Critical Mass By Eugene Buchanan
Forty years ago, the last American combat troops were leaving Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal was gaining momentum. The Miami Dolphins had just finished an undefeated season, Native American activists were holed up at Wounded Knee, and the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Roe v. Wade. The counterculture of the 1960s was beginning to enter the mainstream, and a restless generation was seeking freedom on the rivers of North America. Paddlers were still a small, insular community in 1973, but they were infused with energy. Whitewater slalom had debuted at the Munich Olympics, with 19-year-old American Jamie McEwan winning the bronze in C-1. Hollowform, a plastic garbage can manufacturer, diversified with the River Chaser,
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the world’s first roto-molded kayak. The rugged craft opened new opportunities for riverrunners, as did the advent of nearly indestructible Royalex canoes and ultra-lightweight Kevlar expedition boats. A powerful film called Deliverance had debuted the previous summer, introducing the notion of whitewater canoeing to millions of would-be adventurers. “All sorts of things were happening right around then,” says Dagger founder Joe Pulliam, who started making kayaks that year with Pete Jett and Bill Masters, who would later found Perception kayaks. “And certainly one of the big things to happen was Canoe magazine.” The first issue weighed in at just 40 pages and sold for 60 cents. Like Pulliam, Canoe founder Peter Sonderegger was looking for a way to make a living in the sport he loved. They weren’t alone. When
Ralph Frese leads an expedition to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Joliet-Marquette expedition of 1673 using replica canoes // Mad River builds the first Kevlar canoe, the Endurall
Canoe debuted in April 1973, Bill Parks had been running Northwest River Supplies out of his Moscow, Idaho garage for 12 months, Steve O’Meara’s river apparel company Blue Puma (now Kokatat) was in its second year, and eventual Ocean Kayak founder Tim Niemier had recently sold his first sit-on-top kayak on the beach at Malibu.
A year earlier in North Carolina, Payson and Aurelia Kennedy and Horace Holden had converted the sleepy Tote-n-Tarry Hotel into the Nantahala Outdoor Center, providing river-based employment for themselves and their friends. Kevlar was an experimental product then, but paddlers working for DuPont somehow
obtained samples to turn into boats. “There wasn’t much of an industry back then,” Walbridge recalls. “The sport was just beginning a serious growth spurt.” Paddlers in those days would wave when they saw another car with a boat on top, a cherished tradition that has never completely gone away. In
1973, they often did more than wave—they’d stop and chat. Walbridge remembers one such conversation on the median strip of Interstate 81. Despite all the sport’s advances and growth in participants, paddlers still share that bond. Over the last 40 years, this magazine has been one dab of glue helping to hold that community together.
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It’s a summer day in the mid-1970s, and a lone man with a mop of white hair and a shaggy beard paddles a red Chestnut canoe on the crystalline waters of Lake Superior. Bill Mason handles his craft deftly, heeling it on edge with the waterline tickling the gunwale, making graceful turns around house-sized rocks By Conor Mihell at the base of soaring 600-foot cliffs. Videographer Ken Buck perches atop one such rock, wielding a hulking 16-mm Beaulieu camera and zoom lens. The filmmaker Mason calls the shots from the water, his mind racing through ways to catch the best angles and subtle light as he carves his canoe into the sport’s collective psyche. Later on, Mason might rig an improvised tripod of saplings in his canoe for overhead shots, or affix a cine-camera to a motorcycle helmet for point-of-view scenes. Around the campfire that night, Mason and Buck will discuss the day’s shooting. They’ll sleep in a canvas tent at an old voyageur campsite on Lake Superior’s eastern shore. This scene will be repeated over several summers—on Superior and its whitewater tributaries, and with Mason’s teenage son, Paul, on Algonquin Park’s boisterous Petawawa River. When Path of the Paddle debuted in 1977, Mason instantly became the quintessential canoeist, the man in the red canoe. Besides the film’s educational value (until then, no one had visually documented the art of handling a canoe), Mason captured the essence of wilderness tripping: wide-open lakes, roiling whitewater, family bonding around a campfire, and the wonders of the Canadian wilds. Mason also tackled environmental issues, making clarion calls for low-impact ethics and the preservation of wild rivers. His creative eye and clever, introspective script injected paddlesports with a passion that’s never been eclipsed.
The Man in the Red Canoe
The pogie was Bonnie Losick’s gift to the sport, and it has never stopped giving.
