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Making a Splash

The Union StaffJustin Patt finds a quiet spot out of the whitewater on the American River.
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When his big brother and his dad started to learn how to kayak three years ago, Justin Patt was dying to try, too.

“Justin begged to try,” remembered his father Jay Patt, who took a kayak class held at the Club Sierra swimming pool with one of Justin’s three older brother’s, Brendan. The class taught such crucial skills as rolling a kayak upright after it overturned.

“(Justin) was 10. I didn’t think he could roll the kayak,” his father said. Finally, “when I brought him down to the pool, he’s rolling it like an otter.”



Now, three years later, at the ripe, old age of 13, Justin Patt has already participated in a couple competitions, including coming in first place last month in one event at the Fourth Annual Trinity River Freestyle Rodeo.

Patt competes in something called “play boating.”




How that works is kayakers find a “standing wave,” a permanent rapid behind a big rock. Then for the 45-second duration of the event, they dance their kayaks in the wave.

“You get in that spot and surf it,” explained Justin’s mom, Laura Patt.

Patt’s bag of stunts include spins, surfing side to side, and laying his kayak on its side and turning cartwheels.

Then at the end, he said he’ll “go for the loop.”

That is, play boaters who get really good are able to finish off their performance with something called a “loop” – sort of an advanced cartwheel. But instead of laying the kayak on its side and rolling over, the kayaker remains upright, noses the kayaking down into the water and performs a complete loop (hopefully) popping upright in the same spot.

Patt hasn’t quite mastered that one, yet. But you get points for trying, he explained.

The Patts are a family that kayaks together.

Justin practices every weekend he can. He and his dad hit the north fork of the American River between Iowa Hill and Ponderosa. They also boat the south fork American, from Chili Bar to Salmon Falls.

Father and son do class four rapids together.

About a year ago, Laura Patt started to learn kayaking, “because I wanted to be with my family more,” she said with a laugh. She’s a former lifeguard who swam competitively at the University of California, Los Angeles and even tried out for the Olympics.

Asked if she’s concerned about her son’s safety when he kayaks, Patt said kayaking is much safer than most people think. The Patts also take safety precautions, such as wearing face guards, when warranted, on their kayaking helmets and never boat beyond their skills.

“You have to be a smart boater,” she said.

Justin, who’s the youngest of five children, does yard work part-time to help fund his kayaking habit.

He’s made new friends kayaking, including meeting world kayaking champion Eric Jackson and national champion Jay Kincaid.

Patt, a 7th grade student at Union Hill School, has met a few fellow kayakers his own age, but said, “I haven’t found many of my friends that really have the passion for it that I do.”

He’s going to try out to get on a junior team sponsored by the kayak maker Wave Sport. Failing that, he’s plans to keep working at kayaking until he’s old enough and good enough to compete professionally.


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