Old School Boaters Celebrate Return of Worlds to U.S.

As the Whitewater Slalom Championships draw near, David Curran plans to reunite the sport's pioneers

US Team K-1 paddler, Bob Alexander, Delaware Slalom 1965. Photo courtesy of David Curran
US Team K-1 paddler, Bob Alexander, Delaware Slalom 1965. Photo courtesy of David Curran

By Eugene Buchanan

When the Whitewater Slalom World Championships come to Western Maryland Sept. 17-21, 30 miles away in Ohiopyle, Penn., a different set of paddlers, many of them retired slalom racers, will be reminiscing about the good ol' days on the river. In an event being organized by former racer David Curran, the Old School Boater Gathering is drawing racers from as far back as the '60s – even a few who competed in the 1972 Olympics – for a get-together Sept. 20 at Wilderness Voyageurs' Falls City Restaurant in Ohiopyle at 5 p.m. Beforehand, for those still able to fasten their skirts, there will be an unofficial Yough Loop paddle at 2 p.m. We caught up with organizer Curran for his rationale behind the rendezvous…

Canoe & Kayak: How'd you come up with the idea?

David Curran: The Worlds haven't been here in 25 years when they were held on the Savage River in 1989. The location is near the Yough, a place many East Coasters cut their teeth learning the sport. So it got me thinking. Since it's a drivable event, perhaps a bunch of folks would like to get together at a place they have fond memories of: the Yough. Tom Southworth, an Olympian from 1971, told me, "My wife, Nancy, and I met on the Yough! The first time I laid eyes on her she was out in the river below the falls splashing water on Charlie Bridge in 1962." I posted it on Facebook and several hours later, I had 70 boaters requesting membership. One said, "It's going viral." I want it to be like old times when, as racers, we'd travel to race and camp for the weekend. Sometime in the evening a critical mass would occur, and we'd have a shindig, start telling jokes and stories, hanging other racers' boats in trees, drinking and hell raising.

Is it a way to honor old schoolers?

Yes. With the passing of Jamie McEwan maybe even more so. I'm even having T-shirts made. No one knows this yet but the images we're using on the shirts represent old style boats like the end hole C-2. I'm 56 years old, started paddling in the mid-'60s, watched the '72 Olympics and started racing in 1973. No one thought this sport would grow like it has. Many of those folks who were innovators in those early years never got recognition. (But it's not like they wanted it.)

How many people are you expecting?

The Facebook page has 250 members. I'll be handing out invites when I'm at the Worlds to people I haven't been able to contact, including all the Europeans and Canadians in attendance who might want to come.

David Curran at Scudder Falls, Delaware River 1975. Photo courtesy of David Curran
David Curran at Scudder Falls, Delaware River 1975. Photo courtesy of David Curran

Expecting any marquee attendees?

Well, in my way of thinking, I'm hoping to get people like Charlie Walbridge from Wildwater Designs; Eric Evans, John Burton, Cindi Goodwin and Wick Walker, all Olympians from 1972; David Kurtz, the Hearns, Ron and Jon Lugbill, Peter Wilson, Chris and Mike McCormack, all fellow U.S. team members; Walt Witucki, who started the Penn Cup race series; and folks like Steve Draper, who has been around since before dirt; Bonnie Losick, the original maker of Bonnie's Hot Pogies. We all have fond memories of Walbridge's kits to make your own sprayskirts and neoprene vests.

Is the main "event" the lower Yough loop?

Hopefully, the main event will be the Old Boater Gathering which I hope will turn into a storyfest. I think a lot of the attendees haven't paddled in years, so the loop paddle might be minor. But you never know about boaters…

How do you think the caliber of paddling will compare to that at the Worlds?

The sport has certainly changed too much to compare. But I can guarantee you that we can all paddle a Lettman Mark IV better than any of the racers competing at Deep Creek.

Dave Knight and Walt Rogachenko, circa 1973. Photo courtesy of David Curran. US whitewater slalom
Dave Knight and Walt Rogachenko, circa 1973. Photo courtesy of David Curran