Photo by Jens Klatt
The Invention That Changed Everything By Eric Evans
In the early 1970s, paddlesports met the Space Age. Kevlar and carbon fiber allowed us to build boats that were incredibly light and rigid. Royalex gave us tough, mass-produced canoes. Hollowform and its roto-molding technology did the same for kayaks. Yet none of these high-tech innovations did as much for paddlers as the Bonnie Hot Pogie. In the cold dark ages before the pogie, paddlers could only endure the discomfort of cold hands and the even greater pain when they warmed. They traded theories on how to open a locked car with numb fingers, and experimented with countless ineffectual solutions: leather gloves were soaked within minutes; rubber kitchen gloves trapped no heat; and neoprene gloves did but with a concomitant loss of feel for the paddle. Enter paddler Bonnie Losick in 1974 with a simple, inexpensive solution that she sold at first from the back of her car. The Pogie was a sleeve of water-resistant fabric that covered both the hand and paddle shaft. It repelled water and wind without compromising feel. It was Bonnie’s gift to the sport, and it has never stopped giving.
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1975 1976 Valley Canoe Products produces the first Nordkapp sea kayaks for a Norwegian expedition led by Colin Mortlock. “We were determined to make a boat that was good for expeditions,” says designer Frank Goodman. “It’s amazing that 35 years later it’s still selling. That’s perhaps the greatest compliment.” // Mad River Canoe founder Jim Henry tweaks his 16.5-foot Malecite to create the workhorse Explorer, a perennial bestseller.
Mick Hopkinson, Mike Jones and four others complete the first descent of Nepal’s Dudh Kosi. “We got a free van and free kayaks and we were driving through Afghanistan, Iran, and it was dirt-cheap. Then we walked for three weeks and went kayaking,” Hopkinson told C&K in 2008. The BBC documentary about the expedition, Dudh Kosi: Relentless River of Everest, remains the most-viewed paddling film in history.
1978 1979 Paul Caffyn completes the first circumnavigation of the South Island of New Zealand // Tim Niemier founds Ocean Kayak in Malibu, California, selling sit-on-top kayaks to divers, anglers and surfers // Whitewater kayak pioneer Walk Blackadar dies on a routine run down Idaho’s South Fork of the Payette at age 55 // OARS founder George Wendt, with Bill McGinnis, Mike Cobbold, Richard Bangs and two other Sobek guides make the first descent of Chile’s Bio Bio.
A Sobek Expeditions team ends the first descent of Pakistan’s Indus River at the entrance to the final gorge. In the harder sections, they portaged two of every three rapids, though the ones they did run were memorable. “As he arabesques toward the rapid’s end, jaws drop along the shore: John Kramer is wearing no clothes, save his life jacket,” Richard Bangs later writes. “He slides between the sharp rocks at the end of the run, and pulls in with a worthy swagger and grin.”
53 Photo by Ken Buck
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Proto-boof: Lars Holbek on Clavey Falls of the Tuolumne, executing a move then called a ‘ski jump.’ Photo by Richard Montgomery
The Greatest Spring By Tyler Williams
During the spring of 1980 in the mountains of California, a rare confluence of people and events fostered rapid advances in whitewater kayaking. Plastic boats were gaining popularity over fiberglass, the long drought was breaking, and teams of paddlers were racing to capture several newly attainable first descents. Amidst this whitewater spring, a legendary trio formed: Lars Holbek, Richard Montgomery, and Chuck Stanley. Montgomery—a quirky college kid with a reputation for a bombs-away paddling style—had introduced the others at the takeout of a first descent. Holbek was an athletic and goaloriented paddler, and Stanley
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was an established slalom master increasingly turning his race-honed skills to difficult whitewater. When spring break arrived in late March 1980, the trio loaded Holbek’s battered Volkswagen van with Hollowform kayaks and a 10-speed bicycle, and hit the road. First stop was the South Fork of the American’s Golden Gate run, so named because Sierra Whitewater author Charlie Martin wrote that attempting to paddle it would be akin to jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Montgomery sprained his ankle in a piton midway through the section, forcing him to run the remaining drops without scouting, relying solely on descriptions from his partners. The practice proved marginally successful. At a rapid that Holbek described as a “Straight Shot” (the name stuck),
Montgomery folded his boat and swam. Still, the trio made it out in one piece and Golden Gate remains a Class V test piece today. Next up was the Bear River, another first, but hardly a classic. Following a late launch and a gorge portage, the paddlers were caught in the dark. They huddled around a campfire until dawn. Stanley packed an emergency sleeping bag for their next objective—the Middle Feather’s Bald Rock Canyon. On medium-high water, with gorge walls ahead and threatening skies above, Montgomery and Stanley suggested a retreat. Holbek calmly announced that he would continue, solo. The group pushed on. The reservoir appeared at dusk, and the takeout at midnight. When school let out in June, their first descent pace
resumed on the North Fork of the American. Montgomery and Stanley had made an eye-opening second descent of Giant Gap five years earlier, and the sport had progressed by leaps since. When they emerged with the first paddler’s knowledge of what lay farther upstream, they coyly titled the new run Generation Gap. It was a prescient name, because the HolbekMontgomery-Stanley legacy spans generations of kayakers. “We used their guidebook like it was the bible,” recalls expedition paddler Scott Lindgren. More than 30 years have passed, but legions of dedicated creekboaters still follow virtually the same paradigm, one which was established during the wet Sierra spring of 1980, when the rains came back, and the rivers were full of mystery.
Paul Caffyn and Nigel Dennis complete the first sea kayak circumnavigation of Great Britain // Verlen Kruger and Steve Landick begin the 28,000-mile Ultimate Canoe Challenge // Don Starkell and his sons, Dana and Jeff, begin their Paddle to the Amazon in Winnipeg // The U.S. and 64 other nations boycott the Moscow Olympics.
Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak
Capping a three-year, 30-river odyssey throughout Central and South America, the Polish Canoandes expedition completes the first descent of Peru’s Colca Canyon, the deepest on Earth // ABC television’s The American Sportsman broadcast features the first descent of Lower Niagara Gorge with Chris Spelius, Ken Lagergren and Dan Weedon. The program also bankrolls the first descent of Grand Canyon of the Stikine, with Rob Lesser, John Wasson, Lars Holbek, Don Banducci and Rick Fernald.
Mile-Maker: Caffyn in Australia, 1982
Photo Courtesy of Paul Caffyn
Paul Caffyn completes a 360-day, 9,420-mile circumnavigation of Australia. The harrowing expedition included surf, soaring cliffs and saltwater crocs. “It was really rewarding to be able to tackle something like Australia and pull it off,” he told Canoe & Kayak in 2010. “It wasn’t for any bloody media attention.”
1982 A Gathering of Minds
The symposium that sparked the sea kayaking revolution When Canoe magazine heralded his upstart sea kayak symposium on the Maine coast as “A New Horizon,” oceanographer and paddling enthusiast Ken Fink knew it was destined to be a game-changer. The year was 1982, and Fink was among a handful of sea kayakers on the East Coast. The sport was more popular in the Pacific Northwest, but the various factions were “fighting and battling” for market share. Fink rallied Canoe editor John Viehman, outdoor retailer L.L. Bean and fellow paddler Jim Chute to promote sea kayaking more collegially. As he boldly predicted, the outcome was revolutionary. “I used to speak at various scientific symposia and I thought, ‘What a great format for sea kayakers,’” says Fink, who was then a professor at the University of Maine. “Sea kayaking is a cerebral activity. It’s not passive; you have to be thinking all the time. Here we could make presentations on various aspects of kayaking to educate people and provide an opportunity to exchange ideas and try out equipment.” About 200 people showed up for the inaugural three-day gathering at Fink’s research lab in Walpole, Maine, including such luminaries as British boat designer and expedition paddler Frank Goodman and West Coast pioneers Matt and Cam Broze. Besides kick-starting the sport’s popularity, the event fulfilled Fink’s goal of unifying the industry and spawning similar gatherings across North America. “They were exciting times,” Fink says. “The air was electrically charged when we were together.” — CM
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Motoring: Kruger, in foreground, and Landick.
If anyone taught us how to bust loose from our own excuses and live the life we dream, Verlen Kruger was the one.
Unstoppable (1) By Larry Rice
Verlen Kruger cemented his place in the canoeing canon in 1983 when he and Steve Landick completed a 3 ½-year, 28,043-mile journey once around and twice across the North American continent. Kruger called it the Ultimate Canoe Challenge, but the name was just good promotion; he had no intention of stopping. Soon he embarked on an 18,232-mile journey from the Arctic Ocean to beyond Cape Horn to the southernmost point in South America. Those trips made Kruger a canoeing icon, but it was his first continental traverse in 1971 that ignited his inner fire. Like the trips that followed, this one was audacious, even grandiose in its ambition: to paddle, portage and drag a 21-foot homemade canoe 7,000 miles across the
Photo courtesy Kruger Archives and Phil Peterson
wilds of Canada and Alaska in a single season. The feat had never been accomplished in recorded history and the experts told him it couldn’t be done, that his body would simply wear out from the pace. So what made a nearly 50-year-old plumbing contractor and devout father of nine, who never held a paddle until his 40s, embark on such a punishing journey? Call it passion, determination, or pure obsession. Verlen Kruger possessed the qualities of mind and spirit to pull off this epic adventure of relentless proportions. Dubbed “The Cross Continent Canoe Safari,” Kruger and partner Clint Waddell followed the historic
fur trade route from Montreal to its extremity at Fort Yukon in northeast Alaska, and then paddled another 1,180 miles to the Bering Sea. They raced against time and the elements, struggling under 170-pound loads on single-carry portages. They encountered illness, hideous weather, torrents of black flies, ice-encrusted boats, and life-threatening rapids. They did all this before GoreTex, Kevlar canoes, and cell phones. And they did it alone in a 110-pound wood-strip/ fiberglass canoe that Kruger had designed and built. They went as pure canoeists, devoted to the principle of going all the way under their own power—no motors, no sails, no guides, no assistance on land or water.
Writing about the trip in the debut issue of Canoe in April 1973, Kruger mused that while all of us harbor lifetime dreams, it wasn’t until middle age that he was “finally able to break loose from all the usual excuses and conventions that keep people bound to a lifestyle that does not totally fulfill.” Verlen Kruger died in 2004, at age 82. He paddled to the very end, recording more miles in his lifetime than anyone in history. If anyone taught us how to bust loose from our own excuses and live the life we dream, he was the one. Verlen never lost sight of his goals, never called it quits. There will never be another like him. — Larry Rice has been a C&K contributor since 1980.
Read C&K’s contemporary coverage of Kruger’s expeditions, and Rice’s 2006 feature on Kruger’s emotional return to Tip Top Mountain, at canoekayak.com/kruger
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1984 1985 1986 1987 The first commercial selfbailing raft, co-designed by Glenn Lewman, Marty McDonnell and Jim Cassady, hits a skeptical market. “People that had never used them had a million reasons why they wouldn’t work,” Lewman remembers // Perception debuts the Dancer, with the ad slogan “Picture yourself on a boat in a river” // The Tsunami Rangers, a tribe of extreme sea kayakers, is founded in northern California // Jesse Whittemore and Jim Snyder popularize squirt boats, and Whittemore becomes first “pro” kayaker, sponsored by Perception.
Joe Kane and Piotr Chmielinski become the first to navigate the 4,200-mile Amazon River from sourceto-sea, dropping 17,000 vertical feet. “The whitewater on the upper parts was a lot tougher than we thought, guarding the Amazon like a gate,” Chmielinski says. “It was a tremendous accomplishment for us to reach the Atlantic and in many ways we were lucky to do so.” // Paul Caffyn paddles around the four main islands of Japan.
The Sino-American Upper Yangtze River Expedition ends with the death of Idaho photographer David Shippee from altitude sickness. Expedition leader Ken Warren and cinematographer John Wilcox are named codefendants in a court case surrounding Shippee’s death (both were exonerated) // The first-ever River Runner Rendezvous is held in Telluride, Colo., featuring an oar toss competition, ammo can tug-of-war and other river games // Gary and Joanie McGuffin start their 6,000-mile honeymoon expedition by canoe across Canada.
Home Stretch: Chmielinski and Kane at the Amazon delta, 1985.
Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak
Gillet’s crossing began with a two-week gale. “The howling gray nortwesterlies nearly devoured me.”
The Toothpaste Eater After spending most of 1984 paddling the west coast of South America, Ed Gillet “had a difficult time readjusting to ordinary life.” The 36-year-old San Diegan wanted to do something more difficult and committing than any coastal paddling expedition, and the 2,200-mile crossing from California to Hawaii was “the most difficult trip I could conceive of surviving.” Gillet modified a stock 20-foot Necky Tofino tandem, and packed the hull with food for 60 days, 25 gallons of fresh water, and a reverse-osmosis desalinator. This was before the era of commercially available GPS and satellite phones. He would use a sextant to navigate. He launched from Monterey Bay on June 25, 1987, and almost immediately encountered heavy weather. “The howling gray northwesterlies nearly devoured me,” he wrote later. “For two weeks I headed southwest before 30-knot winds surfing down 15-foot high breaking swells. I needed every bit of the skill and strength I had acquired from years of kayaking to stay upright.” And then suddenly, the wind stopped. Completely. Gillet was counting on warm tradewinds to push him toward Hawaii. When they failed to materialize he paddled southwest on a glassy sea, making excruciatingly slow progress. “I knew exactly where I was every minute,” he told Canoe & Kayak. “My fear was that I was going so slowly I wouldn’t make it to the islands before I starved.” He ate his toothpaste on Day 58, and two days later consumed his last morsel of food. Three days after that, as Gillet used his sextant to take a routine noon latitude sighting, he was annoyed to see a mountain fouling his view of the southern horizon. It took him a moment to realize that “that damned mountain” was the Big Island’s Mauna Kea, 80 miles distant. — CM
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Summer of Skook By Eugene Buchanan
Photo by Mike Powell /Allsport
Barton wins gold in a photo finish, paddles back to the start line in the K-2 with Norm Bellingham, and wins a second gold medal.
Tom Visnius and John Kennedy make the first complete descent of North Carolina’s Green River Narrows. The hallowed stretch will become a training ground for many of the world’s best creekboaters // American Greg Barton wins Olympic gold in the K-1 1,000 meters in a photo finish, paddles back to the line with K-2 partner Norm Bellingham, and wins a second gold medal just 90 minutes later.
Don Starkell begins an expedition to transit the Northwest Passage on Hudson Bay. The expedition ends prematurely do to a harrowing capsize. “It was mid-June and 90 percent of the bay was still ice,” Starkell told Canoe & Kayak in 2010. “I was an hour in the water unconscious. It’s something I should never have survived. Not one in a million.”
The Whitewater World Championships come to Maryland’s Savage River, where a disputed gate touch costs American kayaker Richie Weiss the silver medal. Two weeks later on NBC’s Sports World broadcast “in agonizingly slow motion, straining hard, Weiss leans back in his boat and squeaks cleanly under the gate with fractions of an inch to spare.”
The first World Kayak Rodeo Championships is held at the Bitches tidal rapid in Wales. Chris Spelius is the top American competitor, placing third in a 10’6” Perception Corsica // Eskimo debuts the Topo-Duo two-person whitewater kayak // River Runner, Canoe Sport Journal and Canadian Paddler merge to form Paddler magazine
When Spike Gladwin moved to British Columbia to design boats for Necky Kayaks in the spring of 1991, it set the stage for two milestones in the sport of paddling: the discovery of a tidal feature known as Skookumchuck, and the advent of planing-hull kayaks capable of surfing it. “I’d heard of the Bitches tidal
feature in England, and had seen pictures of it, and then I heard people talking about a similar feature here,” says the British-born Gladwin, who’d come to Canada years earlier to coach slalom. That fall, Gladwin made his first trip to Skookumchuck with Joanne Woods and a few other slalom boaters. At first, they weren’t impressed. “It was completely flat,” Gladwin remembers. “Then as the tide came in it just got bigger and bigger, and better and better.” Gladwin and his friends surfed the narrows on a 10-knot tide, which creates a mediumsized wave by Skookumchuck
standards. Their displacementhull kayaks weren’t the right craft for such a fast wave, but they were hooked just the same. Gladwin returned to Skook the following spring, and almost every weekend during that summer of 1992. But the breakthrough came closer to home, on the rugged coast of Vancouver Island. “I remember surfing in my boat and seeing people on tiny little surfboards going three times faster than me,” he says. “Then I realized they had flat bottoms and we didn’t.” So he put a flat bottom on a fiberglass kayak and called it the Rip. “The first time we ever paddled it was on Skook,”
he says. “And it was a night and day difference as to what we could do on the wave, especially when it came to carving.” Gladwin took his new boat to a Reno tradeshow the following summer, and on the nearby American River he met Corran Addison, who had recently founded Savage Designs. Addison had planinghull prototype of his own. “I said, ‘Hey, look what you’re doing,’ and he said, ‘Hey, look what you’re doing,’” Gladwin recalls. “I have no idea who did what first, and it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that we were all moving the sport forward.”
Photo by Steve Rogers
Joe Jacobi and Scott Strausbaugh win the Olympic gold medal in C-2 slalom, the first and only American gold medal in the slalom discipline.
c&K 40th anniversary
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All in the Family: Emily, Dane and Eric Jackson.
In 1996, Autometric debuts Edge Whole Earth, a precursor to Google Earth.
Photo by Greg Von Doersten
1993 1994 1995
The World Rodeo Championships come to Hell Hole on Tennessee’s Ocoee River, where Eric Jackson wins in a Dagger Transition prototype. “That event marked the beginning of the kayak design evolution,” says Jackson, who has won the Worlds four times. “It was an awesome time to be an athlete. In many ways it was my sweetest win.” // Filmmaking pioneer Wayne Gentry releases Southern Fried Creeking video showcasing Northern Georgia whitewater.
The “Quartzite Eight,” a group of river-runners led by William “Taz” Stoner, are indicted for dynamiting the Salt River’s Quartzite Falls, a Class VI river feature that had claimed numerous lives.“It’s like these guys were too lazy or too incompetent to run this rapid or go around it,” says American Rivers’ Gail Peters. “It’s an icon on the river that they’ve destroyed.” // Hollywood releases The River Wild starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon // Andy Corra is crowned World Endo Champion.
After pleading guilty to the Quartzite bombing, Taz Stoner flees the country. In a letter to the judge, he apologizes and says he “has to leave on short notice to God knows where.” He is later found working as a river guide in Australia under an assumed name // Rafters are shot on the Usumacinta River, on the border of Mexico and Guatemala // Canadian Frank Wolf completes a singleseason, trans-Canada canoe trip, including a 250-mile portage across the Rocky Mountains.
Think about this for a minute: Ed Gillet’s 1987 California-to-Hawaii crossing had more in common with Franz Romer’s 1928 Atlantic crossing than with Peter Bray’s in 2000. No matter where you are on this planet—be it the bottom of a desert canyon or the middle of an ocean— the satellites are overhead. On moonless wilderness nights you can sometimes see them tracking across the sky. Since 1996, those satellites have been at the service of anyone with a GPS receiver and a fresh set of batteries. Romer and Gillet needed a sextant to fix their positions within a mile or two, when the weather was clear and if their trigonometry was good. Navigation was an art, and all of us dabbled. We took satisfaction in the ritual of the compass: Aim at a distant peak and a notch in the canyon wall, then scribe lines on the map to conjure our location. We’d compare notes, agree or argue, and eventually, usually, find our way home. Now, we press a button, and there we are—latitude, longitude and altitude, speed, heading and course made good. Easy, safe, and sterile. Where’s the magic in that? —JM
Tennessee’s Ocoee River hosts the 1996 Olympic slalom competition, where a gate touch keeps American silver medalist Dana Chladek from the gold. “I think it’s going to haunt me the rest of my life,” she says. Also haunted is hometown favorite Scott Shipley, who fails to medal but is applauded for loaning his boat to a Bosnian racer.
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The visionary Eric Jackson By Jan Nesset I first met Eric “E.J.” Jackson at an elbow-to-armpit party in 1995. I was the brand-new editor of Canoe & Kayak, and E.J. was the hottest paddler on what we still called the rodeo circuit, a slalom Olympian turned freestyle world champion. A quick hello and a handshake, we would meet again many times. E.J. needed no introduction of course, but I did—on that occasion and every other time we met. At the Canoecopia show one year, E.J. joined a group of industry types and me for dinner. I’d seen him on the Gauley a few months before, so naturally asked him if he had enjoyed Gauley Fest. “Always! I’m E.J. by the way!” Another introduction, the umpteenth one. Jerk! People came and went until, at dinner’s end, E.J. sat alone with me, the invisible man. Over the next hour he unfolded his grand plan to parlay a reign of championships into a paddlesports empire. Perhaps he was seizing the opportunity to bare some soul to the country’s most popular
Photo by Jock Bradley
paddling magazine, or maybe he gave everyone the same spiel. I have lost many of the details, but what came across loud and clear was E.J.’s intent to translate his fame, connections, and paddling knowledge into his own brand and line of kayaks. Of course, his boats would be nothing less than the best. I listened courteously, proffering the obligatory nods of encouragement, all the while
thinking the guy was living in a fantasy world. He had the paddling talent no doubt, but the brass to build a company branded on himself, or, rather, on the paddler he hoped to become? This guy, who couldn’t even remember my name? Don’t sell the RV. The thing is, every piece of his plan came true. The four world titles, the thriving company, the indelible imprint he
has left on the sport—all of that came to pass, and more. Not even E.J. could have known that his children, Emily and Dane, who were then just toddlers, would become two of the best paddlers on the planet. “Hello, Mr. Jackson, my name is Jan Nesset. And I am a believer.” — Jan Nesset was the editor of Canoe & Kayak from 1995 to 2000.
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The Tsangpo Gorge By Joe Carberry
In 1998, no man or woman had ever gone bigger than Shannon Carroll on Sahalie Falls.
For my money, the 2002 Tsangpo Gorge expedition is still the high mark of expedition paddling. Running that obscure piece of whitewater in western Tibet stands as the greatest river-running feat of its time. With a decade of perspective, we now recognize it as the sport’s keystone project, a worthy legacy to the generation that came before and a defining influence on those who followed. Lindgren spent years exploring Himalayan whitewater with paddlers like Gerry Moffatt, and Charlie Munsey. In the late
1990s, working his way through tight Chinese checkpoints, he scouted the Tsangpo as it drops 9,000 feet from the Tibetan Plateau to India in a mere 150 miles, turning and twisting to form the sacred Great Bend and creating one of the most difficult river problems on Earth. Here, high-volume rapids 200-yardswide abut impassable canyon walls. The center lines are deathdefying, and the side-channels require long combinations of intense, big-water creeking moves. Potential cultural and political entanglements compound the river-running challenges. Lindgren and Munsey had planned an alpine-style attempt in 1997, but pulled the plug in the face of unusually high water. In 1998 on the heels of an unprecedented monsoon
season, a National Geographic team of Tom and Jamie McEwan, Roger Zbell and Doug Gordon attempted the canyon paddling heavily loaded boats. After hiking and paddling 35 miles, Gordon was swept into the center channel. He was never seen again. Gordon’s passing and the death of others attempting the Gorge solidified Lindgren’s resolve to attempt the river only with the most formidable team, at the lowest possible flow (still a formidable 10,000 cfs), and with empty boats. That meant securing the financial backing to hire more than 90 porters to resupply the kayakers each evening at remote camps, ensuring nimble, empty kayaks. He also recruited world-class expedition paddlers Steve Fisher, Dustin Knapp, Allan Ellard,
