It was a foggy late afternoon when I received a wire from DBP Headquarters about a mission to gain Intel on one of America’s most notorious Kayakers, Pat Keller. Well, I don’t know much about kayaking but I know even less about Pat Keller. I knew I would have to be cunning and elusive and it would probably involve the exchange of beer. I set out to uncover the truth behind the mystery, behind the man, who is Pat Keller! From this point forward I imagine even Pat Keller will get tired of reading Pat Keller. So for the rest of this story I will refer to Pat Keller as simply Pat. Ya dig?
You may be asking yourself, “How does an amateur kayaker and novice writer-turned-DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE Associate Editor get an interview with the World Class Champion kayaker of most all kayaking, Pat Keller?” (One last time.) You remember when someone told you ”it never hurts to ask…” Well, it doesn’t. So that’s what I did. I stalked him, AHEM…, sorry, tracked him down and I asked. He so graciously accommodated my request. That bait I wasn’t expecting to get bit, but with him now on my line I began to reel it in. He said he would be available for a phone interview. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the same ‘boots on the ground reporting’ that our magazine demands without me pulling out the tough questions face to face. So I re-baited my hook and cast again. This time I was chumming with Oskar Blues Pinner, a delightful IPA that comes from the same brewery that brings us Dale’s Pale Ale. It worked and I was given the undisclosed location of the Keller lair.
Upon arrival I assumed I was lost. It was not the squalor you would expect from a true kayaker. I think that’s part of the disguise. You would expect a van down by the river, surrounded by kayaks, some dogs and a few broken dreams scattered about. Not on this tree lined street in modern day suburbia. It was by no means a cookie cutter neighborhood, but an older established group of homes with what appeared to be respectable people residing all around. I found there to be no indication of kayaking at all. The only hint lay in the early 90’s model diesel 4runner in the drive way, no wait two of them. This was the home of a connoisseur, someone who knew the value of a fine automobile.
(This next portion is for the DBQ’s.)
I could see Pat in the driveway and he was just as dreamy as you can imagine, buff and rugged, with the sun setting to his back. He had that smile saying, “everything is going to be okay, you’re with me now”. Yes ladies, you know what I mean. I can observe a good looking human without sexual bias. Though I am sure that was not what he was thinking. Probably more like, “give me the beer and let’s get on with this.” I digress. …Eyes up here Ladies!
After introductions I began to
soften him up with some easy questions. “So you like to kayak?” I asked. “Yes I do” he replied. With the softening done I went for the big guns! ”Can I see these kayaks?” Because all I could see around us were a bunch of broken down diesel cars. Which I love, but I wasn’t writing an article for Motor Trend. I tried not to squeal like a little girl when he agreed. One of the nicest piles of boats in a yard one could imagine lay out back. Not in the basement or garage. Not in a shed. Not even on a rack. This is the boater I was looking for. A smattering of boats literally on the ground in a pile-eque style. So why do these boats just sit here in the grass? One word: “ BRAAAP”. We shall return to that in a moment.
Lets back up to Pre-Pat days, back when two young raft guides on the Chattooga River met. Just like many river guides before and since, they fell in love. But unlike everyone else, they eventually had little Pat. He would forever be the sidekick and best friend with moving water. From his early days, playing in creeks with foamy boaters, to rafting, and then sitting in the front of his dad’s canoe at 3 years old tearing down the Nantahala, little Pat was watching the water and absorbing all he could. Learning the water and finally reading the water, young Keller was molding the building blocks that would eventually lead him to run the Ocoee by the time he was 8.
Within a few years he would progress to become the first alternate for the junior Olympic slalom team. Something any parent could be proud of. But what he accomplished next would be something his mother couldn’t watch. Kayaking the Great Falls of the Potomac. Sure it has been run before and it has been run many times since, but by a 12 year old?!?! Pat’s mom was unable to watch this PFD of his, but has always supported him in all his adventures. His dad was on the shore cheering his boy across the eddy lines and drops on this big boy run. He made it without incident. Running a Class V rapid at 12 means only one thing, you are gonna go far with this little bit o’ talent of yours. Pat will say that it was the day before his 13 birthday, but I say you can’t buy beer on the last day of being 20. He was all of 12. For those of you who have children take a moment to wrap your head around letting you child run Great Falls at such an early age. Then remember that age is of no importance when you combine the proper skill sets and maturity level, and add parents that encourage such behavior.
