Meet Bodie Hilleke: The Youngest Kayaker to Paddle the Grand

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It figures that it’s Tommy and Polly Hilleke’s son.

Both kayaking icons in their day — Tommy a longtime extreme kayaker and perennial winner of the coveted Green Race and Polly an accomplished kayaker as well — the parenting paddlers took their family kayaking down the Grand Canyon this October, including Kelly, 14, Daniel, 13, Dax, 11, and the youngest, Bodie, 10. En route, the brood of boaters kayaked the Grand’s 280 miles in 18 days, with Bodie setting a likely world record as the youngest kayaker to ever paddle the Big Ditch (paperwork is currently being filed with Guinness World Records.) The story was even picked up by the Colorado Sun.

For Bodie, a fifth-grader in Glenwood Springs, Colo., the run was the pinnacle of a paddling season that included kayaking trips down the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon, Westwater Canyon of the Colorado, Yampa Canyon, Numbers on the Arkansas, and laps on his hometown Glenwood section — all as training for his trip down the Grand.

Bodie Hilleke, Grand
Studying a line on the Grand instead of grammar as he might’ve been doing in class.

“It was pretty inspirational to watch,” says Ian Anderson of Carbondale, Colo., who joined the trip rowing a raft with his two kids. “Bodie ran the meat in every rapid and crushed it.”

Eight of the 16 people on the trip were kids, ages 8 to 14, so Bodie — who started kayaking at age 5, following his brothers and parents around — had plenty of campfire camaraderie. He had a breakthrough earlier this summer, when after missing his roll and swimming at the bottom of Warm Springs rapid on a five-day trip down the Yampa River, “he just made a decision that he wasn’t going to swim anymore,” mom Polly told the Colorado Sun. “He hasn’t swam since,” she says.

He even made it through the pulsating Pearce Ferry rapid just below the take-out just above Lake Mead. “That was probably the scariest,” he told the Sun. “But I thought we probably weren’t going to come back for a long time and I figured I should just do it then and not regret it on the way home.”

Bodie Hilleke, Grand
Just a kid at heart: Bodie, all grins in the Grand.

Added Tommy: “I was having a hard time wondering if this was loose decision-making for a parent — I don’t know where the line is in believing in their ability level and trying to keep it safe, but I think I was pretty close right then.”

Read full story here:

Bodie Hilleke follows family legacy, becoming youngest kayaker to navigate Grand Canyon

Other “Grom on the Grand” News

Just a few weeks before Bodie’s descent of the Big Ditch, three-time Olympian and World Cup kayak champion Scott Shipley of S20 Designs took his son, Jack, kayaking down the Grand at age 12, as well as kayaking friend Andrew Delker, age 13. “I gotta say, Jack looked pretty small next to those waves and got thrown around a lot,” says Shipley, fully crediting Bodie’s descent as well. “The first couple days were really big for them, but they fell into a rhythm by about day four where that stuff seemed normal and they could handle it. By the end of the river they were well within their comfort zone.  They did run everything with no swims (for either of them).”

“One funny story was Jack going left at Upset Rapid, but letting the diagonals push him back right into the hole. So as we approached Lava I worked with him on getting and staying left, practicing on the pillow above the drop, waiting, and then sprinting left when the window opened. But in Lava he sprinted so hard left that he got stuck in some of the holes on the far left that we thought were way out of his reach. Ooops.”

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