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Kayaking: Max Karlsson paddling through competition this summer

Kayaker Max Karlsson, 15, of Erie, poses for a shot at Boulder Creek on Wednesday.
Kayaker Max Karlsson, 15, of Erie, poses for a shot at Boulder Creek on Wednesday.

LONGMONT — Barreling down a churning river is a nightmare for most people. For 15-year-old kayaker Max Karlsson, there is no place he’d rather be.

Karlsson has been quickly making a name for himself in one Colorado competition after another this summer.

“My summer is going really great,” Karlsson said. “The last three or so weeks, every weekend I’ve been going different places all over Colorado and competing and having fun.”

Last weekend, Karlsson took second place in both the freestyle and slalom at the at FIBArk in Salida. Two weeks ago, he placed first in the freestyle at the Lyons Outdoor Games, 100 points ahead of the next paddler in the junior division. He also took first in the slalom and third in the downriver and slalom.

The first weekend in June, Karlsson got a chance to compete against some of the professionals he’s admired since he began kayaking five years ago.

After a bad first run in the freestyle at the Teva Mountain Games, a pro competition in Vail, pro kayaker Stephen Wright came up to him and gave him advice on how to have a better run. The interaction had quite an impact on young Karlsson.

“Competing against pros almost makes you want to not embarrass yourself in front of them,” Karlsson said. “What’s great about the kayaking community is that everyone wants to help you out.”

Karlsson finished 13th out of 25 pro men in freestyle in Vail. He took second in the 8-ball race, in which kayakers hide in eddies and attempt to impede the racers.

This weekend, beginning Thursday, Karlsson will compete in the 2012 Junior Whitewater Olympics in Lyons. They may not be pros, but Karlsson expects his international competitors to be tough.

But on par with the kayaking community’s reputation, Karlsson also expects the event to have a friendly atmosphere.

“The competition is pretty stiff but it’s also just a bunch of kids having fun,” Karlsson said.

Karlsson lives in Erie and has competed in Colorado for most of the summer, but he travels quite a bit to quench his thirst for whitewater. That’s why, he says, he attends Boulder Universal Online School.

“That way I can travel and kayak all over and go to school instead of missing a lot of school and being behind on a lot of work,” Karlsson said.

Magnus Karlsson, Max’s father, said he is amazed at his son’s talents despite his parents having no significant paddling background. The Karlsson family began paddling as a hobby when they moved to Colorado and Max took it and ran with it.

“Both my wife and I are so proud of his progression,” Magnus Karlsson said. “Every time we see him, he just seems to get better and better. It’s all his own doing. He basically tells us what he wants to do and we take him. It’s not like we have to push him to work hard.”

Max Karlsson taught himself some of his freestyle moves and tricks just by watching YouTube and practicing on his own. For the slalom, he’s been working with team S2O Design and coach Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympian in the 1990s.

Karlsson will be competing with team S2O Design at the 2012 Junior Whitewater Olympics.

Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi