The whitewater community was dealt another heavy blow this past weekend when Max Lentz, a 17-year-old from Missoula, Mont., drowned on West Virginia’s Gauley River. Lentz was attempting to run a “creeky” line on the river right, two drops above Class V Sweet’s Falls, when he became trapped in a “crack” while inside his kayak.
“I was talking with Billy Boylan, one of our coaches who was there,” says World Class Kayak Academy director Scott Doherty, “and he had a hard time understanding how it happened, how his boat got sucked into the crack at that particular angle in order to get lodged against the rock”
Seven students, assistant coach Dan West and Boylan tried desperately to free Lentz. They could reach him while he was struggling. Rescue attempts continued (including the use of a Z-drag) along with several additional kayakers lending assistance, for approximately 20 minutes before a commercial rafting trip arrived on the scene. The raft trip contacted authorities via radio. The body was recovered just after 5 p.m. after water levels began to recede.
The pure randomness of the accident is sending chills down the collective spines of river runners. “He wasn’t in a spot that was like, ‘I can’t believe he went there,’” Doherty says.
Lentz took fourth in juniors at the US Nationals two weeks ago in Maryland and won the overall title this summer at Missoula’s Thursday Night Throwdown freestyle series. “Max was at an age where he was improving a ton,” says KB Brown of Missoula’s Edge of the World outdoor shop. “He had dedicated his life to the sport. It has really shocked the community here.”
According to Brown and Doherty, Lentz was a very likeable kid, a fun student and talented paddler who thrived in tough whitewater. This was his second semester at World Class and he had been paddling at the Class V level for over a year.
Incidents like this are the worst nightmares for the heads of kayaking academies. Doherty was at a loss when asked about the future of his school. “We’re just focusing on this semester,” he says. “Our immediate goal is just to finish the semester. It’s all so sudden.”
Max Lentz’s memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Missoula University Congregational Church. Check back as more updates become available.
– Joe Carberry