Willie and Jonnie Kern and Mike Abbott to the cause. Fisher, who would go on to lead the groundbreaking first descent of the Congo’s Inga Rapids in 2011, says he never could have solved that river’s logistical and whitewater challenges without the knowledge he gained with Lindgren on the Tsangpo. The team ran about 70 miles including the Upper Gorge, leaving the Lower Gorge on the table. But Lindgren, who played a dangerous game of cloak-anddagger with Chinese officials in 2002, has some sound advice for those who have voiced their ambition to complete the Tsangpo: “Whoever goes in there again is going to need a ton of luck, military permission and briefcases full of cash.” — Joe Carberry
Photo by Katie Johnson
Shannon Carroll raises the world waterfall record to 78 feet on Oregon’s Sahalie Falls, to mixed reaction. “Because I’m young, and because I’m a girl, I’ve always gotten bad feedback from people whenever I run something big,” she says. “But I’ve always been kind of a daredevil.” // Consolidation sweeps the paddling industry, with the merger of Perception and Dagger, and Confluence Watersports’ acquisition of Mad River Canoe, Wilderness Systems and Wave Sport // Gerry Moffatt, Reggie Crist and Charlie Munsey complete the whitewater Triple Crown, linking descents of the Alsek, Susitna and Stikine rivers.
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“Because I’m young and because I’m a girl, I’ve always gotten bad feedback when I run something big.” --Shannon Carroll
Stan Chadlek and Nigel Dennis circumnavigate Easter Island. “It’s 1,700 miles from South America, more than enough to form mountainous swells,” says Chladek. “When we rounded the south tip of the island, the waves were bigger than my 18-foot Nordkapp.” // Tao Berman ups the waterfall ante to 98 feet on Alberta’s Johnston Falls.
Jon Turk completes a two-year expedition to island-hop from Japan to Alaska’s Aleutian chain // British adventurer Peter Bray’s kayak attempt to paddle from Newfoundland to England ends when his kayak sinks after just 18 hours. “They say you never step down into a life raft,” he tells Canoe & Kayak. “Well, I stepped up into this one.”
American Lonnie Dupre and Australian John Hoelscher complete a multi-year circumnavigation of Greenland by kayak, dogsled and foot // Peter Bray returns to the North Atlantic to complete the westto-east crossing. “It’s never been done before, or since. I had one night of stars and one day of sunshine in 76 days.”
Willie Kern commits to an unnamed rapid midway through the first descent of the Upper Tsanpgo Gorge in 2002.
Photo by Charlie Munsey
c&K 40th anniversary
“The weather was absolute crap and bitter cold for 15 days.” South Georgia circumnavigator Graham Charles.
Photo by Graham Charles
Photo by Aris Messinis
Gordon Brown and Pasquale Scaturro complete the first descent of the Blue Nile from its source 10,000 feet high in the mountains of Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea, a distance of 3,260 miles. The 114-day expedition is featured in an IMAX film and book titled the Mystery of the Nile // Andrew McCauley makes his first of three crossings of Australia’s Bass Strait // Sports Illustrated profiles kayaker Rusty Sage.
South African rivermen Hendri Coetzee and Pete Meredith finish the first source-to-sea descent of the White Nile. The fourmonth, 4,160-mile trip from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean crosses two war zones // The National Park Service proposes replacing the wait list for private permits on the Grand Canyon— which was approaching 20 years—with a weighted lottery // American Rebecca Giddens wins slalom silver in Athens.
Few places are more revered in maritime lore than South Georgia Island, a lonely rock midway between Antarctica and Cape Horn that Captain James Cook called “a land doomed to perpetual frigidness, whose savage aspects I have not words to describe.” South Georgia had repelled two previous kayak expeditions before they had even reached the island’s crux—the 140-mileBy Jeff Moag long southwest coast. This craggy, glaciated shore is exposed to the Southern Ocean’s foulest moods. Viable landing beaches are 40 miles apart and hipto-jowl with aggressive fur seals. In the blustery austral spring of 2005 no one had ever paddled this forbidding coast. By summer, nine paddlers would scratch the so-called “Everest of sea kayaking” off their bucket lists. As a highprofile British/Israeli expedition prepared to launch their assault in mid-November, a rival New Zealand team booked an attempt in October and claimed the prize. “The weather was absolute crap and bloody cold for 15 days, and good for only the last four,” says Kiwi team member Graham Charles. The Brits finished weeks later. As the news reverberated in magazines and sea kayaking blogs around the world, a third expedition quietly finished the circumnavigation. Leiv Poncet and Bob Powell had no sponsors and issued no press releases, but they too were part of that history-making South Georgia Spring.
