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Nantahala Outdoor Center raft guides can finally relax after working the busiest season the outfitter has seen in the last 10 years.

“There are a lot of sore shoulders,” said Charles Connor, director of marketing at NOC. “We’re all kind of walking around in a daze right now.”

July was by far the busiest month, with business soaring 20 percent higher than last year’s numbers. On some days, NOC was sending out a guided trip every 15 minutes — not to mention the other 11 rafting outfitters that operate in the Gorge.

The company tapped anyone trained to guide, from the CEO to the dishwasher, and head guides taxied them down to the river to meet demand.

“One of our biggest desires is not to turn anybody away,” said Charlie Allen, head guide or “czar” as they are nicknamed on trips.

This summer, NOC has seen total guided trips companywide shoot up by 13 percent from last year, and 15 percent on the Nantahala. The most growth was seen on the Pigeon River in Tennessee where trips increased by 50 percent.

“We’re definitely growing on a strong trajectory over there,” said Conner.

Interest in the Nantahala has been piqued with the Nantahala River Gorge being named earlier this year the site of the 2013 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships.

Raft guide Joe Dean, 63, said there were 1,829 people rafting on the Nantahala on a single Saturday, creating choke points.

“Being on the river, there can almost be gridlock,” said Dean.

The only blemish on this summer’s record has been the Cheoah River near Robbinsville. The release schedule of water from the dam hasn’t been conducive to recreational rafting, according to Conner.

“Some of the interest that we had in 2007 when it was first available is kind of waning a little bit,” said Conner.

Why this year?

Theories abound on why this summer was particularly successful, especially when NOC didn’t undertake a major marketing campaign.

The record hot weather helped pull folks from Atlanta, Asheville, Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Research Triangle to Western North Carolina’s cool mountain rivers.

“Some of the old-timers say it needs to be 95 in Atlanta,” said Allen. “That’s when the cars crank up and they head for the mountains. If it’s 85, they may go down to one of the South Carolina beaches.”

NOC was thankful that the weather was hot, but not hot enough to create drought conditions.

“The weather is so particular that you need to really have a perfect season like this,” said Conner. “You need heat, and you need just the right amount of rain.”

“This year, everything worked in our favor,” said Allen, who likens the weather conditions needed for rafting to those needed for farming.

The improving economy may be another factor.

NOC’s rafting director Cathy Kennedy, who has worked at the company for 40 years, said the rafting industry has traditionally done well in a down economy. Many who can’t afford a weeklong trip to Disney World will opt for a day trip on the river.

“It’s a pretty economical vacation,” said Kennedy.

“People have probably decided, ‘Well, the economy’s bad, but we still have to live,’” said Dean. “It’s dawned on them that it’s not going to change right away, might as well have some fun.”

The Gulf oil crisis might have also sent vacationers away from the those beaches and to the Smokies.

“Raft guides were coming off the river saying, ‘Everyone in my boat said they didn’t want to go to the beach,’” said Allen.

According to Kennedy, some late booking church groups canceled their trip to the Gulf Coast beaches and came instead to the mountains.

Not anticipating the stars to align this season, NOC had stuck with hiring the standard 150 to 200 raft guides across its seven river operations. Next year will probably not be any different.

“We’ll probably wait and see,” said Conner.

The challenging summer has been good for the local economy and for guides’ paychecks, but NOC employees say they are ready to wind down.

“I think we’re all grateful it happened, and we’re all grateful that it’s coming to an end,” Dean said.

For the outdoors lover, stepping into NOC’s Great Outpost in Gatlinburg is like being a kid in a candy shop.

The outdoor gear and paraphernalia is as extensive as that found in major stores like REI or Bass Pro, but has a distinctly mountain feel similar to that found in Mast General Store.

“We wanted to be known as an experiential retailer. We wanted the store to be as much about having an experience in the store as the merchandise itself,” said Sutton Bacon, the CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Inside the front door, you’re greeted by a two-story climbing wall rigged with ropes and harnesses for the public to try. The layout of the store is well–organized: hiking, camping, fishing, climbing and paddling all have their own sections. There’s an entire floor dedicated to footwear and outdoor apparel from brands like Patagonia, North Face, Columbia and Keen.

The store is designed with kids in mind, too. They can climb through a rock tunnel into a “cave,” and bounce over a swinging bridge strung above the first floor of the store. There’s even a kid’s section for youth outdoor gear and outdoor toys.

