It’s been a couple of week’s since we’ve done an interview. Well, the wait was worth it because today I’m bringing you an interview we just did we pro whitewater kayaker Todd Wells. Todd paddles out of the Pacific Northwest but has been all over the world running creeks and rivers most of us have a hard time just looking at. Todd has battled through some serious injuries but is back in the boat going as hard as ever.
My questions are in bold, with Todd’s answers following.
Tell me a little bit about yourself – where are you from, how did you get into kayaking, etc?
I’ve spent my life growing up in the quaint 1000 person town of Trout Lake, WA. With little else to do in this neck of the woods I’ve spent the last 4 years of my life paddling harder and harder whitewater both regionally and internationally. I first started whitewater kayaking with my now 16 year old brother about 4 years ago on our backyard river, the White Salmon. On that river and other local runs we progressed our paddling and together began to pursue more difficult class V rivers as well as bigger and more technical waterfalls.
The Columbia River Gorge is your home base. What do you love about kayaking there? Is there anything missing or something about the area you don’t like?
As a kayaker I couldn’t ask to have grown up in a better location that the Columbia River Gorge. We have Mount Adams to the North and Mount Hood to the South feeding numerous world class rivers and creeks. In the CRG there’s always a class V section of water within an hour that’s running, and if you can ever get board of that you can take a break with the equally exceptional skiing, mountain biking, and kite-boarding. However when I’m not kayaking, living in a town with only 60 students in the high school and more livestock than people can be difficult.
The cover shot of a recent Kayak Sessions Magazine was a photo of you on Summit Creek Falls. That’s got to be good for the ego.
It was definitely sick to see a shot of myself find its way into the mainstream kayak media. Reminiscing about the day that photo was taken brought back some unforgettable memories of our first descent of Summit Creek. Erik Boomer, Evan Garcia, my brother Brendan, and I were sitting on a ridge high above Summit Creek falls, the drop on the cover of Kayak Session. We were all optimistic about the drop being runable, but the small landing zone and proceeding series of rapids kept us plenty nervous. Boomer was first to fire her up and had a solid line. I was next to go and this is when Boomer captured the shot on the cover of Kayak Session. Evan also fired it up and, as usual, had a very steezy line. This was without a doubt one of my favorite days on the river.
You broke your back recently going over 50ft tall Money Drop (the entire story can be read here). Do you have any regrets about running this drop? Has it changed the way you kayak? Any plans to revisit Money Drop and run it again?
I definitely regret running Money Drop the way that I did. On my first lap of the day I went over vertical and was ejected from my boat. On my second lap I was so concerned about having a good line that I didn’t think too much about landing flat and took a powerful stroke at the lip that launched me out over the aerated landing zone with flat angle. Upon my flat landing my body compressed and I fractured my L2 vertebrae. This experience has shown me that in kayaking any lack of focus can have severe consequences, and has made me look at each waterfall from a different perspective. That being said I do want to continue to pursue difficult and tall waterfalls, and I do plan to revisit Money Drop in the future.
Do you have a preference when it comes to whitewater kayaking? Do you like creeking more than river running?
I’ve grown up creeking and, though I always enjoy a day of surfing big waves or paddling a high volume class V river, for me nothing can compete with the sensation of dropping into an un-run creek in the middle of no-where.
What makes the perfect run? Is it a combination of difficulty, water flow, drops, and scenery?
That about sums it up, and making sure that your on the water with a solid group of paddlers will keep each day as good as the last.
Can you see yourself doing anything other than kayaking? Maybe a police officer, accountant or engineer?
I think that whatever my future entails kayaking will be a major part of it. I could never see myself working a 9-5 where kayaking isn’t part of my every day and where extended paddling trips weren’t an option.
Kayaking is unique in that you man your own boat, but always need to run with a partner or group of friends. Do you enjoy the company? Or sometimes do you wish you could go out there alone for a few days and test the waters solo?
I always enjoy the company of other paddlers when I’m out on the water. I think that despite times of tension between a group it’s worth having the accompanying paddlers there to lend you a hand once the shit hits the fan.
What’s your favorite movie, TV show, and music group?
Easy Rider, Vanguard, and Master P.
Where is your dream travel destination – and would you bring your boat with you?
Right now I’m feeling a trip to Southeast Asia, and I would most definitely bring my boat.
Where to next?
I’m going to spend most of my summer here in the Gorge paddling the local goods and making some money for the fall. In the fall I’m planning on going to South or Central America to go to a language school then travel around with a boat and crew looking for quality whitewater. In the fall of 2011 I’m planning on moving to Northern Washington and studying journalism at Western Washington University.
Todd on the magainze cover
A video Todd put together
A shot of Todd headed over Money Drop