.”It’s an individual sport were you can determine what you’re going to do as opposed to what a team is going to do,” O’Neill said. “It’s probably the hardest sport I’ve ever thrown myself into. There’s so many different elements; the water, the weather and how the water flows.”After the fall semester at Battle Mountain High School, O’Neill plans to dedicate a semester to kayaking at a roving school called the World Class Kayak Academy. Students spend their days studying and kayaking in locales such as China, the West Coast and Montana.”It’s really cool because you’re in a totally foreign environment,” O’Neill said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Beyond the academy, O’Neill conjures up visions of being a professional kayaker.”That’d be great to travel all over the world and get paid for kayaking,” he said.First comes practice, though.”I’ll be getting out on the water as much as I can and hanging out with the right people,” he said. “If I improve my skills maybe in two years instead of competing in the amateurs, maybe I’ll compete in the pro rodeo.”Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.