A “Base Camp” area offers a passport to outdoor adventure, where you can sign up for rafting trips, learn-to-kayak classes, guided fishing trips and hiking or nature tours. Like an outdoor concierge service, staff can also offer hiking and camping suggestions for those trekking on their own.

“We have folks trained to assist anyone with any question,” said Brian May, NOC’s outreach manager.

It has outdoor gifts and souvenirs, from trinkets like old-fashioned candy and locally made soaps to more substantial finds like a national parks’ version of the Monopoly board game.

The store has quickly become popular with Appalachian Trail hikers. The AT passes through the Smokies at Newfound Gap, about 8 miles from Gatlinburg. The Great Outpost has free shuttle and Internet for hikers, and runs the shuttle three times a day to take hikers back to the trail. The Outpost also serves as a mail drop for hikers — a point along the trail where hikers send themselves care packages stocked with supplies for the next leg of their trek.

It’s fun for other guests at the store to see the hikers coming and going with their full-loaded packs.

“It is connecting us with a very authentic experience in the park,” said May. If hikers happen to stock up on supplies like camping fuel while at the store, all the better, but “It is not a hard sell. They can come in and just hang out,” May said.

NOC has been recently recognized by The New York Times as the “Nation’s Premiere Paddling School,” “The Best Place to Learn” by Outside Magazine, and as “One of the Best Outfitters on Earth” by National Geographic Explorer.

Nantahala Outdoor Center is positioned to become a major player in the outdoors scene on the Tennessee side of the Smokies with a gigantic new outfitter’s store smack in the middle of downtown Gatlinburg.

The $4 million Great Outpost gives NOC newfound visibility to some 14 million people who pour trough Gatlinburg year round, allowing it to market outdoor gear and guided adventures to a whole new audience — one that doesn’t always connect to the outdoors despite being on a vacation to the mountains.

“There are millions of people who come to Gatlinburg every year and never set foot into the national park, so we feel like this is a great opportunity to introduce a new audience to the outdoors and break down traditional barriers,” said Sutton Bacon, the CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center.

NOC is already known for its rafting and paddling operations headquartered on the Nantahala River in Swain County, along with several outposts on other mountain rivers. It serves half a million guests a year, branching out in recent years to fly-fishing, mountain biking, hiking and sundry forms of outdoor activities. It also has had a gear store at its Nantahala outpost for many years.

Bacon said NOC has exceptionally strong brand recognition and long legacy in North Carolina.

“But we felt there was a huge opportunity to expose the NOC brand to an entirely new audience,” Bacon said. “We felt like it was a great strategic move for us to go into Gatlinburg and establish a presence there.”

The new store is the largest retail space in all of downtown Gatlinburg. The storefront occupies what is possibly the prime piece of real estate in the throbbing tourist gateway town.

The Great Outpost is directly adjacent to the main national park entrance — the first thing you see when leaving the park or last thing you see before heading in. A signboard shows icons of paddling, hiking, camping and fishing, promoting the store as a “one-stop-shop” for any and all outdoor adventures.

Surprisingly, Gatlinburg didn’t previously have an all-purpose outfitter. It made the venture somewhat risky, but NOC took the gamble that there is indeed an underserved market in Gatlinburg among those seeking outdoor adventure.

“What can the market truly sustain? Is it more the T-shirt, souvenir-based market, or is there a strong outdoor market there?” Bacon said.

Obviously, NOC thinks the answer is yes.

Since opening four weeks ago, the store has met sales expectations for the startup period — and the main season hasn’t even started yet. The new store will also allow NOC to expand its mostly seasonal operations based in the Nantahala Gorge.

But Bacon emphasizes the mission of the new store is more than that.

“We want to expose as many people to the outdoors as possible,” Bacon said. “I am less concerned about whether they go on an NOC trip. We are all about reconnecting that community with the national park.”

To demonstrate its commitment to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at its doorstep, NOC donated $5,000 to Friends of the Smokies to mark the grand opening of the Great Outpost in early April. When shoppers ring up at the register, they are asked if they want to “round up” their purchase to the nearest dollar as a donation to Friends of the Smokies. Nearly everyone says yes, and all that change adds up quickly.

“They know it is a good cause,” said Brian May, NOC’s outreach manager.

