Racers and fans of the Pole Peddle Paddle Race were devastated on Saturday when local multi-sport athlete, filmmaker and writer David Norell died suddenly during the race's second leg. Norell, 24, collapsed during a 14-mile bike trek up Bogus Basin Road and was unsuccessfully attempted to be revived through CPR. He and the other racers had already finished a 5 1/2-mile stretch of kayaking on the Boise River and were well on their way to a 2-mile trail run, but the race was canceled following Norell's collapse. While an official cause of death will be determined by an Ada County Coroner's Office autopsy, some racers recall Norell having a heart condition in his youth, which had affected him in other athletic events and could have factored in his passing.
Despite his age Norell had already become a fixture in the North American whitewater community, producing two videos and penning numerous articles for Kayak and Paddler magazines. According to Rico Reimers, the managing editor at both of those publications, Norell had been associated with Kayak for upwards of five years and garnered a significant amount of notoriety in that time. "David was a really interesting character," Reimers recalls. "He was really controversial, and kind of a punk. He would make these videos that were skateboardy—kind of thrasher-videos. That thrasher element was really new when he started doing it, and even though it caused a lot of controversy, he was a sweet guy who always had the interests of the whitewater community at heart. He'll definitely be missed."
Norell's two videos, The Revolution and The Revolution II: Broke, Hungry and Happy are extreme anomalies both among kayaking videos and outdoor videos as a whole. Both feature extensive sections of "urban kayaking," in which Norell and his friends grind their boats along roofs, stairwells and handrails, and even mix breakdancing and bungee jumping in with traditional kayaking elements like waterfall footage and first river descents. Drinking, shooting guns and bodily functions all played prominent parts in the films, which received positive reviews in kayaking magazines—albeit always prefaced by the disclaimer "not for the squeamish." Joe Carberry, organizer of the Pole Peddle Paddle Race, recalls Norell's video style as both edgy and developing. "There's an old cliché about Idaho boaters and kayakers that they're solid but kind of conservative, and Dave just chucked that right out the window of his truck," Carberry explains. "Dave re-created a whole way of thinking about kayaking in Idaho, and was on par with any boater in North America as far as ability goes. I admired him just for the way he lived his life. He didn't want to be owned or possessed, but he was always listening and learning. He was definitely willing to learn."
Both of Norell's films are available through his Web site www.therevolution.cc, and will also be shown at a May 1 fundraiser at The Blues Bouquet to benefit the Norell family. In addition to the fundraiser Carberry has also organized a "Remembrance Float" for Norell to take place at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, April 29 on the South Fork of the Payette River. Paddlers interested in participating should load their boats with flowers and meet at the Deer Creek put in, located five miles east of Banks on State Highway 24. The flowers will be distibuted at the confluence with the Payette's North Fork, one of Norell's favorite non-urban kayaking runs. Despite the tragedy, Carberry also reports that there is still a future for the Pole Peddle Paddle next year. "Everybody loved it so much, and it was going so well," he recalls. "I'm sure everybody would like it to happen again and be renamed for Dave."