Sam Drevo ’99 Extreme Kayaker Turns Businessman

Sam Drevo ’99

“You’re about to paddle over a three-story waterfall, and you don’t have time to think. Adrenaline is pumping. Instinct kicks in. There’s no time to relax. You accelerate over the second waterfall, keeping your boat on top of the water, and sprint toward the finish line.”

That’s how Sam Drevo describes competing in the extreme kayaking event at the Gorge Games, an extreme-sports competition held in the Columbia River Gorge. Drevo competed in the games from 1996 to 2001, emerging as the extreme kayaking champion last summer. In July 2002, he was back at the Gorge—this time staying on dry land as a commentator for NBC Sports. 

“I didn’t really miss competing,” says Drevo. “I think I would have done well, but I was excited to accept a new challenge.” Drevo served as an athlete adviser for the 2002 games and provided on-air commentary for extreme kayaking, in which competitors plummet over two waterfalls in a race against the clock, and for head-to-head kayaking, which involves groups of four kayakers thrashing their way through rapids.

After 15 years of competition, including traveling to Norway for the Junior World Championships at the age of 15 and making the U.S. Freestyle Team in 2000, Drevo says he’s “semiretired” as a competitive kayaker. Last year, he entered 13 competitions—this year, only one. “I’ve been there and done that,” he explains. “I feel like my time can be better spent, and now I’m interested in other things.”

High on his priority list is operating Northwest River Guides, a Portland-based company Drevo founded two years ago that offers kayak and swift-water rescue instruction and multiday guided trips. He’s also produced an instructional video, Sam Drevo’s Fast Track to Kayaking for Beginners, done some magazine writing and photography, and appeared in the IMAX film Journey Into Amazing Caves.

Among the perks of professional kayaking is the opportunity to travel. Last year, Drevo’s adventures included kayaking trips in Laos, Thailand, and Japan. A guided trip to Costa Rica is in the works for this winter. “Traveling is what I enjoy most—meeting new people, having new experiences,” says the former Lewis & Clark business major. “It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme; it’s a fulfilling lifestyle choice. I love what I do.”


—by Kristin Tranquada