Kevin Neidorf couldn’t stop moving, and he never stopped caring.
If the South Florida native wasn’t at work as the creative director at River City Bicycles in Portland, he was on one of his bikes, or rock-climbing or diving into his latest hobby -- kayaking.
“Everything he did was with gusto,” his mother, Paula Ginsberg-Neidorf, said in an interview. “He pushed people to do things they thought they couldn’t do themselves.”
The 28-year-old drowned Jan. 19 on the Hood River in a kayaking accident. He died on a section of Class II rapids that were running high on the river just south of the city of Hood River. He was wearing a dry suit, helmet and a personal lifejacket, but according to the bike shop’s account of the tragedy, he rolled his boat in a rapid and was pulled under and caught in a hydraulic hole. Neidorf was participating in a paddle event hosted through the Portland retailer Next Adventure that day. Fellow kayakers were unable to revive him.
According to the Hood River County Sheriff’s office, emergency personnel from three nearby agencies responded to the area near the old Copper Dam, but Neidorf never recovered. He died at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
Ginsberg-Neidorf said her son had taken kayaking courses during the past year or so, and she trusted he was responsible. She knew her only child loved sports with inherent risks. “If you’re sitting on the couch watching TV, there’s not much risk,” she said.
He was an incredibly strong and experienced athlete, Ginsberg-Neidorf said, and she’d worried for years every time her family’s landline phone rang that it would carry bad news. Law enforcement officers called her cellphone instead.
“We’re looking for consolation,” she said. “What do we do now?”
Neidorf’s death sparked an outpouring of grief from friends around the world. An experienced mountain biker, he competed in the Megavalanche, an annual downhill race in the French Alps. His Plantation, Florida, memorial drew a longtime friend from the Czech Republic.
The family posted a livestream of the ceremony. Some 15 River City employees set up a projector and watched together. Other friends watched online from Germany, South Africa, Singapore, Portland and beyond.
“I didn’t even realize the extraordinary impact he had on others,” Ginsberg-Neidorf said.
Ginsberg-Neidorf and Scott Neidorf, Kevin’s dad, wore River City Bicycles sweatshirts at the ceremony.
Friends and colleagues at the Portland cycling institution, where he’d worked since 2015, expressed devastation at his death. Hayes Kenny, general manager of the Belmont location, wrote an emotional blog post. “We strive to focus on the energy, the passion, the bravery, and the love with which Kevin lived his life,” he said, and he described Neidorf as an artist, athlete, adventurer and a close friend.
Neidorf grew up in a northern suburb of Miami on the edge of the Everglades. According to his parents, Kevin never took to organized sports – but he quickly became obsessed with bikes. The family of three spent a lot of time crisscrossing the country visiting national parks when Kevin was young.
He made lifelong friends at a camp in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains as a sixth-grader. He fell in love with mountain bikes, and by his senior year he’d built his own bike out of bamboo and rode it to and from school. Kevin taught himself how to shoot and edit video and pictures. He created videos for his high school, for friends, for teachers.
“He was always involved in something,” his mother said.
From high school and on into his days at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he rode on the school’s cycling club team, he was hooked. Before settling in Portland, he moved to Columbia, South Carolina, to work for bike retailer Hawley, where he worked in digital video production. He took a three-month European bike tour and also traveled through New Zealand on two wheels as well.
In Portland, Neidorf fit seamlessly in to a tight-knit bike community. Vince Rodarte and Neidorf sat back-to-back at work for years in an office away from the store’s sales floor.
Rodarte, a 43-year-old old father of three kids, said he felt instantly drawn to Neidorf.
They shared a similar sense of humor and creativity. “You could tell there was more to him,” he said. Neidorf connected with people everywhere.
Last summer, the friends worked together as guides at a mountain biking camp in Oakridge in Lane County. They’d sneak in rides after work, or on weekends.“Just knowing him was inspiration enough to try to do more for myself,” Rodarte said.
A few years back, Neidorf took unpaid time from the bike store to shoot a documentary of the Hazelnut Grove homeless community in North Portland. He moved there for the week during the winter.
Ginsberg-Neidorf said her son was always looking to do more – to see and connect more with people. Despite having a full-time job, he’d recently applied – and been accepted – to an unpaid position with Mercy Corps Northwest as a marketing and communications intern. He was to write profiles of small businesses, two or three times a month. He was supposed to start last Tuesday.
At the funeral, his friends and family told stories of a spontaneous soul who was wicked smart. His dad, Scott, recalled a recent trip to Portland and the best day he’d ever had with his son. Kevin had arranged the entire day. They rode a tandem bike down a mountain. They ate Portland food and drank beer.
“He was a man, and he did his life his way,” Scott Neidorf said at the funeral, choking back tears. “And he did what he wanted when he wanted to do it. He lived more in 28 years than I probably will live in 128 years, but I’m going to make an attempt,” he said, “and be a little more like this boy of mine.”
-- Andrew Theen