A team of regular-Joe kayakers wins a trip to attempt the first D of Peru’s Rio Huallaga. Writes Megan Michelson in C&K: “At that moment, perched on a dead-end ridge deep in the Andes, it seemed absurd that these guys had actually won this trip, like some kind of extremesports showcase on The Price Is Right. But no one could quibble with the name of the marketing promotion-slash-expedition grant that put them there. Vacation to Hell pretty much summed it up.”
On New Year’s Day, Freya Hoffmeister wins an undeclared race to become the first woman to circumnavigate New Zealand by sea kayak. Her time of 70 days eclipses the mark set by Kiwi legend Paul Caffyn, one of only three men to complete the 1,500-mile route in the previous 30 years. In 2008, four people would close the circle, including Swedish solo kayaker Barbro Lindman and the Welsh team of Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw.
After 29 days and nearly 1,000 miles crossing from Tasmania in a modified production sea kayak, Australian adventurer Andrew McCauley disappears about 30 miles from the New Zealand coast. “If he had made it one more day we’d be hailing him as a genius,” noted kayak adventurer Jon Turk tells Canoe & Kayak. “If you die, it’s too easy to call you a crazy suicidal.” // Tyler Bradt breaks world waterfall record on 107-foot Alexandra Falls in the Northwest Territories.
On Hoffmeister’s sixth night at sea, 30-knot winds whipped the gulf white. Flying fish bounced off her body and waves broke over her every few minutes.
South Georgia spring
Came, Saw, Conquered: Hoffmeister finishes her New Zealand circumnavigation in 2008.
Read about Poncet and Powell’s South Georgia circumnavigation, and other low-profile expeditions for the ages, in our “Covert Operators” feature in the forthcoming June 2013 issue.
c&K 40th anniversary
Photo by Tim Cuff
Freya Hoffmeister didn’t ask for anyone’s advice about the 350-mile crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria, but she heard plenty of it in the first months of her 9,500-mile Australian circumnavigation. The weeklong open-water crossing would be the kayaking equivalent of Russian roulette, they told her. Follow the coast, or court death. The warnings didn’t faze her. Hoffmeister is accustomed to running around, or more often through, anyone or anything standing in her way. She had paddled 100 miles nonstop to finish her recordsetting circumnavigation of New Zealand’s South Island. On a record-setting circumnavigation of Iceland, she’d endured a 22hour offshore slog into the teeth of a building gale. Later she called the trip “easy … more or less boring.” So when Hoffmeister reached the gulf, she made a beeline to the other side, 350 miles away. At night, she attached inflatable floats to a paddle and lashed it across the rear deck. On her sixth night out, 30-knot winds whipped the gulf white. Flying fish bounced off her body and waves broke over her every few minutes. But she doesn’t cop to being scared. “Not at all,” she says. After eight days at sea she climbed out of her kayak, took a long hot shower and checked the comments on her blog. “A lot of marriage proposals,” she reported with a satisfied chuckle. She finished the Australia trip in record time, and in 2011 began her “second continent,” a threeyear, 15,000 circuit of South America. —Joe Glickman
c&K 40th anniversary
A Heroe’s Farewell: Friends of Hendri Coetzee send a flaming raft down his beloved Bujagali Falls.
Photo by Chris Korbulic
Read more about Contos and West’s 2012 Amazon season in the upcoming May 2013 issue of Canoe & Kayak.
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Hendri Coetzee is killed by a crocodile on the Lukuga River. Coetzee, who was revered in river-running circles for his purist approach to exploration, had written about being more comfortable with death than he would like to be. “We’d talked about it so many times, but losing him was a lot fucking harder than I thought it would be,” his friend Pete Meredith tells C&K. “I still expect him to come walking through the door wearing crocodile shoes.”
c&K 40th anniversary
Steve Fisher, Rush Sturges, Tyler Bradt and Ben Marr run the Congo River’s Inga Rapids, the highest-volume whitewater on earth // 64-year-old Pole Aleksander Doba completes the first continent-to-continent crossing of the Atlantic, traveling more than 3,300 miles from Africa to South America in 99 days // 17-year-old Dane Jackson wins the inaugural Whitewater Gran Prix, a multi-stage competition organized by some of the world’s best paddlers.
River explorers return to the Amazon drainage with a vengeance. West Hansen records the fastest (and first solo) paddling descent, covering 4,100 miles in 111 days. Rocky Contos spends months in the headwaters, running each of the three major tributaries from its source, and returning with a blockbuster contention about the mighty river’s true origin // Ben Marr runs Site Zed, the last un-run rapid on the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.