Aspen’s new king of kayaking |

Aspen’s new king of kayaking

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

ASPEN Aspen’s only kayak school has a new name and a new face.Longtime ski and kayak instructor Charlie MacArthur has purchased the Aspen Kayak School and is reopening it as the Aspen Kayak Academy.Kirk Baker started the Aspen Kayak School in 1973, when the sport was in its infancy. He admits he made it up as he went in those early years – a time when he had to build his own fiberglass boats – and probably scared a lot of his first students by taking them in over their heads.But as the sport has grown, with slick boats engineered for various whitewater conditions, instruction has similarly evolved, Baker said.MacArthur grew up as a surfer in Los Angeles. But when he found the “perfect wave” on the rivers around Aspen, his life changed.

“Whitewater kept me here in the summers,” said the husband and father of two. Taking over the kayak school is no stretch for MacArthur; he’s been head instructor there for 16 years.”I owe a lot to Kirk,” said MacArthur, explaining that Baker taught him the sport and the business.”He was the only guy I felt comfortable selling it to,” Baker said. With three grown children, Baker will now focus on work as a builder and property manager.”I enjoyed myself every morning when I went to work,” Baker said of the 33 years he ran the school. “I just need to make more money.”

Baker continues to paddle; in fact, he’ll teach part time for MacArthur. But he’s really looking forward to just getting out on the river with his kids and friends – and just for fun.”I didn’t want to see Aspen without a kayak school,” said MacArthur, adding that the area is “the perfect place to learn” with everything from flat water to gnarly Class V runs.MacArthur was an athlete and videographer in “Meltdown Madness,” “Paddlemania” and “Paddlemania Worldwide,” late-90s films about first descents of steep creeks and rivers. He also does downriver racing in Class V water on Gore Canyon every year.The Aspen Kayak Academy currently holds roll sessions at the Aspen Recreation Center on Sunday nights; beginning in June, MacArthur will hold a series of extended locals clinics for adults and kids. Beginning paddlers start in the swimming pool learning to “wet exit,” or get out of their boats when capsized. They then learn to right themselves (the Eskimo roll) before moving to a local pond to learn basic paddle strokes. MacArthur then takes beginners onto mellow sections of the Roaring Fork River in the North Star Nature Preserve to learn how to get out on moving current.

From there the sky’s the limit; local rivers run the gamut from Class I and II waters on the Roaring Fork near Carbondale, to the Class III Toothache section near Woody Creek, to the Class IV Slaughterhouse section near Aspen. A drive in any direction brings you to rivers like the Colorado, the Gunnison, the Arkansas and the Green, and MacArthur leads multiday trips to other parts of the state and as far as the Grand Canyon.MacArthur expects his clients to be a 50-50 mix of tourists and locals, and said he’ll offer new programs like video analysis for private lessons and more extensive programs for locals.For more on area paddling action, go to Agar’s e-mail address is

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