As we celebrate the end of a spectacular century of paddling, certain individuals stand out from the crowd. Some are well known as visionaries, innovators, Olympic athletes or legendary explorers, while others have gone quietly about the business of paddling for its own sake, logging thousands of miles for nothing more than the experience itself and some entries in an obscure river journal. Many of you will have heard of these people. One of them may have discovered your favorite river or designed the boat you're sitting in. One of them may have taught you to roll. Some you've likely never heard of at all. But this group shares something in common, something more important than fame: a love of paddling and water, with a lifetime spent discovering both.
Did we miss anyone? Perhaps. And we're sure you'll let us know who it was. But like the rivers themselves, this list will always be changing; growing and evolving and shifting shapes like so many sandy beaches. What we share here is a sampling of those who've made a difference, 100 from the United States alone, whose head, heart and bow were always pointed the right direction and who, without even knowing it, took us along for the ride. The heroes of the next century are already being created. Here's to those who paved the way.
The Awash, Omo, Baro, Blue Nile, Euphrates, Indus, Bio Bio, Zambezi, Yangtze, Tatshenshini. The list goes on and on. Perhaps no other paddler has more big name first descents throughout the world than Sobek founder Richard Bangs. Where Powell, Holmstrom and other pioneers are known for one or two first descents, Bangs has more than 40, in lands as exotic as Ethiopia, New Guinea and Tasmania. And he’s managed to make a career of it. Bangs grew up in Bethesda, Md., taking canoe trips down the Potomac before guiding on the Grand. The international bug bit in 1973 when he went to Ethiopia to notch a first descent of the Awash, a trip that inspired him to co-found Sobek Expeditions. As prolific a writer as heis a paddler, Bangs has authored several books, including Riding the Dragon’s Back, an account of the race to run China’s Yangtze. But perhaps no river trip meant as much to him as his 1996 journey down Ethiopia’s Tekeze, documented in his most recent book, The Lost River. “That trip really closed a loop for me,” says Bangs, of finally paddling the river that eluded him in the ‘70s. It was very emotional to return after 23 years.”
It seems like Gordon Black has been teaching paddling in canoes and kayaks since the invention of water. Long-time head of instruction at Nantahala Outdoor Center, Black serves on the American Canoe Association Instruction Council and Board of Directors. Anyone who has ever worked with him has fond memories of his sense of humor, sparse but clean verbalizations and quick competence. A feared competitor in slalom and down-river, Black, while maintaining his position as one of the most effective instructors on the planet, is also mastering the mysteries of the 11-inch chef's knife, fast becoming one of paddlesport's greatest gourmets.
Until Walt Blackadar, the public’s perception of kayaking was the exciting but genteel sport of slalom. Blackadar was anything but genteel. In 1971, at the ageof 49, he made an astonishing solo journey down Turnback Canyon on Alaska's Alsek River, a feat often compared to the first ascent of Everest. When his Alsek story appeared in Sports Illustrated, it caused a stir that grew to a clamor. Over the next several years, the flamboyant doctor took on North America's biggest whitewater, seen by millions on ABC's American Sportsman–and even in a feature length movie. Old films of Blackadar battling mammoth waves, towering and crashing over his fragile fiberglass kayak still take one's breath away. Blackadar died in 1978 on the South Fork of the Payette River in Idaho.
"I never ran a boat," says David Brower. " I was always a passenger." But most rafting passengers don't change the course of river conservation, as Brower did in 1953. At the time, the Bureau of Reclamation was threaten-ing to build two dams on the Green River in Dinosaur National Monu-ment. As executive director of the Sierra Club, Brower mounted a fierce campaign, using rafting trips, films, magazine articles, and a book (This is Dinosaur) that he sent to every member of Congress. In 1956, Congress voted the dams down. In 1967, Brower used the same strategy to help prevent the damming of the Colorado in Grand Canyon. He's also helped defeat dams in Alaska and Quebec and, at age 87, remains a passionate champion of free-flowing water.
Though well known as the author of several popular river guidebooks, including California Whitewater, Western Whitewater, and, most recently, World Whitewater, Cassady's biggest contrib-ution to paddling may have come in 1983, when he invented the self-bailing raft for SOTAR. These rafts changed the sport, opening up new possibilities for legions of river runners. One of few river rats to progress from kayaking to rafting, Cassady started taking rafts to "kayak only" Northern California rivers in the late '70s. In 1980, he went to work for outfitter Bill McGinnis and found himself testing many California rivers for commercial viability. "I had every river runner's dream job," Cassady says. "I was put in charge of river exploration and got paid to do it."
Known as every paddler's River Mom, Marge Cline started paddling in 1949 in a dugout canoe, and has been teaching kayaking and canoeing ever since. Cline has started tens of thousands of paddlers on their way to a lifetime of fun through a program offered by the Chicago Whitewater Association, and still finds time to organize "Paddle in the Park" in suburban Chicago, judge film festivals and teach throughout the country. Cline's love of paddling was illustrated this spring when, suffering chest pains, she drove herself to the hospital. After angioplastic surgery, she rested a day and was paddling the next afternoon.
If an award was ever given for unsung paddling heros, it could well go to the modest Harold Deal, 51, of Riverton, Penn. An 18-time Open Canoe National Champion, Deal is largely credited with inventing “Freestyle” canoeing, where participants paddle choreographed routines to music. The discipline even has a stroke named after him, the Hiding Harold. He is also an accomplished designer, inventing such canoes as the Crossfire (before Dagger used the name for a kayak), and the Dragonfly and Shaman. He also designed a race paddle for Sawyer Paddles and Oars. Instruction also takes up a good chunk of his resume, with many of his techniques employed by such canoe icons as Tom Foster and Bob Foote. In his canoeing instructional video, producer Kent Ford even thanks Deal for his contributions with an end credit. “He’s very unassuming,” says friend John Rako. “Most people don’t even know about him.”
Frank Dodge was a boatman for the U.S. Geological Surveys in Utah and Arizona the 1930s and later worked as a freelance boatman for just about everyone doing work in the area. He had a reputation as a very salty character, as evidenced by a letter of apology he wrote to Norm Nevills in the late '30s. Nevills had come to visit Dodge at Lee's Ferry: "Sorry I set the dogs on you when you stopped by, Norm, but I was drinking homemade fig wine and that always makes me mean."
John Dowd had already earned himself a reputation as an extraordinary paddler before founding Sea Kayaker magazine in 1984. He paddled from Singapore to Java in 1970, hit 1,100 miles of South American coastline for National Geographic in 1973, and paddled across the Caribbean twice, most recently in 1977 when he led a group of four on a 2,000-mile trip from Venezuela to Florida. "That was quite an epic," he says. "It was very physically demanding, with lots of close calls. "A former instructor for Outward Bound, Dowd also founded the Trade Association of Sea Kayaking and once worked as a commercial scuba diver for oil rigs in the North Sea.
As she celebrates the tenth anni-versary of Kiwi Kayaks, company founder Ann Dwyer must be rather flattered. "At first people just thought my boats were little toys, not real kayaks," she says. "But many competitors have since copied the design so I must have been onto something." Dwyer, now 74, has always prided herself in being an innovator. She is generally credited with conceiving the idea of short, semi-decked, open-cockpit kayaks–an industry that has grown to over 350,000 users. "My boats are so user-friendly," she says. "They allow you to begin at kindergarten and continue through grad school."
The concept of rafting with Russians seemed a pretty outrageous idea in 1987, a time when relations between the two nations weren't exactly chummy. But Jib Ellison had a vision, one that placed Americans and Russians together in boats at Siberia's Chuya Raft Rally in an attempt to work toward peace. "It was the little piece I could contribute to prevent the holocaust," says Ellison of founding Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork). Taking place at a different country every two years (including Russia, Costa Rica, the U.S. and Turkey), the project soon grew to bridge barriers between other nations as well, with more than 700 paddlers participating from countries all over the world. As well as fostering environmental awareness, participants notched more than 10 first descents in the culture-sharing process.
