The service is the brainchild of Washington state kayaker Neil Crist and a college friend. The pair took up kayaking together, and their friendship and boating has lasted as they graduated, took up careers, and have started families.
The idea came to them after a particularly hairy run on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. When they left home in the morning, the river was running at about 2,500 cfs, a reasonable level for experienced kayakers. As they arrived and put-in, the river had rapidly risen to over 4000 and still rising. Without real-time flow data, they soon found themselves in way over where they wanted to be. “It was an experience that kept us off the Middle Fork for nearly a year,” Crist said. When they got home they learned that the river had spiked up to over 7,000 cfs that day.
Western Washington rivers can be volatile. The beauty of them, though, is that if one run is too high or too low, there’s often another run within an hour’s drive that’s just right. Wouldn’t it be great, the friends thought, if you could get that information on your cell phone when you need it most. Although neither are professional programmers, “we write code for fun,” Crist said. And Paddlespot was born.
Initially they set it up just for themselves, putting in the Western Washington rivers they liked to run. They started sharing their brainchild around with the local paddling community, through Yahoo groups like Seattle Kayaker and Washington Recreational River Runners.
“The response was unexpected and massive, from both paddlers and non-paddlers,” Crist said. They heard from a family who lived on the Sauk River and didn’t have a computer-they were using the text-messages to decide when it was time to evacuate their home during the flood season.
Suddenly, the service they’d started for their own benefit seemed way more important, Crist said. Realizing that people were relying on it for safety led them to upgrade the server and make it more powerful.
Now they have rivers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming. California, Arizona, and New Mexico are in the works, and they’re seeking local paddlers in the northeast and southeast to help them add rivers in those regions.
Here’s how it works:
Send a text message to Paddlespot using the two-letter state abbreviation for the address, ie for Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org. In the message, type the first three letters of the river you want; ie SNO for the Snoqualmie. Here’s what you’ll get back:
M Fork 747 02/24 09:15
N Fork 292 02/24 09:15
S Fork 162 02/24 09:15
Falls to Plum Lndg 2,170 02/24 6:30
Those indicate the tributary, the cfs, the date, and the time of the reading.
Crist and his friend are doing this out of love and curiosity, trying to create the best system they can, and plan to keep offering it for free to users. Go check it out at www.paddlespot.com.