About Our Teama passion for water and play
Working the Riot Styk
Jason Westley Craig
Middle Fork Kings River
Meadow River WV
Stikine River The Wall
Mann's Creek WV
Stikine River Tanzilla Slot
Stikine River not out of the woods yet....
I was born and raised in WV and leaned how to paddle here. I started kayaking 20 years ago because my dad wanted to learn how and thought it would be a good father/son bonding experience. I had no idea it would become one of the greatest driving forces in my life. I fell in love with paddling because of the sense of freedom and endless exploration that goes along with it. It’s by far the most unique and most amazing method of transportation that I have ever discovered. Kayaking has taken me all over the world and allowed me to see some truly awe inspiring places, but I do most of my paddling in and around Fayetteville, WV. I typically spend more days on the Meadow River than anywhere else, and have more runs on it than any other river I have ever paddled.
About a decade ago, I came to a cross roads. I used to get over use injuries, particularly in my wrists and elbows, on a regular basis. It was frustrating to have something that I loved so much cause me so much pain. I knew that I was over torqueing my joints, but I didn’t know how to lessen the strain on my body. I didn’t want to paddle less, but I knew that something had to give. The path I was on was not sustainable. I wanted to find a way to be easier on my body without sacrificing performance or sacrificing any days on the water. Fortunately, I discovered Jim’s paddles. The first time I dipped the blades of my Rivrstyx Flo into the water, I had one of those “ah ha!” moments. The paddle was so smooth and effortless and seemed so natural. Everything just clicked right away, and I knew that I would never use another brand of paddle again. Within a few months, all of my overuse injuries disappeared. Nine years later, I’m paddling just as much as I ever have and feel stronger and healthier than ever. I still use my original medium sized Flo all the time and have also added a large Flo and a Riot Styk to the rotation. And I still can’t imagine ever using another brand of paddle again. I keep paddling because water is such a dynamic and variable entity that never stops fascinating me. It can be soft and yielding, or abrasive and destructive. It can be calming and relaxing, or exciting and adrenaline producing. It can be clean and pure, or dirty and abused. But no matter what properties water has, it can bring out the best in you. To quote Doug Ammons, “If we’re lucky, sometime in our lives we find places or people who bring the very best out of us, and finally show what we are truly capable of. I believe strongly that is true of everybody, and that is what the Stikine means to me.” That is what rivers in general and kayaking in particular means to me. Kayaking has shown me what I am truly capable of and brings out the very best of me. Jim’s paddles do the same thing. They allow me to perform at my best so I can see exactly what I am capable of. The bland, minimalistic shape of the Flo allows it to disappear into my hands and morph into an extra appendage of my body. It functions as a giant conducting rod, transmitting the energy of the river into my body and allowing me to effortlessly transmit my own power back to the river. I’ve never felt a stronger, more powerful connection with the water than when a Rivrstyk is in my hands. And because of Jim’s paddles, I can paddle as much as I want for the rest of my life without having to make any compromises.
In 1981 my parents spaceship crashed full speed into a small town called Friendsville. Upon the landing I was rapidly ejected from within my mother’s belly and such started my life in the Youghiogheny River Valley. My mother was the first spirited whitewater enthusiast in the family. She bought her very own Army Surplus raft and guided herself down the Lower Yough prior to the commercial boom in the area. Throughout my childhood there was clearly something stirring inside me. I was wild and unsettled, so they did what any frustrated parents would do and put me in a wrestling singlet and turned me loose. I spent the bulk of my early years on the wrestling mat, until high school. My high school wrestling coach was Scott Stough, a long time whitewater kayaker from Pennsylvania, he was the one responsible for my water breaking. Coach Stough knew I needed something more than a wrestling mat to keep me out of the clink and so he furnished me with my first whitewater kayak, a Perception Corsica S. From that moment on my life had changed as does so many people who feel their first splash of whitewater in the face. I started cutting the teeth on the lower Yough and shortly moved on to the upper Yough where I found a new home. My high school days from then on were a blur of reading American Whitewater in class mixed with chasing the river tail after school. My adolescent claim to fame was an AW story called “Coach Can I Skip Practice, The North Fork Is Running”, written about the time I “borrowed” my Wrestling Coaches creek boat in the middle of the season to run the North Fork of the Blackwater for my first time…he wasn’t as impressed as you may think.
When I decided to put faith in my kayak to produce income I went on to become a member of Team Wavesport Kayaks competing in many of the infamous “Rodeos” of the golden era as well as competing on the forefront of extreme racing as the sport began to take form. Kayaking from then on was my modus for travel. Through competitions, guiding and exploration I have been lucky enough to view many remote stretches of the world with my kayak in tow.
