C&K Staff and contributors remember key moments that changed the course of paddling's last four decades.

1973-01-01 00:00:00

Critical Mass

Forty years ago, the last American combat troops were leaving Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal was gaining momentum.

1974-01-01 00:00:00

The Invention that changed Everything

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.

1975-01-01 00:00:00

Nordkapp Sea Kayak

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.”

1975-01-01 00:00:00

Mad River Malecite

Mad River Canoe founder Jim Henry tweaks his 16.5-foot Malecite to create the workhorse Explorer, a perennial bestseller.

1976-01-01 19:55:59

First Descent of Dudh Kosi

Mick Hopkinson, Mike Jones and four others complete the first descent of Nepal’s Dudh Kosi. “We spent a year putting the trip together, and then we drove there from England, 7,526 miles,” Hopkinson told C&K in 2010. “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.” The BBC documentary about the expedition, Canoeing Down Everest, remains the most-viewed paddling film in history.

1977-05-12 19:55:59

The Man in the Red Canoe

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 at the base of soaring 600-foot cliffs.

1978-01-01 19:55:59

New Zealand Circumnaviation

Paul Caffyn completes the first circumnavigation of the South Island of New Zealand

1978-05-13 19:51:00

Walt Blackader

Whitewater kayak pioneer Walt Blackadar dies on a routine run down Idaho’s South Fork of the Payette at age 55

1978-06-13 19:51:00

First Descent of Bio Bio

Bill and OARS founder George Wendt, along with Mike Cobbold, Richard Bangs and two other Sobek guides, make the first descent of Chile’s Bio Bio.

1979-01-01 19:51:00

First Descent of Indus River

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’d portaged two of every three rapids, though the ones they ran 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.”

1980-03-20 19:51:00

The Greatest Spring

During the spring of 1980 in the mountains of California, a rare confluence of people and events fostered rapid advances in whitewater kayaking.

1981-01-01 09:42:58

Polish Canoandes

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.

1981-01-01 09:42:58

ABC follows Niagara Descent

ABC television’s American Sportsman broadcast features the first descent of Lower Niagara Gorge with Chris Spelius, Ken Lagergren, 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.

1982-01-01 09:42:58

A Gathering of Minds

The symposium that sparked the sea kayaking revolution

1983-01-01 09:42:58

Unstoppable (1)

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.

1984-01-01 09:42:58

First Self-Bailing Raft

The First commercial self-bailing 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

1984-01-01 12:58:04

Extreme Sea Kayakers

The Tsunami Rangers, a tribe of extreme sea kayakers, is founded in northern California

1984-01-01 12:58:04

Going Pro

Jesse Whittemore and Jim Snyder popularize squirt boats, and Whittemore becomes first “pro” kayaker, sponsored by Perception.

1984-01-01 12:58:04

Perception Dancer Debuts

Perception debuts the Dancer, with the ad slogan “Picture yourself on a boat in a river”

1985-01-01 12:58:04

Running the Amazon

Piotr Chmielinski and Joe Kane become first to navigate the 4,200-mile Amazon River from source-to-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.”

1986-01-01 00:28:04

Epic Honeymoon

Gary and Joanie McGuffin start their 6,000-mile honeymoon expedition by canoe across Canada.

1986-01-01 08:09:17

Fatal Expedition

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 co-defendants in a court case surrounding Shippee’s death (both were exonerated)

1987-01-01 21:50:29

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.”

1988-01-01 21:50:29

First Full Descent of the Green Narrows

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

1988-01-01 21:50:29

Olympic Gold

At the Seoul Olympics, American Greg Barton wins gold in the K-1 1,000 meters in a photo finish, paddles back to the starting line in the K-2 with partner Norm Bellingham, and wins a second gold medal just 90 minutes later.

1989-01-01 02:55:20

Hard Moments in Slalom

The Whitewater World Championships are held on Maryland’s Savage River, where a disputed gate touch costs American kayaker Richie Weiss the silver medal. “It could only have been bittersweet vindication as he watched his run on NBC’s Sports World two weeks later,” George Thomas wrote in the October 1989 issue of Canoe. “Replayed 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.”

1990-01-01 02:55:20

Northwest Passage Expedition

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.”

1991-01-01 02:55:20

First Kayak Rodeo Championships

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

1991-01-01 02:55:20

Paralyzed on the Green

Guidebook author and safety expert Slim Ray is paralyzed in a kayaking accident on North Carolina’s Green River Narrows

1991-01-01 02:55:20

First Topo Duo Debut

Eskimo debuts the Topo Duo two-person whitewater kayak

1992-06-21 02:55:20

Summer of Skook

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:

1993-01-01 00:00:00

A New Kayak Design Era

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."

1993-01-01 00:00:00

Southern Fried Creeking

Filmmaking pioneer Wayne Gentry releases Southern Fried Creeking video showcasing Northern Georgia whitewater.

1994-01-01 00:00:00

The "Quartzite Eight"

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 and required commercial river guides like Stoner to make an arduous portage. “It's like these guys were too lazy or too incompetent to run this rapid or go around it," American Rivers Arizona director Gail Peters tells the New York Times. “It's an icon on the river that they've destroyed.”

1994-01-01 00:00:00

The River Wild, by Hollywood

Hollywood releases The River Wild, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon

1995-01-01 00:00:00

Pleading Guilty

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

1995-01-01 00:00:00

Shot on the Border

Rafters are shot on the Usumacinta River, on the border of Mexico and Guatemala

1995-01-01 00:00:00

Trans-Canada Expedition

Canadian Frank Wolf completes a single-season, trans-Canada canoe trip, including a 250-mile portage across the Rocky Mountains.

1996-01-01 00:00:00


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.

1997-01-01 00:00:00

Dream Weaver: the Visionary Eric Jackson

I first met Eric “E.J.” Jackson at an elbow-to-armpit party in 1995.

1998-01-01 00:00:00

Raising the Bar

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 they think is big,” the 20-year-old West Virginian says. “But I’ve always been kind of a daredevil.”

1998-01-01 00:00:00

Consolidate all the Companies!

Consolidation sweeps the paddling industry with the merger of Perception and Dagger, and Confluence Watersports buying up Mad River Canoe, Wilderness Systems and Wave Sport

1998-01-01 00:00:00

Tibet First Descent Ends in Death

A National Geographic-sponsored attempt at the first descent of Tibet’s TsangPo Gorge ends with the death of team member Doug Gordon.

1999-01-01 00:00:00

Triple Crown

Gerry Moffatt, Reggie Crist and Charlie Munsey (along with, in part, Wink Jones, Doug Ammons and Rob Lesser) complete the whitewater Triple Crown, linking big-water Class V descents of the Alsek, Susitna and Stikine rivers.

1999-01-01 17:00:35

Upping the Waterfall Ante

Tao Berman ups the waterfall ante to 98 feet on Alberta’s Johnston Falls.

2000-01-01 04:36:20

Paddle from Japan to Alaska

Jon Turk completes a two-year expedition to cross from Japan to Alaska.

2000-01-01 09:07:51

Expedition Cut Short

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.”

2001-01-01 04:36:20

Circumnavigate Greenland

American Lonnie Dupre and Australian John Hoelscher complete a multi-year circumnavigation of Greenland by kayak, dogsled and foot

2001-01-01 04:36:20

East-to-West Crossing

Peter Bray returns to the North Atlantic to complete the west-to-east crossing. “It’s never been done before, or since. I had one night of stars and one day of sunshine in 76 days.”

2002-01-01 04:36:20

The Tsangpo Gorge

The 2002 Tsangpo Gorge expedition is still the high mark of expedition paddling.


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