KOKATAT Ambassador TEAM MEMBER | Expedition Whitewater

Sam Grafton

Age: 27 years old
HOMETOWN: Index, Washington

In loving memory of Sam Grafton 4/13/1991 - 2/10/2018

Sam Grafton - photo by John Webster
Sam Grafton - photo by John Webster

The kayaking community lost a shining star and gifted athlete on Saturday, February 10, 2018, when Sam Grafton passed away during a kayaking accident on the Ernie’s Canyon section of the Snoqualmie River, near North Bend, WA.

Sam Grafton Icicle Creek, WA - photo Jasper Gibson
Sam Grafton Icicle Creek, WA - photo Jasper Gibson

The protégé of whitewater kayak legend Rob Mckibbin, Sam has spent the last 10 years mastering the art of big water kayaking in the Central Cascades of Washington. He began kayaking when he was sixteen years old and it quickly became his passion and main focus in life. The 26 year old kayaker from Index Washington lived on the banks of the Skykomish River, which runs year round and sees more paddlers than any other run in the greater Seattle area.

Sam Grafton Cascade - photo Daniel Patrinellis
Sam Grafton Cascade - photo Daniel Patrinellis

“For the last several years my focus in kayaking has been running big water and pushing myself to run harder and bigger drops.”

Sam Grafton on the Stikine - photo Daniel Patrinellis
Sam Grafton on the Stikine - photo Daniel Patrinellis

Sam’s accomplishments include running some of the hardest whitewater in Washington, British Columbia, Norway, New Zealand, Patagonia, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.

2017 started in Patagonia on the Rio Baker, Rio Mayer and Rio Bravo, but unfortunately while on this trip Sam sustained a minor shoulder injury which he struggled with for several months.

The first week in April saw him recovered and back in “charge” mode, lapping the North Fork of the Payette at 5,500 CFS.

Sam Grafton - photo John Webster
Sam Grafton - photo John Webster

In early May, Sam, Aniol Serrasolses and Darren Albright took the all time high water descent of Tumwater Canyon at 17,000 CFS.

Sam running Tumwater at 17,000 GFS - photo Jasper Gibson
Sam running Tumwater at 17,000 GFS - photo Jasper Gibson
Tumwater at 17,000 CFS - photo Jasper Gibson
Tumwater at 17,000 CFS - photo Jasper Gibson

In mid-august Sam logged his 8th lap on the Grand Canyon of the Stikine and 5th complete descent.

Sam Grafton series dropping into V-Drive, Stikine River BC - photos by Ari Walker
Sam Grafton series dropping into V-Drive, Stikine River BC - photos by Ari Walker
Sam Grafton dropping into V-Drive, Stikine River BC - photo Ari Walker

In late August, Sam was ready for his next big adventure, an expedition to Kyrgyzstan with fellow Kokatat team members Jordy Searle, Ari Walker, Adrian Kiernan, Evan Moore, Jakub Sedivy, and Kristof Stursa.

Saryjaz Expedition Team after a successful mission
Saryjaz Expedition Team after a successful mission: Adrian Kiernan, Kristof Stursa, Sam Grafton, Jordy Searle, Ari Walker, Jakub Sedivy

The team would paddle the Kekemeren, Naryn, Small Naryn and Big Naryn, with the ultimate goal of descending the elusive Saryjaz River.

Sam running Long Rapid on the Kemeren - photo Kristof Stursa
Sam running Long Rapid on the Kemeren - photo Kristof Stursa
Sam running Bridge Rapid on the Naryn River - photo Kristof Stursa
Sam running Bridge Rapid on the Naryn River - photo Kristof Stursa

This expedition would combine two of Sam’s passions, kayaking and mountaineering. The Saryjaz expedition would involve more than 60 miles of big water class V down to the Chinese border, followed by a 3 to 4 day hike out involving a Tyrolean - that the team would self-set, and hiking more than 26 miles over two 12,000 ft passes.

Evan Moore and Sam Grafton - on the road to the Saryjaz
Evan Moore and Sam Grafton - on the road to the Saryjaz - photo Jordy Searle
Sam Grafton - Wavetrain on Saryjaz River - photo Kristof Stursa
Sam Grafton - Wavetrain on Saryjaz River - photo Kristof Stursa
Sam giving Kristof a hand during a mandatory river crossonmg on the Saryjaz expedition - photo Jakub Sedivy
Sam giving Kristof a hand during a mandatory river crossing on the Saryjaz expedition - photo Jakub Sedivy
Sam taking in the amazing view of the Saryjaz
Sam taking in the amazing view of the Saryjaz - photo Jordy Searle

Following a successful expedition of the Saryjaz River, Sam met up with Kristof Stursa to realize his longtime dream of paddling the Indus River In Pakistan.

Along with his passion for adventure, Sam also has a passion for helping people. He was a longtime volunteer Firefighter/EMT and rescue technician. He also had a passion for protecting the rivers he kayaks, working as a volunteer for American Whitewater to help protect these rivers.

Sam was a positive, kind and giving person, who touched the lives of many. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

Please visit the Sam Grafton Memorial Fund to make a donation or to share stories of Sam with his loved ones.

Sam Grafton - photo Jasper Gibson
Sam Grafton - photo Jasper Gibson
PHOTO GALLERY