The Many Dimensions of Brad Ludden
The famed pro kayaker’s dedication results in a better world for many
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In summer 2001, pro kayaker Brad Ludden was in the passenger seat of a Cessna 182 airplane, flying over the famed Chugach Mountains of Alaska. From beneath his well-trimmed blonde hair, Ludden peered out of a tiny window, scanning the mountains below for any sign of a runnable river or whitewater creek. Along with him were other pro kayakers and a film crew, all gathered together on a scouting trip of the area around the Port of Valdez. They were hoping to find the kayaking world’s next Shangri-La, the next set of rapids and waterfalls that would find their way onto film and into kayaking lore.
At 20 years old, Ludden already was living in Vail and well established in the kayaking world. His quarterback looks and world-class skills made him kayaking’s all-talented, all-lovable poster boy. Sponsors from Nike to Dagger to Subaru had jumped aboard the Ludden bandwagon during his teens, enamored as much by his zero-attitude mentality as his world-renowned talent. He was traveling the world and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, a lifestyle that would eventually lead to a short romance with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.
But Ludden was already feeling the pressures that come with life as an adventure athlete. Every other paddler on the 2001 Alaska trip was just as good as he was, just as psyched, and just as gutsy. Each man was prepared to kayak over the biggest drop, run the nastiest rapid, or power through the burliest water to help make his name and his career.
Beyond that, he knew age would eventually catch up with him. Like virtually all pro athletes, he was destined to peak in his 20s and then, suddenly one morning, wake up and wonder what to do with the long remainder of his life.
“You see so many athletes hanging on too tight for too long,” Ludden says. “I knew I had to have something to fall back on, something to give meaning to a life that had been mainly dominated by kayaking.”
With foresight that is rare, if not uncanny in young athletes, Ludden began to broaden himself.