malcolm smith prepares to paddle the ledges of the french broad river in asheville, n.c.
A five-year-old kayaker biggest fear isn’t class III rapids; it’s the boogeyman in the bathroom.
Malcolm Smith has been raised with an intimate understanding of the laws of physics. At five years old, Malcolm is both a Trials Motocross National Champion and a prodigy in his whitewater kayak. He is just as comfortable sailing over 10-foot gaps on his bike as he is planing down the class III rapids of Nantahala Falls.
Malcolm represents a new era in youth sports. With open-minded parents and distance-learning options, it’s possible to structure education and life around the sports that kids are drawn to. Malcolm is extremely young to know what he wants to do with his life, but his parents have given him every opportunity to chase his talents without compromise. Rather than tee ball and youth soccer, Malcolm is being steeped in the lessons of nature.
Malcolm’s parents support his paddling passion because of the beautiful places that it allows him to explore, the life outlook that time spent outdoors gives him, and the close-knit fabric of the paddling community.
I’ve heard a lot about Malcolm over the past few months, so I invited him and his father, Steve, to join me for a paddle at my home training ground: Ledges Park of the French Broad in Asheville, N.C.
How long have you been kayaking?
MALCOLM: Since I was four.
What is your favorite river?
MALCOLM: Umm, Rose Creek! (A section of the Tennessee near the Smith’s house.) My creek at my house has a big rapid! It drops down, and then turns and drops some more.
Who do you look up to?
MALCOLM: My friend, Rider. He rides bikes with me and kayaks with me.
STEVE: Do you like watching videos of anyone?
MALCOLM: Pat (Keller)! On one video, he goes down a waterfall backwards!
Do you like going fast?
Are you ever scared when you’re on your bike or in your kayak?
STEVE: Malcolm, don’t lie.
MALCOLM: I’m scared of the boogey man.
Where is the boogey man?
MALCOLM: In my bathroom at night.
How are you brave enough to go in there?
MALCOLM: I take Annabelle (dog) with me. I have three dogs: Oscar, Annabelle, and Maggie, but she bites. (Malcolm runs off yelling something about a plane that flies over. He loves planes, and several pilot friends have taken him up for unforgettable flights.)
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
MALCOLM: I’ve run the Nantahala Waterfall three times!
Really? What was your first time like?
MALCOLM: Umm, it was really cold, raining. I followed my dad, and we ran the top okay, but then I swam!
STEVE: (chuckling) He got a little bit thrashed.
Malcolm, how did you go back and do it again?
MALCOLM: I kayaked near the bridge until I wasn’t scared, and then I went back to the waterfall.
What happened that time?
MALCOLM: I followed my dad again, and I FLEW through it! There were people watching, and they cheered.
What does your mom think of all of this?
MALCOLM: She likes to go and take videos.
STEVE: The motocross racing scares her, but she loves going with Malcolm to the river.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, read about Lawrence Dye who has biked over 165,000 miles on the Virginia Creeper Trail…and he’s 80 years old.