The online tribute began: “Someone said Superman wears Jeff West’s pajamas to bed… and they were spot on.”
L.A. McAllister, of Atlanta, continued by recounting the first time she met Jeff West, and what an impact the kayak instructor had on her life, in a post entitled, “A True River God.”
“He worked with me and gave me so much confidence,” Ms. McAllister said in a phone interview. “He was so good, and so humble.”
Mr. West died Tuesday while kayaking alone in the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, in northern British Columbia, according to the British Columbia Coroners Service. He was 42. His death, a suspected drowning, was among several in B.C. waters this year. The deaths could be attributed to unusal river conditions of higher, colder and possibly faster water this year, the Coroners Service said. Plans for memorial services are underway, friends and family said.
Jeffrey Dean West was born in Decatur, but by the time he was in high school, the family had moved to Dahlonega. While still a Boy Scout, Mr. West saw kayaking for the first time, and instantly fell in love, said his sister Pam Mayer, of Dawsonville. After high school graduation, he went to Georgia Southern and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship in 1994. Since then he opened his own business, Ace Funyaks on the Ocoee River in Tennessee, and taught kayaking skills to more than 5,000 enthusiasts, according to the company’s Web site. During his personal time he often lived in both states, as he traveled to Dawsonville at least once a week to help care for his ailing mother, his sister said.
Though his business was located across the Georgia/Tennessee line, Mr. West had a sizable following in metro Atlanta. He was active in many metro-area groups, including the Georgia Canoeing Association.
“Jeff West had such an amazing enthusiasm for paddling and for sharing his passion of the sport with his students and friends,” said a statement from Laura Dillon, a GCA instructor. “His loss has left a crater in our community.”
A competitive kayaker and kayak instructor, Mr. West was the best teacher there was, said Todd Vanderhoof, of Atlanta. Amazed at the flexibility and effectiveness of Mr. West’s teaching style, he said, “Jeff could figure out, for each individual, how to relay what he was teaching. I’d see him teach three people on the same exact spot in the river, but he’d teach it three completely different ways.”
Mr. West was also known to push himself to extremes and was always in pursuit of perfection, said Daniel Glauser, who lives just outside of Denver. While living in Atlanta in the ‘90s, Mr. Glauser said he met Mr. West by chance.
“I met him by the Chattooga River in the parking lot,” he said. “I was looking for people to run section four, and he’d been down it many times, and was looking for people to paddle with, so off we went.”
Mr. West had a habit of being at the right place at the right time, said Alp Can, an Atlanta resident.
“Somehow he’s always there,” Mr. Can said. “Somebody would be in trouble, and Jeff wouldn’t even be paddling with them, but you look up and there he is, pulling them out of the water. It got to the point where you just expect to see him. They say he was Superman of the river.”
In addition to his sister, Mr. West is survived by his mother, Barbara West of Dawsonville; another sister, Cindy West Owen of Savannah; and brother, Mark West of Ellijay.
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