Brad Ludden, named the Hottest Bachelor in America in 2008 by Cosmopolitan, is a professional Kayaker and founder of the charity “First Descents.” He started traveling internationally to kayak at age 12 and has been to over 40 countries and completed over 100 first descents.
Brad Ludden was born in Wyoming and raised in Northwest Montana. He spent his days in the outdoors with his family hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing and, of course, kayaking. Of all his passions, kayaking caught his eye the most. His parents gave him his first kayak when he was 9 and at age 12 he was traveling and competing internationally.
By 18 he had kayaking in over 20 countries and found his true passion within the sport, first descents. A first descent is the first time a person successfully kayaks a river or section of river that has never been done. Through his first descents he found immense challenge, adventure, community and personal growth.
Cancer went from being just some random word to something very personal when he was 12 and his Aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38. After watching her endure cancer and seeing how little support there was available to her, Brad started volunteering for a local pediatric oncology program by teaching the participants how to kayak.
He fell in love with it and decided it was time to do more so at 18, he started working on an organization that would soon become “First Descents”. Its goal- to help young adults like his Aunt by giving them the life changing experience of kayaking. “I wanted to recreate the experience of a ‘first descent’, that had so greatly impacted my life, for people like my aunt who really needed it. Even though thousands of people have been down the rivers they’re kayaking at camp, it’s still the FIRST time they’ve been down it and that’s the magic of FD!”
They say every athlete dies two deaths – the day that they retire from their sport and obviously their real death.
I think with us outdoor extreme athletes, that first death is really painful, because for so many of us, you’ve lived that chapter of your life, and it was such an amazing life, but it’s over, and you can’t afford to just carry on.
My true passion and niche within the sport of kayaking and white-water kayaking was to do expedition kayaking or extreme kayaking. So, just traveling around the world, looking for rivers that told an amazing story and had some really big rapids on them.
Kayaking started to fade as a career for me. I was left with a bit of a void and a need to fill that void, and so it wasn’t practical for me to spend 300 days a year on the road, just traveling and hucking myself off big waterfalls anymore.
With kayaking, it became so dangerous at the level I was doing it that I couldn’t sustain that, and so it was easier for me to walk away from that completely and start challenging myself with anything from flying airplanes to archery hunting and looking for adventure in different ways.
I’m still trying to figure it out, but everyday I try to incorporate some sort of challenge or adventure into my life. Even though it looks different than what it was before, it’s still the same outcomes.
Interviewed by: Laura Lehmann
Produced by: Cooper Cox