Paddle boarding enthusiast takes passion to Kanawha River

Darrell Kirk paddles his stand-up paddle board on the Kanawha River near Daniel Boone Park on Friday.
Darrell Kirk, whose family is from Cabin Creek, paddles along the Kanawha River near Daniel Boone Park on Friday.
Photo courtesy Darrell Kirk
Darrell Kirk rows his stand-up paddle board past the DuPont plant near Belle during a recent visit to the Kanawha Valley.

Darrell Kirk isn’t from the Mountain State — you can tell by his Midwestern accent — but he has a love for it that runs deep in the hollows around Cabin Creek where his family made its home.

He’s the son and grandson of coal miners. His great-great-grandfather, like some sort of folk hero, lived to be 113 years old, Kirk said. Calvin Kirk died from a strike of white lightning — a moonshine still fell on him, he said.

Kirk, 52, was back in town for the Carbon Fuel Coal Co. reunion, a gathering of former company employees and their families from places like Cabin Creek, Carbon, Decota, Wevaco, United, Notomine, Republic and Nabob.

Kirk’s passion for his heritage is only rivaled by his passion for stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). Kirk stood at the center of his inflatable board — like a thick, wide surfboard — and paddled his way along the choppy Kanawha River current Friday as he explained why he made SUP a priority.

His brother, Ron, died in Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, in Nevada, three years ago.

“After he died, I was just dead,” Kirk said. “This is a guy that’s been with you your whole life. He understands everything about you. And you really lose a big part of yourself when you lose a brother.”

So Kirk started taking “some major risks.” He paddled down the Calumet River in Chicago, which “scared the living dickens outta me.” He took a chance paddling under the Golden Gate Bridge on an ebb tide in strong winds.

“It had really brought me back to Earth doing that paddle,” Kirk said.

Kirk said he did those things “just to feel alive.”

But he also wanted to legitimize the risks his brother, a free climber and avid hiker, took in his life.

“Anybody that met Ron said, ‘Oh that kid’s going to kill himself.’ … It just kind of validated Ron, too, taking these risks,” Kirk said.

While Kirk’s SUP activity could be described as adventurous, the sport is fairly accessible. If you can balance on the board, which is designed to be steady, you can paddle.

“I think a lot of people can get on a paddle board, try it out, get on, start and excel,” Kirk said.

Kirk is a manufacturing representative for Tamoda Apparel in Vancouver, Canada. He lives in Seattle. Kirk tries to bring manufacturing out of Asia and Mexico and into North America.

“I work with a lot of Chinese companies, so my real job is trying to get the Chinese to trust the Americans and the Americans to trust the Chinese,” Kirk said.

He’s a brand ambassador for several companies, and while it’s not easy to make a living doing that, it has given him the opportunity to travel and make friends all over the world.

“You know, you do this sport, you do your passion,” Kirk said. “If I lose this, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at, 304-348-5102 or follow @rachelmolenda on Twitter.

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