The river community lost one of its own—and a pioneer extraordinaire–on June 22, 2008, when Volker Beer died at age 70 while kayaking the Arkansas River north of Buena Vista, Colo. “He was doing what he loved best,” says son, Tom Bear, who credits his father as the inspiration behind his photography business in Salt Lake City. “He lived as he died–with exuberance and an unyielding sense of adventure.”
Even at 70, Volker was an active kayaker and accomplished triathlete, But he was a true pioneer in the world of whitewater paddling in Europe where it all started. In the mid fifties he and fellow adventurers began kayaking uncharted canyons like the Tara River Gorge in Montenegro (second largest in the world). He had also recently produced a video documenting the early days of whitewater paddling. His video, “A Chapter in Paddle Sport History, How the Sport Changed”, is a factual and historic document containing incredible old film clips and photos of those early sporting days ((Click here). He was among the first to tackle these rivers single handed in a foldable, wood framed, canvas covered kayak.
Beer was kayaking the Numbers sections above Buena Vista and apparently went for a swim in one of the first rapids. His friend, Tommy, pulled him to shore and then went after his boat. “The story is unclear after that,” says Bear. “It’s still unsure if he ever made it completely out of the river. He was found six miles down stream. Perhaps the cold overtook him, but it’s hard to say.”
As an active member of the Southern Arizona Paddlers, Beer was always willing to share his experience and enthusiasm for river running. He participated in and photographed several whitewater river adventures with club members, most recently from a May outing on Colorado’s Dolores River.
“He was an amazing man and my ultimate hero,” says Bear. “He taught me everything I know about the outdoors and was a true outdoors man. He started taking me on the back of his kayak when I was only 4 years old. I’d sit on the back deck and try to hold on during rapids.”
While both Beer and Bear stopped kayaking briefly when they moved to Tucson, they got back into the sport in the early ‘90’s. “The first river we kayaked together was the Arkansas,” says Bear. “I remember kayaking Brown’s Canyon and the Royal Gorge together, and after that we did kayak trips to Costa Rica, Idaho and Colorado. He will be sorely missed by all the paddling community, family and friends.”