EAGLE COUNTY — While the sport of whitewater kayaking has claimed a life or two over the years here in Vail, it has also saved at least one.
Steve “Louie” Boyd will be 80 soon. The former ski patrolman was an early pioneer of whitewater kayaking in our area, learning in home made boats he built in his garage in the early ‘70s. He worked construction in the summers and started a regular evening outing where local boaters would run Gore Creek and the Eagle River after work. They called it the Five O’Clock Club.
“Boy, what a stress reliever after work, to concentrate on just the river,” Boyd said. “It was a thing of beauty, it wasn’t just macho guys, it was … respect for the forces of nature.”
The locals thought they were crazy.
“We would do intentional rolls, just to see people freak out,” he said.
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In Boyd’s book “The Understories, A patrolman’s tales of life in the early days of Vail and Aspen” he shares a story of how his group of early kayakers helped hash out the rules of the river. The chapter is entitled “Kayaking and the Law, 101.”
It details how the Five O’clock Club deliberately tried to get arrested after local waterways were proclaimed “closed” by the Sherif. A few deaths on the river had prompted the closure, but Boyd and his buddies, fellow Five O’clock Club members Rick Winkeller and Ed Hanson, were called in to assist in rescue efforts. They weren’t able to locate the bodies, but told authorities that they would continue to kayak the river, regardless of the law.
“Everyone in the river community, which was quite small at the time, agreed it was a ridiculous situation,” Boyd wrote. “How do you close a river anyway? Turn off the snowmelt?”
After a few attempts to challenge the issue, they decided to kayak right past the Minturn Chief of Police’s house while he was having dinner on his patio.
“We maintained that we wanted this soon to become Constitutional issue to go to as high a court as necessary,” Boyd wrote. “The result is that … whitewater canues and kayaks are excepted to any river closures.”
‘KAYAKING SAVED MY LIFE’
In those days, a proper scout of the river was an imperative part of a successful run.
“People thought, in those days, the rivers were more or less a disposal,” Boyd said. “The railroad was notorious for throwing stuff in the rivers.”
During a run down Gore Creek, Boyd collided with a steel pole and knocked his teeth out.
“They rebuilt the bridge in West Vail, and there was a steel pipe sticking straight out of the river,” he said. “So I went home and got my cutting torch and cut it out.”
Despite multiple run ins with the law and some knocked out teeth, Boyd continued pursuing his passion. He started taking it so seriously that his river runs with Five O’clock Club soon canceled out the traditional beer after work at Donovan’s.
“I realized this was a very serious sport, and you’ve got to have your act together,” he said.
Looking back, Boyd now realizes just how important the sport has been to his health and well being.
“Kayaking probably saved my life,” he said this week through tears. “Because I quit drinking.”
Vail Daily staff writer Ross Leonhart contributed reporting to this story.
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