Mystery Mover: Jim Snyder goes deep. Photo by Emma Runciman.

Mystery Mover: Jim Snyder goes deep. Photo by Emma Runciman.

By Kyle Dickman

Imagine if the evolution of paddling had left a trail of footprints in the sand. Now see those ragged-edged tracks marking the shift from a walk to a run? Those are Jim Snyder’s.

In the 1980s, Snyder led a generation of whitewater kayakers on an evolutionary leap forward. He took the sport underwater, away from the surface-dwelling barges of the day and into the sinking slivers that came to be called squirt boats.

The mutation began where it still resides, in the shed next to Snyder’s West Virginia home where he cut, smashed, and shortened kayaks in headlong pursuit of more fun. He tested and perfected his creations on the Cheat River, and they became the catalyst for moving kayaking into the third dimension.

For that paradigm shift, the faithful call him the father of squirt boating, which naturally makes him the grandfather of playboating. But when rodeo blew up in the mid-‘90s and pushed kayaking into the mainstream of outdoor and corporate culture, Snyder didn’t join. He stuck with squirt boating, because, he says, the Cheat doesn’t have much play. What he doesn’t have to say is that his soul wasn’t in it.

Meanwhile, paddlers across the world stick loops and donkey flips, oblivious to the fact that these tricks are the inevitable manifestations of one humble man’s ideas. All of which is just fine with Snyder, so long as they’re boating with soul.

This story first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine.

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