Asheville’s Landon Miller continues WNC kayaking legacy with world title
As the crowd cheered, Brian Miller remained silent as his son, Landon, made his final run at the International Canoe Federation Freestyle Skiing World Championships earlier this month.
They spent much of Landon’s life on the rivers of western North Carolina – Brian said he must have heard his voice enough. But after Landon left the water and climbed to the top of the podium as world champion, they kissed.
“He had the best smile ever,” said Brian, who also won a freestyle canoe world title in 2000. “I was crying, my wife was crying, I think Landon maybe cried a little bit. It was just the shock of what we had just accomplished.
Even 4,000 miles from his Asheville home in Nottingham, UK, Landon won a title in the freestyle canoe final surrounded by the people who hang out with him in western North Carolina.
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“I knew (Landon) had it in him,” said Matteo Williams, who also placed fifth in the freestyle kayak junior final. “I was watching him, we had both been training for a while, so I knew he had it in him and I was happy that he could do it during the competition.
Landon and Williams were joined by Cashion Porter-Shirley – all teenagers who kayak in the area.
Building on an already strong kayaking community at the WNC is part of Landon’s goals in the sport. This includes honoring the legacy of Williams’ mother, Maria Noakes, who died while kayaking in 2018 on the Cheoah River in the Nantahala National Forest. At the World Championships, Landon wore a sticker on his helmet with the slogan “Live Like Maria”.
“She’s always had this big smile, so I always try to smile big like Maria,” Landon said. “I always try to keep his thoughts in my head every time I run the river. It’s just special to have. I know she’s up there watching us, protecting Matteo, protecting me.
Going into this event, Brian expected Landon to win. He emphasized nutrition, rest, and “tricks that travel,” but made sure to include tips that come from the rivers of western North Carolina.
“One of our philosophies is that podiums and medals are fleeting,” Brian said. “But love lasts all the time. So we wanted to give love and take it back, to be human and to help others…the love we felt from others because of what he gave to others was more gratifying than the podium.
Back in Asheville, Landon spent his July on the rivers with Williams and looked to the future. The 2023 World Championships are set to be held near his home in Georgia, and he wants to defend his title.
But beyond his personal aspirations, the community building that helped him become an elite kayaker and form some of his strongest bonds is crucial in his mind.
“That means everything, because western North Carolina honestly could be one of the best places in the world to kayak,” he said. “It helps us rebuild the kayaking community and it also helps us strengthen it.”