As coach of the U.S. slalom team from 1977-'92, Bethesda, Md.'s Bill Endicott, 54, has had more influence on the U.S. slalom scene than any other person in the world. A successful competitor in his own right, with C-2 appearances in the 1971 and '73 World Championships and a ninth-place showing in the '71 C-2 Wildwater Championships, it is his coaching that remains his legacy. In his 15 years at the helm of the U.S. Canoe & Kayak Team, Endicott coached athletes who won 57 medals in World Cup, World Championship and Olympic competition, 27 of them gold. Never one to steal the limelight, he naturally downplays his contributions: "We just started getting athletes who started at a really young age and who could train year-round," he says.
While founding Slickrock Adventures in 1977, Moab, Utah's Cully Erdman, 48, was also busy opening up Mexico to paddling by exploring and kayaking more than a dozen runs throughout the country, including the postcard-perfect Agua Azul and Jatate. A veteran river explorer who has participated in films for National Geographic Explorer and American Sportsman, one of Erdman's crowning moments came in 1979 with a first descent of Nepal's Arun River, again for American Sportsman. "Although the sport's changed entirely, there are still people doing exploratory river runs," he says. "That's my favorite part of the sport."
Most paddlers met Bob Foote in 1981 when he became one of the first people to run the Grand Canyon in an open canoe. His articles on rolling and other paddling techniques also helped him earn a name in the sport, as did his design skills (the Dagger Genesis and two Loon models from Navaro Canoe Company are his creations). He's designed whitewater and flatwater canoes, paddles and accessories, and continues to teach, write and lead Central and South American adventures while maintaining his position as one of the world's premier paddlers. His videos, including Open Canoeing the Grand Canyon, are legendary among the big water canoe crowd.
Kent Ford's paddling career began from his home in Washington, D.C., as a C-1 Slalom racer. He won his first National Championship title and placed seventh in his first World Championships in 1977. For the next 10 years he would call Bryson City, N.C., home, allowing him to compete while working as Head of Instruction at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. It was this transition from competitor to instructor that solidified Ford's place in the history of paddlesports. Ford's company, Durango, Colo.-based Performance Video, is now one of the world's top producers of instructional books and videos. "I've been able to gather expertise from across the industry,” he says, “looking for the positives in different people's viewpoints.”
Tom Foster, a former outdoor recreation instructor at Greenfield College, left academia to found a tech- nical paddling school called the Outdoor Center of New England. Long-time Chair of the American Canoe Association's National Instruc- tion Committee, Foster developed the theory-based presentation of paddling, whose emphasis on biomech-anics helped reshape modern paddling. Foster's insistence on high standards with in-service training honed instructor corps throughout the country. Co-author of Catch Every Eddy, Surf Every Wave, Foster designs OC1s and leads whitewater trips in Costa Rica. A master chef, Foster also brings the precision of his stroke to the cutting board.
A blacksmith who loves paddling, Ralph Frese operates a smithy and a specialty canoe shop in Chicago, just a few hundred yards from where Joliet must have passed on his way down the Mississippi in 1673. Frese also manufac-tures composite re-creations of Voyageur canoes and has designed a series of modern tripping canoes. He is a serious historian of his sport, with 4,000 book titles and a collection of over 100 canoes. His ambition is to live long enough to read all his books. Frese says he will donate his accumulations to the Chicago Maritime Museum to initiate a national canoe and kayak collection. Frese ushered in the new canoeing millennium leading a New Year's Day paddle on the upper Chicago River.
Next time you row backwards and ferry upstream above a big rapid, you can thank Nathaniel Galloway. It was Galloway who first applied the principle of facing the danger, and he was the first to run rapids confidently instead of paddling them with fear. Contrary to the accepted practice of the time, he faced his boat downstream, using the oars to position himself for the best run. Galloway also designed his own boats, light skiffs about 14 feet long, flat-bottomed, with a pronounced curve fore and aft. The Galloway boat became the standard river craft until the advent of inflatable rafts at the end of World War II. A friend once remarked that all Galloway needed to successfully run a boat was "a heavy dew."
On Oct. 23, 1938, Stewart Gardiner took a folding kayak bought from a catalog and put in at Hideout Flat on the Green River. He had no problems with Ashley Falls, but just below Red Creek Rapid he lost his spare paddle, which would come back to haunt him. In Whirlpool Canyon, Gardiner capsized on a sleeper rock, lost his paddle, and came close to drowning when he discovered that his lifejacket was defective and wouldn't keep him afloat. He carved a new paddle out of driftwood and made his way out of the canyons without further trouble. The next year, Gardiner made a folding boat trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
Long-distance sea-kayaker Ed Gillet has no concept of starting slow. "The first time I paddled a kayak I went 600 miles from San Felipe to La Paz," he says. A year later Gillet paddled solo from Glacier Bay, Alaska, to Seattle, following that jaunt with a tour from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas and that one with a 4,500-mile journey along the South American coastline. An experienced sailor, Gillet credits his knowledge of open water navigation skills for helping him complete a 1987 63-day journey from Monterey, Calif., to Hawaii, during which he ran out of food and subsisted on toothpaste. Why the long trips? "I was never trying to make a mark," Gillet says from his San Diego home. "I just have a high tolerance for boredom and suffering."
Alexander "Zee" Grant
In 1941, Alexander "Zee" Grant, joined Norm Nevills' expedition and became the first person to paddle a kayak through the Grand Canyon. Grant's Escalante boat was a larger version of the standard folding kayak avail-able at the time. For flotation, he stuffed the inside of the kayak with brightly colored beachballs. Grant miscalculated in Badger, the first major rapid in the Grand Canyon, and was thrown from his kayak. But he caught up, climbed aboard, and paddled through the tailwaves sitting backwards on top of the overturned boat. Grant later went on to help found the American Whitewater Affiliation and run early descents on many other American rivers.
During high school in the late '60s, Sheri Griffith and her brother started a rafting business in Steamboat Springs, Colo., exploring such now-famous waterways as Gore Canyon and the Arkansas. In 1971, she moved to Moab, Utah, and founded Sheri Griffith River Expeditions, where she has spent the past 29 years. "The one-day trips weren't doing it for me," Griffith says. "I wanted to make a difference in the world–to take people out and enhance their lives." In the mid '80s Griffith was elected the first woman president of the Western River Guides Association, where she helped create America Outdoors, giving the guiding community from East and West a common voice in Washington.
Bus, Ted & Don Hatch
Bus Hatch and Frank Swain, cousins in Vernal, Utah, got the idea of running rivers from the great river runner Nathaniel Galloway's son Parley, whom the Sheriff had locked in the county jail. Swain sprung Galloway from jail to take them river running, only to have him skip town. No matter. Hatch and Swain built boats anyway and, with brothers Ted and Don, as well as other family members and friends, learned to run rivers throughout the West. When the Sierra Club went looking for someone to take groups through dam-endangered Echo Park in the 1950s, they found Bus Hatch. The resulting trips formed the basis of Hatch River Expeditions and fueled the country's fledgling river rafting business.
Dave and Judy Harrison
As founders of Canoe and Kayak magazine, Dave and Judy Harrison had the vision for an industry publication before there was even an industry. Both had years of paddling experience before buying Canoe in 1973 and moving from Boston to Seattle to follow their dreams. In addition to publishing the oldest magazine in the business before selling it in 1998, the Harrisons gave graciously of their time and knowledge to help the industry grow as a whole. They were involved in numerous projects and influenced almost every aspect of paddlesports, from conservation efforts to promotional projects, in order to help the sport grow into what it has become today.
Bart Hauthaway was a world-class slalom competitor in the ‘60s and such a student of the sport he later became the U.S. Olympic Coach in the same event. He won several national championships in canoe sailing, and convinced Old Town Canoe to manufacture variations of the Adirondack pack canoe he developed. Short, open-topped and paddled with a double paddle, Hauthaway’s pack canoes started the movement towards the open-cockpit recreational kayaks growing today’s industry.
