Whitewater paddlers viewed waterfalls as certain death in the 1970s. It seemed impossible to escape a large hydraulic created by a waterfall in a narrow, pointy 13′ kayak… that is, until a couple of intrepid paddling guides decided to chop the ends off their boats. What resulted was the emergence of the Backender Boat and the birth of a whole new whitewater sport.
In January of 1973, Martin Begun ran Potter Falls on Crooked Fork Creek in East Tennessee. It was the feature image of the summer edition of American Whitewater. While the reaction in the larger boating community was mixed, it cemented an idea in the minds of two raft guides in Ohiopyle, PA.
Dan Demaree and Jim Snyder had been pushing themselves as racers and river runners. Together they would guide people down the Upper Yough on their off days. And as they stared at the falls, they imagined what would be in store form them should they tempt it. For weeks they practiced paddling into the base of the falls, flipping over, holding their breath and feeling the currents. They would swim into a hole in Railroad rapid, practicing their escape skills. They honed their line; imagining what today we know as boofing, gliding out past the maw at the base of the falls. And in July of 1973, they were ready. Or so they thought.
The Backender Boat from Chris Preperato on Vimeo.