April 20, 2014 - 13:03
Hundreds attend West memorial
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Article Author: Ed Ditto
Family and friends of local whitewater instructor Jeff West packed the Ocoee on Saturday, October 13th to celebrate his extraordinary life.

Family and friends of local whitewater instructor Jeff West packed the Ocoee on Saturday, October 13th to celebrate his extraordinary life. West, the 42-year-old founder of Ace Funyaks, was killed in September attempting a one-day solo run of British Columbia’s Stikine river.

West’s three-stage public memorial began at the Olympic Course pavilion at noon, where a crowd of four hundred or more gathered in the shade for a thoughtful remembrance led by West’s lifelong friend Frank Colladay, Pastor Emeritus of Dahlonega Presbyterian in north Georgia.

During the service, several of West’s family members, friends, clients, and co-workers offered their tributes; playing music, sharing stories, reading letters, and singing. West was described as an adventurer, a lover of nature, a teacher, an inspiration, and an outright hero. John Lane from the United States Forest Service presented a posthumous Certificate of Appreciation to West to commemorate his profound contribution to whitewater paddling on the Ocoee. A stunning commemorative paddling helmet presented to Ace by Toby Bucsescu was on display, as was a flower-filled kayak that belonged to West.

After the service the crowd moved to the middle Ocoee put-in where, after another brief ceremony, an estimated four hundred private boaters launched into the river for “a final run with Jeff.” One kayaker described the event as “more good paddling and more carnage than I’ve ever seen—everybody was trying to do Jeff proud by running the hardest lines they could, and they were all getting bottlenecked and running each other over and then helping each other out. Jeff would’ve loved it.”

In the late afternoon too many people to count convened at Cascade Outfitters on Highway 64 for a gathering that sparked a great deal of joy and lasted until well past dawn. Local businesses donated food and beer, projection screens showed slide after slide of West’s life, West’s friends and family addressed the crowd, and Chattanooga bluegrass band Slim Pickins played into the night. “It was kind of like a reunion,” Cascade owner Kip Gilliam later reflected. “I hadn’t seen some of those people in years.”

For many, though, the highlight of the evening was a recollection of West’s last days by world-class kayaking expeditionary Doug Ammons, who accompanied West partway down the Stikine the day before West’s fatal solo attempt, and who shuttled West to the river’s put-in on the morning of his death. Ammons, speaking from in front of a temporary stage at Cascade, described West’s final mindset as exuberant and “on fire.” Ammons also narrated the video of a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, discussing the canyon’s geology, highlighting significant river features, and pointing out the eddy where West’s body was found.

While Jeff West has now passed into legend, efforts to defray the expenses of bringing his body home and to continue the operation of the kayaking school he founded are still underway. If you’d like to contribute you can find the Jeff West Memorial Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/1752o4. Memorial t-shirts are also available and can be purchased from the Ocoee Dam Deli and/or the Whitewater Grill on Highway 64.

Correction: West was killed attempting a single solo one-day run of the Stikine, and not two solo one-day runs as originally reported in this paper.

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