Steamboat Springs Kevin Dombey had the moves and the training of a professional kayaker, but until last weekend, he was just another 16-year-old with a boat and a dream.
That changed when the Steamboat Springs High School sophomore won the May 24 "Want to be a Pro?" event in Steamboat. Seven years after becoming addicted to the sport, he achieved pro status, joining Stohlquist Team Pro.
"I knew I would become pro eventually, at least I was hoping to, but I didn't think it would happen so soon," Dombey said.
Dombey's start in the sport wasn't uncommon. He got in the water at age 9, using his father's 14-foot kayak to navigate rivers. He grew impatient faster than some, wanting to venture into the play holes earlier than even he recommends.
"I saw my dad do it a long time ago, and I wanted to do it," Dombey said. "We moved here and I've been hooked ever since. I wanted to jump right into it."
Today, he drops into a hole, such as Steamboat's newest addition, the C-hole by the library, and performs aerial blunts, reverse loops and the helix.
Dombey used the Space Godzilla -- a front flip into a twist with cartwheels at the end -- to win the big air competition.
He also took first in the rodeo and downriver race on Fish Creek after taking up creek boating three days before competition.
Dombey's reward was a plaque, $350 and the official title of professional kayaker, though he still looks the part of a teenager rather than a member of the elite Colorado Kayak Squad.
He is one of three 16-year-olds on CKS.
Dombey's ascent from novice kayaker to freestyle professional has been anything but a ride on placid water.
He spends hours watching videos trying to learn or perfect moves. Dombey often takes a tripod down to the Yampa River, sets the video camera up along the bank and tapes his workouts. He then downloads the video onto a laptop, going back and forth between real time and slow motion.
Usually, Dombey heads down to the water with a practice plan in mind. He has two or three moves he repeats over and over. When fatigue sets in, evidenced by mishaps on basic moves, he gets out.
"Kevin's been boating since he was 9 -- and hard at it since he was 9," paddling friend Matt Hammer said. "He deserves every bit of success he gets. He's been at it for a while."
Despite his new status, however, school still comes first under parental orders. Dombey does not travel and compete -- and doesn't make money -- if his grades are unsatisfactory.
His grades are up, so he has permission to go to Vail next week for an event where the overall winner can take home up to $15,000 and a new Nissan Xterra sport utility vehicle.
"My odds of winning that are terrible," Dombey said.
His goals are not unrealistic, however. He wants to participate in the Junior World Championships by the time he's 18. First, he has to make the U.S. team, and trials for that are either this fall or next spring. He isn't sure.
An offensive lineman for the Steamboat Sailors, Dombey didn't compete in last year's national championships because it conflicted with football, but he might have to reconsider blocking for quarterbacks if a chance to accomplish his goal is at hand.
At 16, it's pretty nice to have options.