Pat excelled at kayaking and took a class from his future employer at Liquid Logic, Shane Benedict. His parents were so supportive that the decision was made to home school throughout high school so Pat could focus on kayaking. And focus he did. His routine would be to finish schoolwork before noon; then he would get a ride to the river with the likes of fellow kayakers such as Jason Hale, Bill Edmonds, or Clay Wright. Not a bad afterschool mentorship program in the least. These experiences became the mortar that would bind the blocks that Pat had been building for so many years. All these pieces coming together to form the man known as Pat Keller.
He began paddling for Dagger as a teen. His background was in slalom but his heart was reaching out for freestyle. He would see guys doing spins and flips on play waves and he wanted in. Once again his parents had his back. The support Pat received from Mr. and Mrs. Keller formed the foundation that these blocks and mortar were assembled on. They would stand strong and tall. He would continue to build on that unwavering base.
The better his skill set became the more he pushed himself. He started seeing opportunities in the waterfalls that were scattered throughout the southeast. Drops no one had yet to attempt. Drops he would study and learn from. He let me in on the process when I asked him about a photo on page 173 of Kirk Eddlemon’s book, Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians Vol.1. It was a photo of both Pat and Hunt Jennings dropping Cane Creek Falls. I brought the book because, a thorough as it is, it doesn’t mention who is who in the picture. I wanted to know, so I pulled it out and asked. The reply could have been Pat pointing and saying “that’s me in the red boat on river left.” But the answer, like so many things in Pat’s life, was bigger than that. He not only pointed out which one he was, but went on to describe every aspect of running this 82 foot falls, from scouting it during very low and very high flows to discussing each hazard he needed to avoid to make a successful run. He explained the angle of fall and how at that distance everything can go wrong fast. Too far forward or too far back and the end result could be just that, the end. He described the speed and force that the waterfall had and how on the bottom of the fall on river left there is a cave (“you don’t want to go that route, it gets really bad” he suggested). He remembers this run ending in a solid bell ringing when his head hit the front of his boat on impact, but still feeling pretty awesome for making it. I felt pretty awesome for the full breakdown of that picture. Way more going on than one imagines.
I went on to ask him about his latest accomplishment, the Liquid Logic Braaap 69. When Pat was approached about working with Liquid Logic, one of his biggest demands was that he wanted to get into the design shop. As soon as they agreed he got to getting dirty. He liked the process of shaping the plug, a large foam block that gets cut, sanded, and shaped into the desired design. As soon as the foam is ready they cover it in bondo and shape and sand more. When the design is just right they cover the plug with fiberglass, cure it, then cut it in half to free the plug. They make a few prototypes from the mold to check the design. This is not a stable medium for mass boat production so they send the mold off to the casting facility. There they make aluminum production molds and after a few more prototypes the production starts.
Pat has always been in love with kayaks. His parents presented him with a shiny new Dagger Blast for his 7th birthday and he was so excited he stuffed it with blankets and spent the night in it. Not long after he started dreaming about his own boat. From the time Pat signed on with L.L. it was only about two months before the Braaap was born. At the heart of this boat is a culmination of many things: Pat’s years of world class kayaking, the many designs he had floating around in his head, his early experiences slalom boating while paddling an R.P.M. (one of his favorite early boats), and the plug he reworked from the Free Ride. Yes, the Free Ride plug was reworked into the Braaap, showing his and L.L.’s commitment to recycling, not only boat designs but also recycling materials whenever possible.
It has not been that long of a ride from my perspective. Pat has gone up level by level, collecting awards, admiration and experiences from around the world. He is embarking on the journey of design and his first baby is proof this is no one-trick pony. If you get the chance to meet Pat at any of the events where he is repping Liquid Logic, know that this guy is very humble and approachable. He told me he knows the feeling of meeting some of his favorite kayakers, and enjoys being one you’re excited to meet. I can’t talk about the boats he plans to design in the future, but I can say that he will undoubtedly become a force that will push the limits of what is possible in the world we call kayaking.
DON’T KNOW WHO PAT KELLER IS? PEEK HERE
Green Boat History
Upper Cherry with Pat
Why is he so sick? THIS SHIZZ
Home. The Green!!!
Gettin his…. Pat Keller 2014 Paddler of the Year