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Posted In: Paddling

Local Kayaker, 18, Dies After Becoming Submerged in Belle Isle Rapid

Andy Thompson

February 15, 2018 10:28am

On Monday, something caught my eye as I drove south across the Manchester Bridge. It was the flashing lights from fire trucks and ambulances on Belle Isle. With the river over 15 feet — well above moderate flood stage — I figured it must be some sort of river rescue. Man, there were a lot of trucks.

There was a snippet of news about it the following day. Two kayakers were paddling in the rapids next to Belle Isle when one became submerged in a hydraulic. The other pulled him out and performed CPR. The kayaker regained a pulse and was taken to a local hospital. There was no information about who the kayakers were, and the report made it sound like the kayaker would pull through.

Then yesterday I ran into a friend at a restaurant. The kayaker was a just a kid, a senior in high school at Trinity Episcopal, she said, and he had passed away — taken off life support earlier in the day. She’d taught him in both elementary and middle schools. It was devastating news.

You need a permit to be on the James River when it’s above flood stage, and the two boys (the other kayaker was also a Trinity Episcopal student) had them. They were experienced paddlers, but anything can happen on the James — or any river — when that much water is in play. It’s a fact those two paddlers surely knew when they headed out for an afternoon adventure on a roiling beast of a river. They decided the risk was worth it.

My heart goes out to the family of the young man and to the community of paddlers who knew him well. It’s a sad day for everyone who loves the outdoors in RVA and a brutal way to be reminded of the risks we take for the adventures we can’t live without.

(Click here for more from WTVR.)

About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?