I first met Dave Norell on a rainy spring day up on the South Fork of the Payette. He was a 17-year-old kid with glasses, homemade tattoos and an eager aggression that was hard not to get swept up in. Despite the damp, cold weather, he was excited to be out kayaking in high water conditions and didn't mind sleeping in the back of his car made musty by wet clothing.
He didn't care because he was learning. He was challenged and determined to understand how water and paddle work together. What I couldn't realize at the time was the influence Dave would have in defining the game that he was so set on figuring out.
He was not a politician. He felt that words were meant to mean something. "Broke, Hungry and Happy" was a self-invented motto (and the title of his latest video) that fit him well. With over 20 first descents to his name, his exploratory kayaking during the last few seasons on rivers in Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia was on par with any boater in North America. He was not getting rich eating crappy food and putting thousands of miles on whatever vehicle he could keep running, but he was damn pleased to be alive.
Dave could kayak, he could take pictures, he could shoot video, but his talent really shone when he got behind his editing table and organized the film that he collected into powerful eye candy. With its heavy skate-punk influence, his Revolution film thankfully shook up a kayaking industry that was stuck in a rut.
Putting all of his accomplishments and unending energy aside, Dave made himself easy to approach. If you were learning to kayak, he would talk you through the simplest of details to help you improve. That's what impressed me most about the guy. He was willing to take time to give back to the people and places he loved.
After one of his recent events at the Ha' Penny, he didn't tell me how many people came to see his video or listen to him emcee.
"I raised around $120 for Idaho Rivers United. That's something I've always wanted to do," he said.
It's so difficult to really understand the influence someone has on a community until they're gone.
"Most people didn't know how much impact he had," said Idaho River Sport's Stan Colby after some 80 kayakers showed up for a memorial float on the South Fork of the Payette Friday, April 30. "That's what blew me away."
On Saturday, Boise's whitewater community raised over $3,000 at a benefit at the Blues Bouquet to help the family with funeral and medical expenses incurred after Dave collapsed and died on April 24 while competing in an adventure race.
"This is just a really powerful group of young people," said his father Mike. "The amount of love that they have shown for Dave is incredible."
"Broke, Hungry and Happy" may have been his motto, but his insatiable aura improved, enriched and enlightened the lives of those around him.