The Kiwi kayaker who died in an accident on a North Carolina river is being recognised across the world for her massive contribution to the whitewater adventure community.

Maria Noakes represented New Zealand as a member of the national freestyle kayak team for many years before moving to the United States with her husband Nick Williams.

She was paddling the Cheoah River on Saturday with her 12-year-old son Matteo and two of his friends when tragedy struck.

An expert on the water, friends say it was impossible to know for certain what happened - her boat was found pinned against river right and she was found downstream.


Longtime family friend Marc Hunt told the Herald Noakes had left an incredible legacy spending thousands of hours teaching people how to kayak.

Hunt said Noakes, alongside her Texan husband, had found her place paddling in the United States.

"We all found a home, and calling, in the whitewater adventure community in this country."

He described Noakes as a "beautiful soul" and an "extremely talented" athlete.

When Hunt's son died in a kayaking accident, Noakes had gone out of her way to be there for his family - she drove people to the airport as needed and checked in on them regularly.

"Everybody has stories like that about Maria," Hunt said.

"She was always present in special ways, especially in times of need."

Hunt said it was particularly painful thinking of the loss to her family, calling her the "best-mum" to sons Dominique and Matteo.

Kiwi kayaker Maria Noakes, pictured July 2016, died in a tragic river accident on March 3. Photo / Marc Hunt
Kiwi kayaker Maria Noakes, pictured July 2016, died in a tragic river accident on March 3. Photo / Marc Hunt

Friend Laura Farrell said she had heard of Noakes before she really knew her.

"I remember looking up to her and hoping I could be like her, paddle like her."

They became longtime friends but Noakes remained a role model.

"She did it all," Farrell said.

"She was a mum first and foremost, she was a whitewater kayaker right behind that."

Noakes was very active in the Nantahala Racing Club and was quick to volunteer her time for events.

Farrell said she was an expert boater and whatever had happened on Saturday would have been a fluke of some kind.

Noakes would be remembered for her "the size of the smile on her face" and the sheer excitement and passion she showed for whitewater sport, she said.

Another friend Anna Levesque said Noakes loved sharing that passion with others.

They had taught people to paddle together in the past.

"She was always so welcoming," Levesque said.

"She loved paddling with new people and introducing them to rivers."

Noakes was so vibrant and energetic that people always felt really good around her, Levesque said.

"That's why I think she touched so many people."

In all of her sporting efforts Noakes enjoyed pushing herself beyond her limits - a lot of people looked up to her, Levesque said.

She said Noakes was "really proud" of the times she represented New Zealand which included competing in the 2013 Freestyle Kayak World Championships.