Built green with style

Green building principles guided construction of the Great Outpost, qualifying it for gold certification under the LEED program, the national ranking system for environmentally-friendly buildings.

Green features include low-flow faucets, reduced energy consumption and lights that operate on motion detector so they don’t burn needlessly. Rainwater is absorbed by the landscaping rather than channeled into the town gutter system.

The building isn’t short on style, though, with a large, rustic wooden porch and massive stacked stone columns. Inside, floorboards and wooden siding taken from old barns made their way into the architecture, giving it a distinctly mountain flavor. Pine trees ravaged by the pine beetle and being cut down anyway were used for logs.

The siding comes from poplar bark stripped from poplar trees heading to the sawmill for lumber, reusing what would otherwise have been discarded.

The use of old materials provided green points in the certification. A building that once existed in the same spot — a long-time signature restaurant owned by the Ogle family that essentially founded Gatlinburg — was largely gutted inside and out, but the materials, even concrete block, were reused in the new structure.

Big names in paddling will dish up their best stunts and tricks in the NOC Freestyle Shootout kayak rodeo on the Nantahala River this weekend, April 17 and 18.

Freestyle kayaking, like skateboarding or snowboarding on a half-pipe, involves technical tricks and highly-stylized moves — including spins, turns, cartwheels and flips that often involve the boater going completely airborne.

The NOC Shootout is one of only six events in the country where paddlers can get points toward the USA Freestyle Kayaking national championship series. Paddlers are hoping freestyle will be recognized as an official Olympic sport for the 2012 games.

The NOC competition begins late Saturday morning and runs throughout the afternoon. The top five paddlers in each class advance to finals on Sunday. Awards ceremony is Sunday evening with $10,000 in cash and prizes.

Throughout both days, visitors can enjoy a festival-like atmosphere with DJ Terrence Young. Saturday evening, The River Bottom Nightmare Band featuring members of Asheville’s Firecracker Jazz Band will perform at The Pourover Pub at NOC.

The wave feature on the river will be lit up for an “open surf” on Friday evening, April 16, after which Eric Jackson, founder of Jackson Kayak, will give a talk on the rules, moves and scoring of freestyle kayaking at The Pourover.

noc.com or 800.232.7238.

 

Test the newest boats in the market

Nantahala Outdoor Center’s Demo Days is Saturday, April 17, where more than 60 kayaks and canoes will be available for free test-paddles on the river.

The best of USA Canoe/Kayak’s whitewater team will descend on the Nantahala River this weekend intent on making a clear impression about their Olympic aspirations.

The Bank of America Whitewater U.S. Open (March 27-28) is the first measuring stick in the paddling season that will intensify at the U.S. National Trials in Wausau, Wisc., and culminate in a trip to September’s World Championships in Tace, Slovenia.

Twenty-year-old Asheville native Austin Kieffer, who’s spent his whole paddling career with the Nantahala Racing Club Rhinos, relishes the chance to make that impression in the slalom competion in his own backyard.

“It’s always exciting when the season starts up. It’s exciting to be racing again and it being on home turf is just really fun. I hope it gives me an edge,” Kieffer said.

Kieffer races K1 or single kayak, and as he’s moved from Asheville’s Carolina Day School to Davidson College, he’s kept his eye on one prize –– a shot at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“I want to be on the team this year,” Kieffer said. “I hope it’s kind of a transition year for me.”

Kieffer, currently on the national developmental team, is one of the only local racers challenging for a K1 spot with Team USA this year. Western Carolina University grad and two-time national champion, Scott Mann, should also feel right at home on the Nantahala Outdoor Center course, and Vermont native Brett Heyl will be eager to re-establish his place as the country’s best slalom racer.

Kieffer thinks this year is his chance to step up his career by beating the big boys, and he believes the U.S. Open and the Charlotte Open at the National Whitewater Center the following weekend (April 2-3) will help him gauge how much ground he’s made on the rest of the field in the off season.

The back-to-back races pose different challenges to what will in all likelihood be a near identical group of competitors.

“Nantahala is a sprint, and there’s not much variability,” Kieffer said. “Charlotte is big and powerful, and it’s more explosive. There are more areas where people can really make time or lose time.”

