Instructor Profiles: Les Bechdel

Photo by Alpenglow Press

For McCall, Idaho’s Les Bechdel, rescue should be a vital part of any paddling instruction program.

He should know. An ACA instructor-trainer for the Nantahala Outdoor Center for 10 years, it was the drowning of an NOC raft guide that led to his co-authoring River Rescue with Slim Ray in 1985, still the standard reference for river safety and rescue today. The book has such a strong following that last fall, nearly 25 years later, its third edition hit shelves.

“I try to get boaters to have river sense and awareness to prevent accidents from ever happening,” says Bechdel, 62, who, after 25 years, sold his outfitting company, Canyons Inc., in December. “Instructors should not only teach paddling technique, but also how to self-rescue and rescue others. Safety should be paramount to any instruction program.”

That’s not to say that technique isn’t important to the four-time national slalom champion. While he operated Canyons Inc. as more of an outfitter than an instructional school, a lot of the trips cater to canoeists and kayakers, where the instructor in him can’t help but right wrongs. “I can’t stand to see someone with a bad habit or poor technique,” he says.

Still, he’s equally pleased when clients grasp and embrace the concept of rescue. “It’s great to see a beginner bulldozing a swamped kayak to shore,” he says. “And I always try to make it fun. River rescue doesn’t always have to be a dark topic.” - Eugene Buchanan

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  • fred grote


    do you remember me. I worked in Idaho about 15 years ago and even stopped at your home looking for rafting work. At this time, I am working as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in the Philippines. I am trying to update river rescue preparedness.
    the people I work with have some training, but lack resources. Pacific River Supply has just donated a river rescue board, Mariah wilderness some throw bags, and SOTAR is sending river rescue gear to us here. They are sending thwarts to use for the SOTAR that we have here. Anyway I was wondering if you could donate a copy of your book. I have one that was loaned to me, but the owner of the book wants it back. If you have a damaged or slightly older copy could you send it to a friend of mine who is coming to the Philippines. Peace Corps policy to provide Volunteers, but does no have budget for purchasing badly needed supplies. thank you so much for taking the time to consider this request. Fred Grote former Idaho raft guide

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