Jim Henry’s Mad River Malecite won prizes as an art object. Thirty years later, as part of Confluence’s Mad River Canoe line, it’s on everyone’s list of top 10 canoes of all time. Henry won races, took trips to far northern rivers, wrote about them and took compelling photographs. He designed and molded the first Royalex touring canoes and was the first laminator to use Kevlar. Racer, tripper, designer, photo-grapher and engineer, Henry started Mad River Canoe in a garage in ‘72 and was the country’s second largest canoe builder within a decade.
Bill Hoffman and John Achilich
Bill Hoffman, on vacation from building fighter aircraft during World War II, took a canoe trip in the Adirondacks in the summer of 1944. Finding wood and canvas canoes fragile and heavy, and knowing how to stretch form shapes into alum-inum, he founded Grumman Canoe. Designed by engineer John Achilich, Grumman placed six models in production by the end of the War. Two mergers and 600,000 canoes later, employee-owned Marathon Canoes are still the staple of the outfitting trade. Hoffman and Achilich influenced canoeing in the last half of the twentieth century like few others by introducing light, rugged boats at an easily affordable price.
With as many as 70 first descents in the Sierras, Chile, British Columbia, Mexico and Costa Rica, California's Lars Holbek, 41, has pioneered more waterways than perhaps any other kayaker. Starting his exploits in 1978 with Richard Montgomery and Chuck Stanley, and continuing full swing until 1986, he has paddled enough new rivers to write a book, which he has with the third edition of Whitewater Guide to California and a recent guidebook on Chile. And he is still at it. This year alone he notched two more first descents within two hours of his home in Coloma, Calif. "I've dabbled in the sport's other disciplines," he says, "but the first-descent, cutting-edge scene is what I like most."
In November of 1937, Buzz Holmstrom, an unknown service station attendant from the tiny logging town of Coquille, Ore., made headlines across the country by navigating over a thousand miles of the rapid-strewn Green and Colorado Rivers in a boat he designed and built himself. He spent the previous three years designing and building whitewater boats in which he soloed the Rogue and Salmon rivers. How he came to have the boatbuilding or river running skills, or even the desire to do such things, remains unclear. His unexplainable death at 37 intensifies his mystery.
After a few seasons in the Grand Canyon in the early '70s, Skip Horner set out to see the world's rivers and mountains. He joined Sobek for the first complete descent of the Bio Bio in 1979, and followed that with first descents of the Zambezi, Coruh, Yangtze, Yarkand and Gilgit-Indus, plus others in New Guinea, Madagascar, Nepal, India and elsewhere. "Rich Bangs and John Yost always inspired me with their energy and creativity," Horner says, "but they always left the serious rowing to us." When Horner moved on to mountain-eering, he became the first person to guide the "Seven Summits"–the highest peak on each continent.
With 16 books in print and hundreds of articles penned, Cliff Jacobson is the most published paddling author of the twentieth century. He is also an accomplished wilderness canoe guide, leading trips to northern rivers for the Science Museum of Minnesota. Jacobson's interest and persistence were major factors in the re-development of the solo open canoe. Jacobson teaches Environmental Science to middle school students and has developed programs on water quality, wilderness meals and wilderness experience for challenged youth. All are used in middle schools nationally. A popular speaker at paddling events around the world, Jacobson puts on stellar shows while gently promoting "Leave No Trace" camping.
Gene Jensen is largely responsible for a revolution in the way recreational canoes were designed. What Jensen did was take the skills he'd learned designing marathon racers and apply them to the average family touring canoe, making paddling easier for everyone. "Nobody wants to take two strokes to go someplace they can go in one," he says. "Experimentation is the key when it comes to design. You have to keep an open mind." Jensen not only brought a new sophis-tication to recreational canoes, he's also the inven-tor of the bent shaft paddle.
Long-time competitor Bunny Johns has won her share of medals and races over the years, including the 1981 mixed doubles competition at the Wildwater World Championships with partner Mike Hipshire. But she still feels her strongest asset is teaching. "It was a career highlight for me when I became good enough to teach and it is still a thrill for me to help others achieve their paddling goals," she says. As a long-time leader and current president of North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center, Johns has had a strong influence on thousands of paddlers and was one of the lead consultants for the '96 Olympics on the Ocoee.
The year was 1938–Orson Wells was scaring the country with his Martian invasion dramatization and Tom Johnson was building canoes. Johnson went on to make the first fiberglass canoe, in 1942, and design the first rotomolded plastic kayak, the "River Chaser," for Hollow- form in 1974. The next year he started whitewater racing and went on to win national championships in K-1, OC-2 and C-2 Masters slalom. Despite his success as a designer and racer, Johnson lists his coaching accomplishments as some of his greatest achievements. Now 81, Johnson still paddles and instructs on a regular basis. "Had a lesson this morning," he said in October. "It was great being out there."
Called the "Jon Lugbill" of open canoeing, John "Kaz" Kazimierczyk came on the open canoe slalom racing scene in 1981. By 1989, he was Open Canoe National Champion and other than 1991 (when it went to friendly rival Kent Ford), he has dominated the event, winning it 10 times. In addition to slalom, he is a three-time Downriver National Champion and has won a whopping 68 national titles. Now living in Weare, N.H., with his wife, Linda (a well known instructor in her own right), he owns Millbrook Boats and is responsible for designing and building the majority of the hottest slalom open canoes in today's market.
Playing the stunt double for Burt Reynolds in Deliverance would garner anyone inclusion in a listing of Paddlers of the Century. But Nantahala Outdoor Center founder Payson Kennedy has laurels that go far beyond Deliverance. Kennedy began his paddling career about as far away from his current base as he could be without leaving the country. He was stationed in Washington State in the 1950s where he bought a folding kayak and began hitting countless waterways in the Northwest. He founded NOC at its present site in North Carolina in 1972 with Horace Holden, at which time it was a combination motel, restaurant, store and outfitting business. A couple years later Kennedy started racing, eventually winning the national championship in C-2 six times between '74 and '84. NOC now employees more than 400 people, but Kennedy still gets out on occasion to guide a trip.
A former freestyle skier and rock band drummer, Peter Kennedy has dedicated his life to teaching kids to achieve top internat-ional levels in slalom, rodeo and extreme kayaking. Develop-ing the "Quadrant Theory" of teaching kayaking to kids, Kennedy founded Woodstock, Vt.'s Adventure Quest, a top residential summer, primary and secondary school emphasizing outdoor adventure. Kennedy also is a junior Olympic Coach for USACK and serves on the American Canoe Association Instruction Council.
As a teenager with a fondness for paddling, Walter Kirschbaum was drafted into the German military at age 15, only to be captured by the Russian army and released six years later in 1950. He quickly started paddling again, winning the slalom World Championships in K-1 in 1955. Moving to the U.S. in 1957 and teaching kayaking for the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Colo., he turned his attention to the region's first descents, most of which he ran in homemade boats. "His goal was to run every significant piece of whitewater in the Colorado drainage," says guidebook author Fletcher Anderson. He did a good job. In 1959, he became the first person to run the Colorado's Cataract Canyon without portaging, and in 1960 he accomplished the same feat on the Grand Canyon. Modern-day paddlers witness his namesake on Kirschbaum rapid of the Colorado's Gore Canyon, which he notched the first descent of in 1965. He came to a tragic end when he drowned in his bathtub in New Mexico in 1969.
Emery and Ellsworth Kolb
In 1911, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, photographers based on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, embarked on a novel, some would say hairball, adventure. They bought two boats and began retracing John Wesley Powell's trip down the Green and Colorado, taking photographs and making movies as they went. Although neither knew a thing about whitewater when they began, their fortitude, quickness, and adaptability molded them into skilled river runners by voyage end. Emery showed their movie at the South Rim four times a day until he died at the age of 96–the longest running movie of all time.
Verlen Kruger is the world record holder for long distance paddling, with an excess of 88,000 miles and more than 40 million paddle strokes under his belt. That, of course, includes his 21,000-mile, three-year, top-to-bottom world canoe paddle at the age of 64, and a 28,000-mile paddle across North America. With those kinds of numbers you might expect a paddling prodigy, but Kruger didn't even set foot in a canoe until he was 41. "It was a 17-foot Grumman," says Kruger, on pace to log 100,000 miles in a canoe by the time he turns 80. "And it just grabbed me. From that point on my lifelong passion was canoeing." Today, the Lansing, Mich.-based paddling legend spends most of his time building custom canoes and on shorter trips–including a recent 400-mile paddle in Alaska.