The U.S. Open is a classic whitewater slalom race and Nantahala Racing Club coach Rafal Smolen, who raced for Poland before coming to the U.S. to coach, has a reputation for setting courses that test the competitors. But Smolen said the Nantahala’s natural features won’t create a lot of separation between the top contenders this weekend.

“Usually it’s a really close race even if the course is set up right,” Smolen said.

In contrast, Smolen said the man-made course in Charlotte is one of the world’s most demanding, capable of punishing technical mistakes heavily and testing the conditioning of the athletes.

Austin Kieffer hopes a good result on familiar water at the U.S. Open will set the stage for him to showcase his power on the concrete river in Charlotte.

“I’m a little bit bigger athlete compared to some of the other paddlers, so I think that can make it a bit more forgiving on the bigger course,” Kieffer said. “But it all depends on that day of racing. Who’s on their game and who’s off.”

No matter how you look at it, the U.S. Open is one of the classic showcases in the sport of whitewater racing, and the event will bring some of the world’s best racers in both slalom and wildwater classifications to Western North Carolina to show off their skills.

In whitewater slalom, the paddlers will negotiate 14 downstream gates and six upstream gates — in under two minutes. If they touch a gate, they incur a two-second penalty.

In wildwater racing, the competitors paddle down river as fast as possible.

After a winter in the gym, all of the paddlers will be happy to be back on the water, and for spectators, a day at the races is the perfect way to ring in spring.

“There’s no slalom race in the region as big as this race,” Smolen said. “If you want to see the best competitors in the sport, this is the place to come.”

For race schedules go to www.nrcrhinos.com or for info on USA Canoe/Kayak go to www.usack.org.

An outdoor expedition to Bolivia that puts paddlers to work delivering medical supplies to remote villages organized by Nantahala Outdoor Center got a major plug by National Geographic ADVENTURE.

The November issue of the magazine listed the trip in its top 25 list of global adventure trips.

The expedition — a joint effort between NOC and nonprofit Medicforce — aims to bring first aid training and medical attention to remote riverside communities only accessible by running seven days of Class IV-V whitewater on Bolivia’s Tuichi River.

“This is a proper expedition that will have positive outcomes for people who live out of reach of traditional medical care,” said Jono Bryant, director of Adventure Travel and Wilderness Medicine at NOC. “The trip is a totally new concept that has huge potential worldwide. I’m thankful that NOC continues to push the boundaries of whitewater by providing these new and exciting opportunities.”

The magazine labeled the expedition a “difference maker” trip, noting its objectives: delivering medical supplies, conducting basic physical exams and relaying information about common health threats. The 21-day expedition will be held in August 2010.

NOC’s expedition is ranked among some of the most extraordinary adventures across the globe, such as biking through Pacific jungles, trekking into the Arctic Circle and snorkeling with humpback whales in Tonga.

Tool to help outfitters hone marketing

Outdoor Industry Association® has launched a new database to track purchases of outdoor gear and clothing from outfitters across the country.

The tracking system will help manufacturers and retailers in the outdoor lifestyle industry see how they are stacking up against national sales and pick up trends among outdoors consumers. The system will show weekly retail sales of outdoor products from major retailers, local outfitters and the Internet.

Retailers can enroll at no cost and will be able to access the data for free. 704.987.3450.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center will hold its first ever fly-fishing competition Oct. 17 and 18 on the Nantahala River in Swain County.

The first day’s events will be held at the Nantahala Outdoor Center on U.S. 19 in the Gorge and will include a lineup of unique casting events.

“The first one is going to be this thing where competitors have to hit targets that are floating down the river,” said J.E.B. Hall, fishing programs director at NOC.

It’s not unusual for fly-fishing contests to have a qualifying round involving accuracy, but it is usually done on dry land with targets set up in a large field. The floating targets at the NOC contest will each be a different size and carry a different point value.

In the qualifying rounds, competitors will also try their luck casting for distance — again with a twist.

“They can’t use a rod and must use their hands,” Hall said.

The top 10 competitors go on to compete in the second-day, fishing part of the competition, held on the river from the Swain County line downstream to Little Wesser Falls. Fishermen will only be allowed to use one fly.

“There are a lot of fishing tournaments out there, but we wanted to make something different,” Hall said.

The NOC is known for its rafting trips, but the business has also begun offering fly-fishing trips from Asheville to east Tennessee.

“It [fly-fishing] is such a big thing in that part of North Carolina that they wanted to have their own fishing tournament,” Hall said.

