Meridian brothers go from paddling the Payette to paddling the globe

Alec and Hayden Voorhees grew up around kayaks. From an early age, the Payette River was their home away from home.

“By the time they were 6 they were demanding to have their own kayaks,” said their mother, Jody Voorhees. “We didn’t think we could teach them until they were 8 or 9, honestly. But they had such a passion for it when they were little.”

By the time they were 9 or 10, the brothers were entering competitions.

“From that,” Jody said, “they got a bug.”

Since then, the brothers have trained in Africa and Canada and throughout the United States.

“Kayaking has definitely opened the world for them,” Jody said.

That training has paid off, too. Alec, 18, and Hayden, 15, placed first and second, respectively, at the USA Kayak Freestyle Team Trials in June. The brothers, who call Meridian home, will be among the three Americans competing in the junior men’s division at the 2015 ICF Freestyle Kayaking World Championships from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 in Ottawa.

“My goal is to win, basically,” Alec said. “In 2013, when I competed in the world championships in North Carolina, I was able to take third place. So my goal is to improve on that and hopefully win the whole championship.”

To win the championship, Alec will have to best his younger brother. But Jody said her sons have a healthy attitude when competing against one another.

“There’s definitely the aspect of the little brother having the target on the big brother’s back,” she said. “And big brother’s looking over his shoulder going, ‘He’s really good.’ ”

Hayden said while he’s competing at the world championships he’ll have a singular focus.

“My whole goal is to beat Alec at every competition we go to,” Hayden said. “He beats me so much that it feels really good when I beat him. I’ve beaten him twice in (smaller events), so hopefully I can get him in a big one.”

The junior men’s category is for kayakers between 15 and 18 years old, so Alec will be moving up to the men’s division next year.

“We’ve competed against each other so many times I can’t even count, but this will be the only time we’ll be able to compete against each others as juniors at this event,” Alec said. “So that’s pretty cool.”

Alec and Hayden will each have a bevy of tricks they hope to perform, but the sport requires them to deal with the inherent obstacles on the water.

“There are a lot of different strategies,” Alec said. “But there will be that time when you get one of those weird bounces and the wave does something weird and throws you off your plan. So you have to be able to react.”

The brothers have different builds — Alec is 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, while Hayden is 5-9, 110 — so they often go into events with different game plans.

“Our styles are really different,” Hayden said.

Both of them thrive on the competition, but they also are aware of the doors that their kayaking prowess has opened for them.

“I’ve really enjoyed the places I’ve been able to go and the people I’ve been able to meet,” Alec said. “It’s really cool to see the different cultures and places and meet people that you begin to have relationships with. That’s what I really love about kayaking.”

After all, not many teenagers from Meridian have trained in Uganda. Or taught a clinic to inner city kids in New York. That’s exactly what the brothers did in July before leaving for Canada.

Alec and Hayden worked with the young New Yorkers for a few days in a pool before the group traveled to a couple of rivers in Connecticut over the course of a couple days.

“One of the kids said, ‘I understand why you like the river so much,’ ” Alec said. “They saw crawfish, fish, snail, frogs ... they were just so fascinated by it all.”

And while Hayden and Alec are both exceptional students, they learned some lessons of their own while teaching the clinic.

“It was a good reminder to be thankful for what you have,” Alec said. “You can take some of that stuff for granted, but it really shows us how awesome it is outside, in nature, on the river.”