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