The NOC hopes to make this an annual event. It was spurred this year by an early end to the rafting season.

“The river’s not running for the month of October, so we wanted to have some events throughout the month that would kind of fill in for that,” Hall said.

During October, Duke Energy is doing some work on its powerhouse on the lower portion of the river. That work will prevent the company from releasing enough water for whitewater rafting.

While the river may be too low for rafting, the natural flow should provide plenty of water for fishing, he said.

Ben Wiggins, who lives in Bryson City, said the natural flow of the river should make for some good fishing.

Wiggins has been fly-fishing for 12 years, but this will be his first competitive event.

“I think it’s going to be more of a lighthearted event,” Wiggins said.

When the new line of 2009 kayaks hits the outfitters’ stores in coming weeks, the mark of paddling guru Wayner Dickert will be lurking beneath more than one hull.

The former Olympic paddler has long been a go-to guy for boat manufacturers. In the trenches at Nantahala Outdoor Center’s paddling school where thousands flock every year to improve their skills, Dickert has a foot soldier’s view of the demands in the boat market.

Of all the boats Dickert consulted on this year, he’s most excited about a new boat by Dagger — the Karnali — named for a mega-river in Nepal. As a paddling instructor, Dickert’s constant challenge to boat makers is to design a kayak that strikes a balance between the mutually exclusive traits desirable to a beginner versus an expert. For example, beginners need a boat that’s stable, thus a flatter hull. But more rounder bottoms move better if you have the skills to handle them.

Another set of attributes that are mutually exclusive: a boat that’s stable when upright, yet easy to flip back up if you capsize.

The new Karnali by Dagger attempts to find the perfect balance of all these with the beginner in mind.

“It was literally built because of our instruction programs,” Dickert said. “We wanted a boat that was easy to paddle, easy to roll and still has great stability. They completely went back to the drawing board and built this boat really around a lot of the comments and recommendations that we had.”

The paddling companies often call on NOC staffers for input when crafting new boats.

“It is pretty common that a manufacturer will call or email and say ‘Hey, we are working on this. What do you think it ought to be?’” Dickert said.

Those called on for advice range from the paddling teachers to the outfitters store. And why not?

“We are the frontrunner for instruction in North America and probably put more people through courses than anybody possibly in the world,” said Robert Bone, NOC’s boat buyer.

As the guy who chooses which boats NOC buys, whether it’s for their rental fleet, for the paddling school or to stock in the outfitters store, Bone is another guy boat makers want to curry favor with.

“It’s a pretty common occurrence,” Bone said of NOC staffers consulting on new boat designs. “We’ve been involved in designing boats for 30 years. It is pretty neat to be thought of in the industry as the people they go to. That’s the cool thing about NOC, is we have that expertise and the manufacturers feel comfortable coming to us and asking what’s going to sell on the marketplace.”

 

Rival boats

The NOC staffers are equal opportunity consultants.

“Because we carry all the lines, we have a neutral perspective,” Dickert said. “We look at boats from the perspective of what will help our guests become the best paddler they can be.”

In other words, someone looking for a boat — whether to rent for the day or to buy — will be pointed toward the one that best suits their ability and interests out of all the available lines, not just the best out of Liquid Logic’s line, or from Jackson Kayaks’ line.

That means Dickert can be consulting for more than company at a time. On ’09 designs, Dickert lent his two cents to both Dagger and Pyranha. Unbeknownst to each other, both were working on similar tracks, although Dickert couldn’t reveal it until the boats were ready.

“They ended up being so similar that when they saw each other’s boats they said ‘Hey, that’s our boat,’” Dickert said. “They are still definitely different boats and each one has its own special micro niche it will fit into, but each others’ jaw dropped.”

It’s not uncommon for boat makers to head down similar paths, just like car makers or electronic makers come out with similar innovations the same year.

“They knew there was a need in the industry and they ended up getting to similar places to fill that need, so that means to me they called it pretty well,” Dickert said of Dagger’s new Axium and Pyranha’s new Zone.

 

Hands-on

In exchange for his input, Dickert hopes to earn a free boat when the line comes out. But occasionally, he lands a gig on a prototype team that sees a boat through from inception to the final product.

