Idahoans With Whitewater Running Through Their Veins
(page 7 of 8)
Hometown: McCall, ID
Favorite Descent: The Lower Salmon, ID
Devon Barker got a late start on competition but that hasn’t made her career any less prolific. The 39-year-old McCall local—who started competing at 30—has made the U.S. Freestyle or Surf team every year since 2002, capturing the National Freestyle Championship in 2003 and 2004 and a World Surf Kayak Championship in 2005—visiting countless countries along the way. So how does a landlocked whitewater kayaker win a world surf championship?
When Barker heard the voice message from Sun Valley’s Jim Grossman, a talented paddler in his own right, she was confused.Costa Rica? World Championships? She’d never even been in a fiberglass kayak with fins. “Jimmy convinced me to go for it,” she says. “So I went down to Costa Rica a couple of weeks early and we trained everyday. My freestyle background really helped.” Enough to lead her to her first title in her first attempt.
Barker has always been willing to take a chance. She started paddling while guiding rafts for her family’s Lewiston-based company, Barker River Trips. With fellow raft guide, Dayna Deuter, Barker paddled every river the company outfitted. “We’d scout rapids and if we thought we could swim them, then we’d go for it,” she says. After earning her education degree, Devon took a job at Nez Perce Elementary in Grangeville. When a member of the U.S. Freestyle team saw her surfing on the Main Salmon near Riggins, she encouraged her to try out. “There were a few events left on the East Coast but I’d have to leave my job (as an elementary school teacher in New Meadows) to qualify as a pro so I’d be eligible for the team,” she says. “I asked for a leave of absence. The school wouldn’t grant it because they thought I wouldn’t come back. I guess they were right.”
Barker took a chance on herself and it paid off. But she’s taken chances for her community, too, most recently to bring Idaho its first whitewater park. Barker, like most paddlers in the state, couldn’t understand how the “Whitewater State,” the capital of paddling, didn’t even have a man-made whitewater park when states like Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico had multiple parks. So she fought for years to get the Cascade park built, running into roadblock after roadblock.
The turning point came one evening when the whitewater park committee was hosting a fundraiser. The group of dirtbag kayakers were stoked they’d raised $7,000 to that point. Then Mark and Kristina Pickard, who owned a vacation home in the area, walked through the door. Their sister had been killed in a car accident in Utah and they wanted to donate to a public park in her name. “These people came in and they were like, ‘We’d like to donate but we want to have our daughter’s name on it,’” Barker says. “We were like, ‘We’re not changing the name.’ Then they pulled out a $500,000 check and our jaws just dropped.” So Kelly’s Whitewater Park was born. Barker is also currently working on getting a man-made feature built in Riggins. And she’s still competing. “My family really came together around my competitions,” says Barker, whose father recently lost his battle with cancer. “We planned our vacations around them. I’m still boating well. And I’ve still got the love.”