By 1964 Howie LaBrant was a regular on the Chicago paddling circuit, winning every leg of the 10-day, 450-mile race from Lake Itasca to Minneapolis in a plywood canoe–high-kneeling the whole way. The same year he helped found the United States Canoe Association. His essay "The Principles of Canoe Design," published in the 1962 Whitewater Journal, was the beginning of modern, performance canoeing. LaBrant designed the Canadian for Chicagoland Canoe Base and the legendary Viper and Venom for Moore Canoe. A great athlete and visionary designer who influenced Lynn Tuttle, Ralph Frese, Pat Moore and David Yost, he carried his passion with him to the bitter end, dying of a heart attack while delivering canoes.
One of the finest expeditionary paddlers in the country, Rob Lesser is also known as an outstanding ambassador of the sport and a tireless advocate of free-flowing rivers. Lesser organized the first descent of Canada's Grand Canyon of the Stikine in 1981, a year after helping organize the Payette Rodeo–generally considered, along with the Stanley, Idaho, rodeo in the late '70s–to be the genesis of the modern freestyle circuit. Lesser worked for years as a sales rep for Perception kayaks, helping create the modern retail trade of paddlesports. "My time in Alaska really defined the type of river-runner I became," Lesser says. "My work with Perception certainly had a larger impact on the sport, but the Stikine trip, from a mental standpoint, is probably my biggest accomplishment.”
Martin Litton rowed his first wooden boat through the Grand Canyon in 1955. It was Litton who adapted the Oregon Drift Boat to big water, enlarging it, decking it over, and creating the commodious Grand Canyon Dory. Litton has been a tireless crusader for the canyons, mountains, rivers and forests of the West. As a director of the Sierra Club, it was Litton’s fiery speech that helped prevent two planned dams in the Grand Canyon. In 1999, Litton once again broke his own record as the oldest person to ever navigate the Grand. At 82 he’s still rowing his dory and planning his next trip. Asked why he prefers the rigid boat, he replies: “If you have to ask, you’ll never understand.”
One of the foremost innovators of instruction for kids, Tom Long has been teaching children to kayak for more than 20 years. He starting kayaking in Southern California and paddled throughout the West before settling in Idaho and founding Cascade Raft and Kayak School. A talented guide and businessman, Long is known for what he brought to instruction, especially for kids. "I combined river running skills and my desire to teach, with early childhood education and slalom technique," Long says. "When my kids were young (Long has three boys, Kenneth, Chad and Tren, all excellent paddlers), people used to say ‘You can’t teach kids to kayak, it’s impossible.’ Now there’s kids’ boats, kids’ life jackets, kids’ everything."
Twenty years ago, when martial law was declared in his native Poland, Yurek Majcherczyk spent over a year and a half on a personal river-running odyssey with friends
Ask anyone who started kayaking in the '70s or '80s what their first boat was, and Perception will invariably come up in the answer followed by such boat names as the Mirage and Dancer. Founding his company in 1976 in a garage, 22-year company president Bill Masters, 49, is indirectly responsible for getting more people involved in the sport than any-one else in the world. In keeping with his track record, he can't resist an analogy to paddling as he moves on to other ventures after selling the company in 1998. "Paddlesports helped mold who I am," he says. "It's been a good ride and I've enjoyed it...now I'm just going out to run another river."
Known for his pioneering first descent of the Potomac River's Great Falls in 1975, as well as several first descents in the Himalayas, former U.S. Kayak Team member Tom McEwan, 53, is as hard core as paddlers come. "He knows no other life," says Todd Balf, a writer for Men's Journal who covered McEwan's ill-fated first descent down Tibet's TsangPo Gorge in 1998. A paddling instructor in the Washington, D.C., area since 1972–most recently with the Calleva School of paddling–McEwan, the national wildwater champion in 1973, has influenced such modern-day paddlers as Andy Bridge, John Weld, Joe Jacobi, Norm Bellingham and Elliot Weintraub. And paddling runs in the family. His younger brother, Jamie, won the bronze at the 1972 Olympics in C-1, and son Andrew is the number one ranked wildwater paddler in the country.
When Bill McGinnis wrote Whitewater Rafting in 1975–the same year he founded his rafting company, Whitewater Voyages–the sport, as a commercial endeavor, was still in its infancy. When his second book, The Guide's Guide was published in 1981, it helped shape the way boatmen look at a trip and a lifestyle. McGinnis learned to guide in 1965 at the age of 16, and though he has a number of first descents and pioneering raft runs in California to his credit, McGinnis says it is this influence on guiding that he is most proud of. "I helped foster a style of guiding that got everyone involved," he says. "It made everyone a component of the overall trip."
Norm Nevills got his start river running when he rowed his bride down the San Juan River in a modified horse trough. In the years that followed, he designed and built plywood punts and ran hundreds of commercial trips down the San Juan and through Glen Canyon on the Colorado. What he is best known for, however, are his Grand Canyon trips. From his first trip in 1938 until his untimely death in 1949, Nevills was the unquestioned king of commercial river running. His effervescent personality and hunger for publicity brought him renown in the West, yet it was that same charisma that finally repelled some of his most ardent admirers. To this day, few have a neutral opinion of Norm Nevills.
Sick of getting pounded by the Malibu coast on his surfboard, Tim Niemier, now 48, came up with an invention that changed the sport. By putting depressions in a surfboard and developing perhaps the world's first sit-on-top kayak in the early '70s, Niemier, founder of Ocean Kayak, helped introduce kayaking to the recreational masses. "There wasn't a lightbulb that clicked on or anything," he says. "I was just sick of getting hit over the head with waves." By 1986, he had built more than 1,200 such boats out of fiberglass before coming up with a rotomolded version. Ever the tinkerer, he operated the oven with his garage door opener.
Nobody has put pen to paper more eloquently to protect our waterways than Tim Palmer. Author of 10 books on river conservation, Palmer first fell in love with rivers as a 12-year-old on the Youghiogheny and since then has spent most of his life fighting for their protection. His first big battle was against a proposed dam on California's Stanislaus in the early '80s. The fight was lost and Palmer says, "I came out with a resolve not to let it happen again." Winner of the Lifetime Achievement award from American Rivers in 1988, Palmer sits on the Board of Trustees for the Portland, Ore.-based River Network.
One of few paddlers to move from canoeing to kayaking and remain competitive, Roger Paris (pronounced "Rogét Pear-ree") placed second in C-2 with partner Claude Neveu at the 1949 World Championships and took first in 1951 and '55, paddling for France. After moving to the U.S. and settling down in Carbondale, Colo., in the early '60s, Paris (admitting "he's now over 60,") switched to kayaking, competing for the U.S. at the World Champion-ships in 1965 and winning three U.S. nationals. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the sport, however, is in helping others as a long-time instructor for the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. "He's famous for teaching by the school of hard knocks," says friend Kent Ford. "He influenced quite a few people who then moved on to share their knowledge in other parts of the country."
Joe Pulliam and Steve Scarborough
When Dagger was founded in 1988, Joe Pulliam was working at Perception and Steve Scarborough was designing paddles for his own company, Dagger Paddles. Together the two led a resurgence in innovation that still defines Dagger today. Placing an emphasis on research, development and new design tech-nology has helped the two innovators build Dagger into one of the fastest growing companies in the paddlesports industry. "We used to play hooky to go paddling," says Pulliam, who bought his first canoe at age 14. Pulliam went on to build his first canoe at age 17, which someone stole from his backyard. "It was the ugliest boat we ever made," he says. "Everyone joked about why some-one would want to steal it."