One such boat was the GT, an innovative boat developed by Dagger a few years ago. Dickert laid down the initial challenge — to find the perfect middle ground between the stability of a play boat and the maneuverability of the river running kayaks.

Here’s a crash course for the non-paddler: a play boat sports a shorter, stubbier, fatter snout good for bouncing around on waves, while a river runner is longer and sleeker. Each boat calls for a specific hull type. The river runner has a displacement hull with a rounded bottom for slicing through the water, while the play boat has a planing hull that’s flatter for sitting on top of the water.

“The challenge was finding a good balance to where you still got the benefit of that flat bottom hull,” Dickert said.

After some initial consultations with the designers, they built a few prototypes, and that’s when things got fun. Dickert and a team of three other paddlers hit the water with the prototypes, trading boats over the course of the day to get a feel for each.

“We would sit around and compare notes and say ‘What did you like about this, what did it do well, what did it not do well.’ We would figure out what needed to be changed and they would go back and try to make that happen,” Dickert said.

The team took each new set of prototypes out on the water, refining, refining, refining each time.

“When we got it on the water if it didn’t work out like we thought it would we’d say ‘Let’s change this,’” Dickert recounted. They went through upwards of 15 prototypes this way before Dagger cut them off.

“You try to keep getting it closer and closer, but it’s one of those things where at some point you have to draw a line,” Dickert said. “It is all a compromise.”

Dickert’s hard work was vindicated when the GT got Boat of the Year by Outside magazine that year.

The new lines of kayaks and canoes this year have one mission in common: to lure new converts.

“Most of the manufacturers are coming out with boats that are more beginner and intermediate friendly. This is a push to get more people involved in paddling as new boaters have been declining for the past decade,” said Robert Bone, a boat expert at Nantahala Outdoor Center. “They realize we have to grow this market segment. To keep it viable for the manufacturers, they have to get new people involved, thus the new designs.”

There’s been a decline in paddling for the past eight years, Bone said. Thousands flock to NOC’s courses each year to learn how to paddle. But if newcomers can’t get the hang of it, at least enough see a light at the end of the tunnel, they give up.

“The learning curve is very steep in the first several years,” Bone said.

While it’s more fun for boat makers, who are often world-class paddlers themselves, to design high-power, high performance boats tailored to other experts like them, the NOC crew has help pushed designers into considering the beginners.

“For the beginning paddler you need something that gives them a lot of confidence on the river. They need to get on the river and feel like they can really do it and then they’ll come back and turn it into a life time sport, so that’s what I wanted to do more than anything,” said Wayner Dickert, a world-class paddler and instructor at NOC.

There’s a trade-off when designing a boat — a kayak with high maneuverability for experienced paddlers versus one more likely to stay upright. NOC staffers kept asking the manufacturers for a more forgiving boat, and they finally responded.

“It is nice to have the manufacturers listen to you and develop a boat for your specific market,” Bone said. “We really appreciate that.”

The boat companies are also pitching boats this year that can multi-task. The expert paddler has an arsenal of boats to fill every niche of water imaginable, whether it’s the best boat for making fast tracks on a lake or barreling over class V waterfalls on narrow creeks. Play boats are even tailored toward the type of trick they perform best for, with some handling best for enders and cartwheels and the others for stern squirts and spins.

Dickert has eight boats from that came out in 2008 alone, and doesn’t consider it a lot.

“I am actually pretty lean on boats right now,” Dickert said.

But those just entering the sport haven’t built up their stockpile of boats yet.

They need cross-over boats that aren’t so tailored to just one kind of paddling.

“They’re manufacturing boats to fit a wider range, that caters to that beginner boater who wants to do some of both,” Bone said.

A unique twist on luring more people into paddling is a new two-person kayak by Jackson Kayak. The tandem kayak is the first of its kind in more than a decade and will hopefully help get people hooked.

“You will have somebody experienced in the back of the boat and some one who has never kayaked in their life taking them down river and hopefully get them excited and hopefully get them to buy a boat,” Bone said. “It is all about trying to increase the participation in whitewater paddling.”

There’s another trend Bone sees in boats this year.

“It seems like everybody has kind of gone back to retro designs, little longer designs for river running and stability,” Bone said. “The steam has been dropping from the play boat scene for a while now. That has taken a bit of a backseat to plain old river running in the last couple years.”

By Michael Beadle

Sutton Bacon once had dreams of becoming a surgeon.

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