After many years of seeing the walls of mountains from the river banks, my curiosity led me deeper into the adventure world as rock climbing and mountain climbing became a strong second focus. As my knees started to show signs of wear from descending down from the natural behemoths I took on the sport of paragliding to expedite the process. Seeing the rivers from above changed my entire perspective on paddling. I no longer became fixated on chasing a section of rapids, or a particular wave, I began to see the bigger picture and have been fascinated with following the path’s that the rivers have carved ever since. In a effort to deepen my new perspective I organized and carried out the “Summit 2 Sea Expedition” in which I was the first recorded person to successfully climb Denali, the largest mountain in North America, and navigate the river that it berths from its source to the sea in one continuous push.
Connecting with the natural world has always been my deepest passion, whether it be clinging to the rocks, flying with the birds, or paddling within the river. The moment I laid my hands on my first wooden paddle from Jim, that connection became significantly deeper. I woodn’t have it any other way.
Malcolm Lee Smith
Malcolm Lee Smith
Malcolm lives in Franklin, NC with his parents, his Devonshire dairy cow Bessie and his puppy Lilly. He started paddling the summer he was 4 when his brother Shaun came to visit with his kayak. By mid winter, he was paddling a tiny cut down slalom boat (that he is still growing into today). But being so young meant that he was too small for most ready-made gear. His mom and dad, along with “uncles” Gary and Allen, got a bit crafty and made or customized gear to keep Malcolm’s paddling safe, fun and progressive. Skirts, pfd’s, boats and even paddles had to be tweaked or made to fit his tiny frame. That is how Malcolm and Jim first became friends.
Malcolm’s mom got this idea that Malcolm needed a custom sized, handmade wooden paddle. She learned that Jim was still making them. The two exchanged a few emails regarding some rather involved instructions. Then Jim made the most generous gesture of offering to make Malcolm’s paddles and be his exclusive paddle maker. A few rounds of meticulous measurements and several wise words about water lead to Malcolm and Jim becoming great friends, 2 beautiful tiny paddles, and possibly the world’s smallest squirt boat ever!!!
2014 marks his second year with Team Dagger. Malcolm paddles the small Axiom, a boat shaped for classic styled paddling and a perfect vehicle for Jim’s fine tuned instruments. With Jim’s encouragement, Malcolm’s paddling focus is form, technique, fun and flow. When not paddling gates on his pond at home, or refining his surf at Rose Creek down the road, Malcolm can be found working on Nantahala gates or the eddy lines at the Island Park on the Tuckaseegee. When the river is up, and his brave is high, he can be found running Lesser Wesser Falls, or punching the free style feature at the NOC (when the river is not so high). This past winter was spent experimenting with his squirt boat and wooden hand paddles at local pool sessions.
Malcolm was the 2012 Junior National Trials Motorcycle Champion (7+under) the summer he was 5 yo, and got on the podium for 2nd place in 2013 (9+under) the summer he was 6 yo. This year, he has competed in a couple of 2014 GNCC off road dirt bike races (65cc 7-9 yo) where he churned some serious mud. He has competed in one trials bicycle event so far, and a few local youth slalom boat races where he podiumed once for 3rd place (12+under) when he was 6 yo.
Currently, Malcolm thinks that he will grow up to be a rocket scientist and design rocket ships, “but not an astronaut because it’s too lonely out in space”. Back up options for future careers include barn storming, driving a bulldozer and delivering babies. Malcolm thinks that this last option “could really help somebody”. Malcolm started playing the piano when the he started kayaking, and loved to dance since the day he could walk. A scrambled egg is his one cooking specialty; he is learning the art of making pop corn as we speak. He hopes to have his one cow dairy up and running soon.
In the meanwhile, Malcolm stays pretty busy as a 7 year old. He is homeschooled year round and spends a few hours most days studying the 3 R’s (his parents still subscribe to old school academia), the basics of “rocket math” (times tables and simple running equations), history +culture, and natural sciences (he can now differentiate between rhododendron and mountain laurel, white pine and yellow pines, and collects every shiny specimen of quartz, mica and pyrite that he can spot). Malcolm has also developed a knack for making bows and arrows out of twigs and twine, flying paper airplanes and fashioning clothes pins into triggers for various rubber band loaded artillery. The little creek bedside his house is where he spends his free day light hours with his toy boats playing with eddy lines, holes, boofs and currents. Recently, Malcolm has started to make his own little paddling “edits”, but no dub step yet, we’re sticking to Suzuki Piano vol. 1 for now. Bad weather days are spent up in the barn, figuring up new trials tricks or making it a few more feet on his unicycle (yes, Malcolm and Uncle Jeff were immediate friends!!!).
Malcolm thanks Rivr Styx, Uncle Jeff, Team Dagger and Sandboxland helmets for making it possible to have fun forever. Malcolm is especially blessed to have the Professor of Fun supporting him in all of his incredible adventures on and off the river! Thank you Jim!!!