When Royal Robbins was diagnosed with arthritis in the mid-'70s, he took up kayaking and attacked it with the same vengeance that earned him fame as a climber. At an age when many are looking to retire, Robbins switched from rocks to rivers, eventually completing over 30 first descents in California and Chile. From 1980 to 1984, Robbins scored first descents on several major Sierra Nevada waterways, including the San Joaquin, South Fork and Upper Kern, Middle Fork of the Kings, and Yosemite's Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Robbins was also one of the first Americans to raft and kayak Siberia's Bashkaus River in 1988.
In between stints as editor of Wilderness Camping, Canoesport Journal and Paddler, Harry Roberts served as marketing head for Hyperform and Sawyer. He held his editorships as a community trust, nurturing many new writers, including Cliff Jacobson. Roberts was a renaissance man in a time of specialists: an athlete, a man of letters, a builder and salesman, a family man and a community man. A spellbinding speaker and fixture at paddlesports events nationwide, he promoted a marathon-based paddling style he termed Touring Technique. The industry lost a leader with his untimely death in 1992.
Ralph Sawyer dominated early marathon racing. He was so unbeatable in the Ausable Marathon in upper Michigan it was assumed he had secret portages on the oxbows. Sawyer Canoe, started in 1957, was one of the first manufacturers of cloth laminated, high performance canoes. He designed and built successful recreational and race canoes before moving to Oregon's Rogue River in 1967. Sawyer crafted fiberglass-reinforced wooden canoe paddles and later devel-oped laminated rowing oars for rafts that were more appropriate to the Rogue. An innovator in competition and canoe paddle and oar building, Sawyer now lives on a sailboat in Anacortes, Wash.
Jim Slade has probably logged more exploratory miles than any human alive, and he's still going. In the early '70s he rafted Mexico's Rio Grande de Santiago, and found himself being shot at by bandits. It was the beginning of a lifetime of exotic rafting adventures. Soon afterwards he joined Sobek, and the ill-fated Baro Expedition in Ethiopia. While most other team members abandoned the trip after a drowning, Slade showed his mettle and kept going. He emerged a leader in a field of independent souls, and has led scores of expeditions since. His knack for detailed planning and logistics, quick thinking, and unbridled passion for wild rivers, has made him a legend in whitewater rafting.
Jeff and Jim Snyder
Those fancy, new-school rodeo moves you see practiced in local playspots owe themselves to the antics of Maryland's Jim, 46, and Jeff, 38, Snyder, affectionately dubbed the Fathers of Squirt Boating. Although neither can remember when they started paddling ("All I remember is having to sit on a telephone book to see over the cockpit," says Jeff), both are responsible for revolutionizing paddling with their antics on the squirt scene: Jim as a designer of countless boats and author of The Squirt Book; and Jeff as his primary test pilot. "I think I helped influence the sport by pushing the limits," says Jeff, who has about 10 first descents to his credit. "Some runs I did people thought were crazy...some were fun and some even I'm left scratching my head at."
Chris "Spe" Spelius, 47, has a 25-year river resume that includes stints as a rodeo competitor, kayak designer, Olympian and 10-year instructor for the Nantahala Outdoor Center. He also holds the prestigious, although illegal, first descent of the Niagara Gorge in 1976. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame, however, is as an all-around ambassador for the sport, which he accomplishes through his kayak outfitting company on Chile's Rio Futaleafu and by guest appearances through sponsor Dagger at paddling events throughout the country.
As founder of Stohlquist Water Ware, Jim Stohlquist sounds like just another success story in the paddlesports industry. But factor in that he built his first folding boat at the age of 15, his first fiberglass kayak at the age of 17, and that he founded Colorado Kayak Supply to help pay his way through college. Also factor in that he continued to build boats throughout the early '70s, fueling Colorado's early whitewater craze, and that he notched several first descents that are now considered classics, and you start to see that he isn't just your regular businessman. Stohlquist is also the author of Colorado Rivers and Creeks, a book he wrote in the ‘70s after gathering years of hands-on experience.
When Hawaii's Audrey Sutherland flew over the coast-line of Molokai in 1967, she decided she wanted to see the rugged 3,400-ft. cliffs of the island up close. After a couple exploratory swimming trips, she bought an inflatable six-foot canoe and began her paddling career. Over 8,000 paddling miles later, Sutherland is still at it, and considers any trip less than 300 miles to be short. Author of Paddling Hawaii, Sutherland has also put in many of her miles in Alaska, usually solo. "I'm like the whales," she says. "I spend the winter in Hawaii and the summer in Alaska."
Joy Ungritch was a pre-eminent woman river explorer, who partici-pated in such Sobek first descents as Pakistan's Indus and Africa's Zambezi rivers. Her fortitute, as remembered by Sobek founder Richard Bangs, showed itself on the Indus when the raft they were in got stuck in a huge hydraulic. "Though she was a tiny woman, she put so much energy and heft into the effort to get us out that I think she saved our lives," he says. Utah's Ungritch went on to run her own expeditions, including a first all-woman's descent of the Luangua River in Zambia, before passing away four years ago. "She was an extraordinary spirit and loved rivers to her core," says Bangs.
Before selling the company in 1994, Charlie Walbridge operated Wildwater Design in suburban Philadelphia, an industry leader in outfitting design. During that time, he also served on the Board of American Whitewater (AW) and the American Canoe Association (ACA), and was integral to each organization's instructional programs. A renowned safety expert, Walbridge co-authored Whitewater Rescue, The River Safety Anthology, helped develop the ACA's Swiftwater Rescue Program, and continues to compile AW's annual Accident Overview Report, helping people learn from other's mistakes. If you trust your paddling partners to help when needed, thank Walbridge.
With a burning desire to be the first to run China's Yangtze River, Ken Warren made two trips to the famed Asian waterway. The last one, in 1986, ended in mutiny after the controversial death of the expedition photographer. Warren took criticism from many for his leadership tactics and his ego, but there's no discounting his accomplishments. "Ken was an incredibly strong and incredibly determined boatman," says Oregon's Andy Griffith, who joined Warren on the first descent of India's Ganges River in 1977, which was filmed for American Sportsman. "And he was as good as anyone in the world when he was running rivers." Warren died of a heart attack in 1989 while mowing his lawn.
When Hollywood needs a paddling scene, or when organizations like the X Games need rigging advice, the first phone calls placed are to Idaho's John Wasson. The main safety and rigging expert for such films as A River Runs Through It and The River Wild, Wasson, 49, got his start rafting in Colorado in 1969. After switching to kayaking and running the classics of Colorado and Idaho, in 1977 he got invited on a 32-day self-support trip down Peru's Maraòon. "That's what got me hooked on paddling in wild, exotic places," he says. A year later, he joined such expedition paddlers as Matt Gaines, Cully Erdman and Rob Lesser for a film project with American Sportsman on the Yampa River's Cross Mountain Canyon, which cemented his love affair with films and floating.
A former Los Angeles schoolteacher, George Wendt spent summers on the Grand Canyon and secured one of the Grand's early commercial permits. After hearing about a river up north called the Stanislaus, he and his wife moved to Angels Camp, Calif., and founded Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (O.A.R.S.). The company ran more than 3,000 people down the "Stan" each summer until it was buried under New Melones Reservior in the early '80s. Wendt was convinced the dam went in because not enough people had seen the beauty of the river, so he swore he'd show people other important rivers, opening up commercial rafting in many places he felt were important to protect.
The Grand Canyon's most famous raft guide, Georgie White–also known as Georgie Clark–began running the Grand in 1944, eventually making more than 200 trips down the Big Ditch. Georgie was founder of the "wave-buster," a 35-person raft she often guided in her famous leopard-skin bikini. "Georgie was a tough bird," says Ted Hatch, owner of the Grand Canyon division of Hatch Expeditions. "She was one-of-a-kind." Hatch recalls one time in the early '60s when he stole one of Georgie's favorite campsites only to get mooned by all 35 of her passengers. Georgie swam more than 80 miles through the Grand Canyon in 1945, wearing little more than a life jacket. She sold her rafting company just six months before her death on May 12, 1992, ending a career that spanned three and a half decades.
