This story was originally published by Doug Ammons in 2005.
At 58, Rob Lesser is 35 years into his love affair with whitewater kayaking – and still going strong. Perhaps best known for his first descents of the big water wilderness rivers of Alaska and Canada, he also evolved with the sport from fiberglass designs to plastic kayaks, using them to run rivers great and small, far and near.
“Rapid Rob” was the first professional kayak rep and once had the entire western United States and Canada as his territory. He is considered “the godfather of modern freestyle competition,” helping start two of the first whitewater rodeos as a gathering grounds for kayakers, and then systematically supporting the rodeo scene through its infancy and adolescence during the 80s and 90s.
Catching up to him in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, showed he has no signs of slowing down. He continues to be passionate about the sport, its future, and the worldwide friendships he has made.Although Rob has lived much of the history of kayaking, he also isn’t one to spend time reflecting on his influence. “I read other people’s bios, and frankly, they sound a lot more interesting than mine. A lot of what I did was invisible to me. I was just doing what I wanted to do; spending time with the people I wanted to be with.” When he is asked about the growth of the “retail base” in the west, he replies, “I wasn’t looking at the retail base back then. I was just trying to provide something that a person with my interests in kayaking and the outdoors needed. People don’t realize how different it is today than it was back in 1969.”
To some, Rob has mellowed, while to others he’s become a bit curmudgeonly. Perhaps it is the natural perspective of older age looking back after a long river, but it might be the view of somebody who is still looking at the river bends to come. “I may live another 25 years,” Rob says, “or who knows, maybe only 5. A lot of people die of cancer in their 50s and early 60s. But even today, what fires my life is having another adventure in the north country, the purity of doing another Stikine trip, the remoteness, the challenge. They are the times and places when I’m most clearly focused and enjoying life to the utmost. They can never be taken away. They are the fabric of my life.”
To read Profile of Idaho Whitewater Legend Rob Lesser by Doug Ammons - click here.