"I don't know when I started paddling but it was before I was 10 years old," says canoe builder and open-boat pioneer Nolan Whitesell. Whitesell, now 46, lives on North Carolina's Nantahala River where he builds paddles and whitewater canoes and gives private instruction. Besides claiming some of the hairiest open-boat first descents in the country, Whitesell has contributed in other ways to the paddling world. "I believe I'm known for having opened up design ideas in canoes and making them playboats," he says. "Before that, canoes were used only for transportation and racing."
If Jimmy Snyder is the father of squirtboating, then Jesse Whittemore is the grandfather. Whittemore brought about a revolution in boat design and technique that inspired not only squirtboats, but playboating in general. He is also a pioneer in the construction and use of laminates such as Kevlar in fiberglass boats. "He's an amazing craftsman," says Mountain Surf founder and long-time friend John Mason. "Jesse is the link between the racing world of boating and the recreation world of boating. You just learn so much every time you paddle with him."
Alfred who? Though long forgotten in contemporary paddling circles, Alfred Wickett is largely responsible for the first commercially produced canvas-covered canoe. As the first designer, chief builder and operations manager for Old Town Canoe from 1900 to 1914, Wickett helped build both a company and an industry. After leaving Old Town, Wickett founded the Penobscot Canoe Company and, in 1922, moved to St. Louis to open the St. Louis Boat and Canoe Company. Using his 35 years of canoe building experience, Wickett invented the Arrowhead Canoe, one of the most popular models of the time. Wickett died in 1943 and his gravestone in Kirkwood, Missouri, bears a carving of a canoe.
Known to paddlers everywhere as DY, David Yost designed his first racing canoe, the Minuteman, in 1973, and was soon designing for Sawyer. Deals with Tubbs, Curtis, Loon Works, Perception, Swift and Bell Canoe followed. Fifty-six hulls reaching production by seven manufacturers make Yost the century's most prolific designer of human-powered watercraft. A student of historical boats and the effect of materials on design, Yost continues to design for construction in wood strip, wood and fabric, laminated plastic, vacuum forming and rotomolding. Yost's designs emphasize seakindlyness and user-comfort over speed. He describes his work as an out-of-hand hobby of designing hulls for friends.
John Yost was involved in most of the great first descents of the '70s and '80s, including the Zambezi, the Indus, the Euphrates and the Yangtze. Yet he has maintained the lowest of profiles. He never carried a camera or a notebook, always believing the purest way to run a river was to be completely there with it, not to see it through a lens, or interpret it with a journal. He was never motivated by money (well, there was that time on the Zambezi he was offered $500 by the ABC exec- utive to flip a boat, and he did, but no one ever knew if it was on pur- pose). Yost has carried clarity of purpose in his dry bag for 30 years.
What can we say about 39-year-old sprint kayaker Greg Barton, the most successful Olympic paddler in U.S. history? We'll let his accomplishments do the talking. A member of four consecutive Olympic teams, Barton won the bronze in K-1 1,000 in 1984 and 1992. It was at the 1988 Games, however, that he stole the show, winning the gold in K-1 1,000 and then coming back 90 minutes later to team with Norm Bellingham to win the gold in K-2 1,000. No other athlete has won both 1,000-meter titles in a single Olympics, and no American paddler has won two Olympic golds in an Olympic Games at all. "Greg Barton's the best paddler in the world," maintains long-time adversary Lee McGregor of South Africa.
The highlight of 35-year-old sprint paddler Norm Bellingham's career occurred at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul when, teaming with Greg Barton, he won the gold in men's K-2 1,000. The three-time Olympian (1984, '88 and '92) closed out his sprint stint with a fourth-place finish in K-1 500 at the '92 Olympics in Barcelona. A double gold medalist at the 1987 Pan American Games, the Fairfax, Va., native enjoyed his best World Championships performance with a third-place finish in 1988 in Germany.
After her first run at the 1996 Olympics on Tennessee's Ocoee River, kayaker Dana Chladek was in a dismal second- to-last place. What followed is nothing short of miraculous. Putting it all on the line on her second run, she tied the winner to the nearest hundredth of a second. Although she had to settle for the silver, her time was good enough for the gold. Combined with a bronze medal at the '92 Olympics in Barcelona, she is the top slalom Olympic medal winner is U.S. history. Add two silver-medal finishes at World Championships and it's easy to see why she is now happily retired from competition, raising a family and running her Rapidstyle paddling apparel business in Kensington, Md.
Fritz and Lecky Haller
Although they've rotated partners throughout the years, achieving varying results in World Cup, Olympic and World Championship competition, C-2ers Fritz, 40, and Lecky Haller, 42, remain perhaps the best known pair of brothers in paddling. The duo's heyday came in 1983, when they shocked the world with a gold-medal performance at the World Championships in Italy. They regained their form in 1994/'95, when, after winning the final 1994 World Cup for a bronze overall, they won the first race of the '95 season. They also won the national championships that year, a title they also held in 1984. When not paired with his brother, Lecky teamed with Jamie McEwan to win the silver at the 1987 World Championships in France; the next year they were the overall champions in the inaugural World Cup and placed second in '89.
By winning the 1993 Finlandia Clean Water Challenge, a 1,000-mile stage race from Chicago to New York City, Hawaii's Mike Harbold, 31, proved himself a member of sprint paddling's elite. The fact that he has also appeared in three Olympic Games (1988, '92 and '96) further cements his place among the sport's finest.
Frank and Bill Havens
Never have two American paddlers, brothers at that, dominated the sprint scene as much as Frank and Bill Havens did in the 1940s and ‘50s. To this day, Frank, 75, remains the only American ever to capture the Olympic Gold in men’s C-1, a feat he accomplished at the 1952 Games in Helsinki. He also competed in three other Olympics (‘48, ‘56 and ‘60), winning the C-1 silver in London in ‘48. He also earned five of six possible national championships, winning events in K-1, K-2, K-4, C-2 and C-4. It was in K-2 that Frank and older brother Bill (who he affectionately calls “Junior”) broke the world record by more than five minutes. The two were slated to compete together in K-2 in ‘52, but Bill—who made the Olympic team in 1936, ‘40 and ‘44 (both cancelled because of World War II) and 1948—got injured and had to bow out. The two were also ringleaders in the then-popular sport of canoe tilting, with Bill, now 81, holding the national crown from 1935 to 1960. “That was quite a reign,” said Frank of his brother upon accepting the duo’s 1999 Legend of Paddling Award from the American Canoe Association. Neither brother has hung up his paddle. Frank recently celebrated his 75th birthday by paddling 150 miles from Chesapeake Bay to the Washington Canoe Club in Washington, D.C.
A member of the U.S. team since 1977, Bethesda, Md.'s Davey Hearn, 41, enjoys one of the longest-running canoe and kayak team tenures of any paddler, alive or dead. Highlights include Olympic C-1 appearances in 1992 and '96, as well as gold medal C-1 performances at the World Championships in 1985 and 1995. He was also named 1995's "Top 10 Sportsmen of the Year" by the U.S. Olympic Committee. With the 2000 Games on the horizon, he is showing no signs of letting up. "I'm going to keep doing this as long as I'm still having fun," he says.
As with her brother Davey, slalom kayaker Cathy Hearn has put in more than 20 years on the U.S. Kayak team, with Olympic appearances in 1992 and '96. Far from lying in the slalom shadow of her brothers (brother Bill is also an accomplished slalom paddler), one of her crowning moments came in 1979 when she won the gold at the World Championships, and won three of four possible golds in every event she entered. One of the most diligent female kayakers on the slalom scene, she has her sights set on Sydney in 2000.
Perhaps best known for his exploits on the current rodeo scene–winning a gold medal at the 1993 World Championships in Tennessee, breaking his ribs in the '95 finals in Munich and placing second in '97 in Ontario–Washington, D.C.'s (when he's not traveling in his motorhome) Eric Jackson, also an accomplished C-1 paddler, is one of the most versatile kayakers on the planet. A member of the U.S. slalom team since 1989, he was the top-placing U.S. kayaker in the 1992 Olympics in Spain, taking 13th, and he won the U.S. slalom national championships in 1995. "Slalom and rodeo are similar in that they both take a lot of focus and commitment," he says.
Joe Jacobi and Scott Strausbaugh
In a move that would have qualified him for the national limbo team, Joe Jacobi leaned back just far enough at gate 24 of the 1992 Olympic slalom course in Barcelona to avoid a five-second penalty and secure him and C-2 partner Scott Strausbaugh the United States' first and only Olympic gold medal in whitewater. Jacobi, who runs a Bed and Breakfast in Copperhill, Tenn., still competes, now in C-1. With medal in hand, Strausbaugh has retired from competition, content to give motivational speeches through-out the country.
Harry Knight, Karl Knight, Charles Havens and John Larcombe
When kayaking was first brought to the Olympic Games as a demonstration sport in the 1924 Paris Olympiad, the U.S. was more than adequately represented. Not only did sprint paddlers Harry Knight, Karl Knight, Charles Havens and John Larcombe win every single kayaking event, but they finished second behind Canada in the sport's four canoeing events. As an interesting twist, Charles (AKA Bud)–who could have com-peted in either wrestling or paddling–went only at the last minute in place of his brother Bill Sr., whose wife was pregnant with son, Frank. Serendipity had Frank return in 1952 to win the gold his father couldn’t.
Jon Lugbill is generally recognized as the best paddler to ever compete in whitewater canoeing. He's a five-time World Champion in C-1, a one-time silver medal winner, a seven-time member of a gold medal winning team and is the only athlete in history to have won 12 golds in the Whitewater World Championships. "He was the group leader," says his former coach, Bill Endicott. "He was surprisingly selfless and was always thinking about the team. Yet he always wanted to be the best." Lugbill is also the only paddler ever to have his picture on a Wheaties Box. It hangs on the wall in his office of Richmond Sports Backers in Richmond, Va.
Steve Lysek was the lead paddler on the first-place U.S. Olympic C-2 10,000-meter team of Lysek and Steve Macknowski in 1948. He designed and built the boat–controlling warping by bookmatching the wood–and developed a shorter, more efficient stroke using torso rotation. Asked to protest another contestant's incursion into his lane in the 1000-meter race he refused–stating the paddler had not impeded his progress.
When the International Olympic Committee debuted whitewater slalom in the 1972 Munich Games for the first time in history, no one gave the U.S. much hope. All that changed when a 19-year-old named Jamie McEwan stormed to win the bronze in C-1, legitimizing the sport for a long line of followers. "That was a milestone for U.S. paddling," says Bill Endicott, former coach of the U.S. team. "Americans didn't believe in themselves until that moment." McEwan accomplished just as remarkable a feat when, coming out of retirement 20 years later, he placed fourth in C-2 with Lecky Haller at the 1992 Olympics in Spain.
If it weren't for tough twists of fate, Scott Shipley, 28, could well have six World Cup K-1 titles under his sprayskirt. As it is, he'll have to settle for three, in 1993, '95 and '97, with seconds in '98 and '99 and a third-place finish in '94. Even without his victories, however, he is by far the most successful slalom kayaker in U.S. history, if not the world. Apart from coaches and fellow competitors, the first people to recognize this are the townfolk from his home in Poulsbo, Wash., where a sign leading into town reads, "Welcome to Poulsbo...Home of Scott Shipley, 1993–1995–1997 World Cup Kayak Champion."
Not many athletes have appeared in the Olympics four years in a row. Then again, not many athletes, no matter how gifted, have the stamina of sprint canoeist Jim Terrell, 34, who competed in the Games in 1984, '88, '92 and '96. A woodsman by trade who makes custom paddles for elite canoeists, Terrell also holds the prestige of tallying 27 U.S. Olympic Festival (USOF) medals, including 17 golds, ranking him second in USOF history.
Although he might not have gained the notoriety of fellow U.S. teammate Scott Shipley, to this date two-time Olympian Rich Weiss enjoys the country's highest Olympic placing with a sixth-place show-ing in the '96 Games on the Ocoee. He also became the first American to medal in men's kayak at the World Championships in 1993. A long-time member of the U.S. kayak team, Weiss came to a tragic end in 1997 when he died kayaking Washington State's Upper White Salmon River.
–Compiled by Eugene Buchanan, Tom Bie, Richard Bangs, Aaron Bible, Jodie Deignan, Brad Dimock, David Gonzalez, Peter Kennedy, Ron Watters, Charlie Wilson and Roy Webb
Paddlers of the Next Century
We can hardly pay tribute to Paddlers of the Century without taking a look at those who will be carrying the torch into the 21st Century. Following is a sampling of paddlers, aged 21 or younger, to keep an eye on in the new millennium.
Woodstock, Vt.'s Adam Boyd, 21, started paddling at age 9. Career highlights include gold and silver C-1 medals at the 1995 U.S. Olympic Festival and winning the C-1 bronze at the Pre-World Rodeo Championships in 1996 and Rodeo World Championships in 1997. At 21, he is now looking for an Olympic slalom berth for 2000.
In 1999, Greg Chinn, 19, finished 4th in the Junior World Championships (Zagreb, Croatia) in the C-1 1,000-meter event, bringing home the best junior World result in U.S. history. In the same event, he finished 6th in the 500-meter competition. He is a bright hope for the USA in sprint C-1, for the 2004 Olympics.
Nine-year-old Casey Eichfeld's first canoe trip was at 18 months old. He started paddling on his own at age 5 and com-peting at age 6. Since the age of 8, he has been a member of the Cadet National Slalom Team. In 1999, at age 9, he became an Open Canoe National Champion with partner John Kazimierczyk. His paddling goal is to match Jon Lugbill's record in competitive slalom and be on the Olympic Team.
In 1999, though only a cadet (age 14 and under) competitor, Gwen Greeley topped the entire K-1 junior woman's field at every major slalom competition including Junior U.S. Team Trials and Junior Nationals. Her primary training ground is the East Race Waterway in South Bend, Indiana. She has been a member of the Cadet National team since 1996 and been featured in Sports Illustrated for Kids.
Brett Heyl's paddling career began in 1990 at the age 9. Since that time, he has been at the forefront of cadet, junior, and senior slalom competition, including a 5th place finish at the U.S. Nationals at age 15, two Junior Olympic titles and a Junior National Slalom title. In 1999, he became the first U.S. junior slalom kayaker to win an individual medal (bronze) in World or Pre-World competition since Scott Shipley in 1988. He has been a member of the U.S. Junior Team since 1995.
Tamara Jenkins, 21, won the silver medal in the K-2, 500-meter event for the U.S. in the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnepeg, Canada. At the Linz, Austria International Regatta she won the gold in the K-2, 500- and 1000-meter events and won the 1999 Nationals in all K-2 events with her partner, Kathy Collin.
Hannah Larsen, 18, honed her technique in New Hampshire with David and Peggy Mitchell. A member of the Junior U.S. Team in 1995, 1997, and 1998, she completed her junior career with a bronze medal at the 1998 Junior World Championships in the K-1W team event with Aleta Miller and Anna Jorgensen. In 1999, Larsen stepped from the Junior US Slalom Team right onto the U.S. "B" Team. She is a student at Emory University and paddles with the Emory Eagles.
Tren Long, 17, is the younger brother of US Team athletes, Chad and Kenneth Long. Formerly a slalom kayaker, Tren switched to C-1 several years back and, in 1999, took second at the Ocoee Doubleheader, in the men's C-1 Class. He was the number one C-1 on the 1999 Junior U.S. Slalom team and is a bright hope for a medal at the 2000 Junior World Champion-ships. When not racing, he is often in Idaho safety boating for his family's raft company.
Montana's Brad Ludden, 18, won the bronze medal at the World Rodeo Championships in Canada in 1997. He has also traveled extensively throughout the World to compete in places like Japan (where he topped the men's expert kayak field in 1998) and film extreme videos throughout Europe. In 1999 he's the top junior rodeo paddler in the U.S. and will compete in the World Freestyle Championships in
New Zealand in December.
Scott Mann, 16, began his career at age 10 and within four years won the Cadet National Slalom Champ-ionships. He is the youngest paddler ever to tackle the Batoka Gorge on Africa's mighty Zambezi and in 1999 he was a member of the Junior U.S. Slalom Team, competing in Europe and the pre-World Championships. Despite being mainly a slalom competitor, Mann placed 8th at the 1999 U.S. Rodeo East Team Trials and finished 4th in expert junior freestyle at the Ottawa Rodeo.
Nathan McDade, 18, a graduate of The Academy at Adventure Quest, was the NOWR junior points leader in 1998. As with teammate Brad Ludden, his name could be found at or near the top of most junior expert classes in this year's freestyle competitions. The #2 junior kayak on the 1999 U.S. Team, he heads to New Zealand for the World Champ-ionships in December.
One of the top young women kayakers today’s, Aleta Miller, 19, represented the U.S. at the 1999 Surf Kayak World Championships in Brazil. In 1998, she was a top finisher on the U.S. rodeo circuit and a member of the Junior Slalom team. At this year's Junior World Championships in Austria, she won a bronze in K-1 women's team. When not competing, she can be found trashing herself on the Ocoee or bombing down some obscure Appalachian creek.
Though probably the youngest paddler on the 1999 tour, Jesse Murphy, 15, proved his stuff against the big boys with a bronze medal finish at the Maupin Daze Rodeo. He is currently a student at the Adventure Quest Academy, training in New Zealand for the fall and is a bright hope for the future of rodeo.
Scott Parsons, 20, was a member of the Junior U.S. Slalom Team from 1994 through 1997. He became the first U.S. junior to win a Junior World Cup (Poland) and won team medals (silver, with Josh Russell and Kyle Elliott, and bronze, with Louis Geltman and Brett Heyl) in the 1994 World and 1997 Pre-World Championships, respectively. He is now a member of the U.S. Slalom Team, and competed in the finals of the 1999 World Championships.
At the ripe old age of 13, Tennessee's Becca Red has already won three National Championships and six gold medals. She finished first in the Junior Women class at the Ocoee Rodeo and took two firsts in the C-2 at the Junior Olympics. Red is certainly one of the youngest designers in the country, playing a critical role in the creation of Dagger's Dynamo, designed specifically for kids. She is also a straight A student who's won a President's Award for Academic Excellence.
In 1998, 19-year-old Rusty Sage topped the field in men's kayak at the Pre-World Rodeo Championships in Taupo, New Zealand–at the age of 17. A former slalom paddler turned rodeo star; Sage has been at or near the top of the freestyle circuit for several years. He heads down under again in December to defend his title at the World Freestyle Champ-ionships.
Ethan Winger, 18, has already logged river miles in more than 20 countries. In 1995, he won the Cadet Nat-ional Championships and the next year he competed at the World Surf Kayak Championships (at age 15) in Costa Rica. In 1998, he was the #1 U.S. junior slalom kayaker in international competition and is the only U.S. athlete to compete on both the 1999 Junior Slalom and 1999 Freestyle (Rodeo) Teams.
Nineteen-year-old Bartosz Wolski finished 7th in the Junior Worlds in K-1 500-meter in 1997. In 1998 he won the bronze in K-1 500 in the Junior World Cup. At the 1999 Sprint Nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., Wolski won the 200-meter race and was 2nd in the 500-meter against all the U.S. Men.
–Compiled with help from Peter Kennedy
Canadian Paddlers of the Century
Not to ignore our neighbors to the North, who actually have a longer, richer paddling history than we do in the U.S., following is a sampling of those who have made Canada's Paddling Hall of Fame. Understanding that this is a country easily capable of producing its own Top 100, we'll simply whet your appetite with 10.
Perhaps no other canoeist has commanded his or her discipline as well as Quebec marathon racer Serge Corbin, 42, who has won the famed Triple Crown of North American Canoe Racing–consisting of the 70-mile General Clinton Canoe Race, 120-mile Ausable Marathon, and Canada's La Classique de Canots de la Maurice–every year since its inception in 1992. Included in these results are victories in 20 of 22 races since the Triple Crown was formed. With 55 major victories in 23 years of racing events comprising the Triple Crown, he is clearly one of Canada's preeminent paddlers. "For more than 20 years he has dominated marathon canoe racing to an extent unmatched by any competitor in any other sport," says Triple Crown spokesman Phil Weiler. "His record is comparable to a single athlete winning 50 major PGA golf tournaments or 50 Grand Slam tennis tournaments over 20 years."
Claudia Kerckhoff-van Wijk
With parents Hermann and Christa Kerckhoff founding Canada's Madawaska Canoe Center in 1972 after Hermann's appearance in the 1972 Olympics, Claudia Kerckhoff-van Wijk has genes establishing her among Canada's paddling elite. But as a former world medallist, she has blossomed in her own right. Now retired from competition, she has served as the director of Madawaska since 1989. "My parents started small," she says. "Their attitude was, 'If this doesn't work, we can always use it as a family cottage.'" Thousands of paddlers who have attended the school–one of the finest in the world–are glad the school has succeeded.
Known as the Father of Canadian Paddling, the late Bill Mason distinguished himself among Canadian paddlers not just as a skilled canoeist and whitewater boater (most often in his cherished 16-foot Chestnut Prospector), but also as an author, artist, photographer, speaker, environmentalist and filmmaker. One of his most famous works was the acclaimed Path of the Paddle, a film celebrating the sport and Canada's wilderness. His spirit lives on in the Water-Walker Film and Video Festival, held every two years. "He had a passion and a respect for the resource," says Joseph Agnew, of the Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association. "And he did an incredible job of communicating that."
As one of Canada's more modern-day explorers, Eric Morse mapped much of the northern waterways of Canada. A prolific author, he paddled and explored throughout the '30s, '40s and '50s, and though he didn't discover the waters he mapped, he popularized and documented their existence for much of the world. He is also well known for taking trips with such dignitaries as former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
From 1980-'82, Don Starkell set an unheard-of world record by paddling 12,181 miles from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Belem, Brazil. Although his record was later broken by Verlen Kruger and most recently by Britain's Neil Armstrong and Chris Maguire, Starkell's feat stands out as a milestone for expedition canoeists across the world. He was also the first to solo kayak through the Arctic Passage.
A long-time guide and former outfitter, Hap Wilson has spent much of his life mapping, studying and fighting for the preservation of the beautiful Temagami Region in Northwest Ontario. His guidebooks are renowned for their detail and offer much more than just directions–describing not only paddling routes but also history, people and necessary conservation plans. Wilson led the charge on many Canadian environmental issues.
One of the last of the living canoe legends in Canada, Kirk Wipper, a former Outdoor Education professor at the University of Toronto, was instrumental in developing Canada's National Canoe School. Wipper had a love affair with the heritage of the canoe, believing that every canoe had a story to tell. True to his beliefs, he donated an enormous collection of canoes to the Canadian Canoe Museum. As a further testament to his canoeing fame, he was knighted this summer by Canada's Governor General.
An accomplished instructor, wilderness guide and author, Omer Stringer is credited with developing the Canadian style of solo canoeing in the '60s and '70s. As a guide, Stringer became known around the globe as the legend of Ontario's Algonquin Park, one of the world's most famous wilderness tripping areas.
One of the most talented open boaters in North America, Mark Scriver, an instructor at Black Feather Wilderness Adventures on Ontario's Ottawa River, has been instrumental in developing freestyle and rodeo canoeing in Canada. Co-author with Paul Mason of the acclaimed instruction manual Thrill of the Paddle, Scriver took first in open canoe at the 1996 Rodeo PreWorlds, first at the 1997 Rodeo Worlds (the same year he made the first open canoe descent of the Firth River), and first again at the 1998 PreWorlds in New Zealand.
Showing the world that Canada isn't just a land of canoeists, Ken Whiting took the freestyle kayaking world by storm by winning the 1997 World Rodeo Champion-ships on his hometown river, the Ottawa. The unassuming ambassador of freestyle kayaking is also an accomplished instructor, video producer and author of The Playboaters Handbook, detailing the moves that got him to the top.