• Happy National Letter Writing Day! 📝✉️📬

Bob Foote (and others) Open Canoeing the Grand Canyon

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
3,254
Reaction score
1,450
Location
Connecticut
I paddled with Bob Foote several times in northern California where we both then lived in 1980-82. He was at that time practicing to be one of the first open canoeists to paddle the Grand Canyon. (Jim Shelander was the first in 1979 in a Mad River Explorer.) His Grand Canyon run in a Mad River ME, as publicized on the cover of Canoe Magazine in 1985 (below), made Bob one of the most famous whitewater open canoeists in the world since that time. He went on to become an ACA ITE in whitewater canoeing, an IT in kayak, and an instructor in flat water Freestyle along with his eventual wife Karen Knight.

Bob arranged and led dozens of open canoe trips down the Grand Canyon for decades beginning in the 1980's, which included many paddlers from clubs I paddled with in the eastern USA.

The video below is not in HD but has lots of slow motion photography. This gives a dramatic sense of the extreme tossing, turning and up-flinging of the canoes, but also probably gives the impression that the wave troughs are shorter than they actually are because of the foreshortening of telephoto lenses. Nevertheless, the canoeing is quite exciting and some surfing and open canoe rolls are included.

Bob can be picked out in the video because of the white helmet he traditionally wore with electrical tape forming a centerline with a V, as in this famous cover photo:

Bob-Foote-Grand-Canyon.jpg

You should note how relaxed Bob is while paddling in the giant explosion waves. He describes the feeling as one of almost Zen-like calm focus. He appears to be paddling a Dagger Genesis, which he designed along with Steve Scarborough's help. Given that the Genesis was announced in the 1992 Dagger catalog, I suspect the footage was shot in the early to mid-1990's. The rapids depicted are Hermit, Granite, Deubendorff, Crystal, Lava Falls, and some surfing at Chuar. Water volume was about 12,000-15,000 CFS, which is a moderate level for the Grand Canyon.

 
Joined
Oct 14, 2022
Messages
13
Reaction score
0
Location
Grand Junction, Colorado
I paddled with Bob Foote several times in northern California where we both then lived in 1980-82. He was at that time practicing to be one of the first open canoeists to paddle the Grand Canyon. (Jim Shelander was the first in 1979 in a Mad River Explorer.) His Grand Canyon run in a Mad River ME, as publicized on the cover of Canoe Magazine in 1985 (below), made Bob one of the most famous whitewater open canoeists in the world since that time. He went on to become an ACA ITE in whitewater canoeing, an IT in kayak, and an instructor in flat water Freestyle along with his eventual wife Karen Knight.

Bob arranged and led dozens of open canoe trips down the Grand Canyon for decades beginning in the 1980's, which included many paddlers from clubs I paddled with in the eastern USA.

The video below is not in HD but has lots of slow motion photography. This gives a dramatic sense of the extreme tossing, turning and up-flinging of the canoes, but also probably gives the impression that the wave troughs are shorter than they actually are because of the foreshortening of telephoto lenses. Nevertheless, the canoeing is quite exciting and some surfing and open canoe rolls are included.

Bob can be picked out in the video because of the white helmet he traditionally wore with electrical tape forming a centerline with a V, as in this famous cover photo:

View attachment 133223

You should note how relaxed Bob is while paddling in the giant explosion waves. He describes the feeling as one of almost Zen-like calm focus. He appears to be paddling a Dagger Genesis, which he designed along with Steve Scarborough's help. Given that the Genesis was announced in the 1992 Dagger catalog, I suspect the footage was shot in the early to mid-1990's. The rapids depicted are Hermit, Granite, Deubendorff, Crystal, Lava Falls, and some surfing at Chuar. Water volume was about 12,000-15,000 CFS, which is a moderate level for the Grand Canyon.

Fun stuff.
 
Joined
Dec 1, 2012
Messages
489
Reaction score
271
Location
Altoona, Pennsylvania
I learned my canoe roll from Bob Foote. Used that roll on Yough, cheat, gauley, Stony, Ottawa rivers ect. I only paddled with class v kayakers back than and was nicknamed Big Water because I always ran the kayak lines.

I will say that big whitewater ultimately is more fun in a kayak though IMO. It’s nice to hit rapid after rapid with no water in the boat!

Cheers to the WW open boaters out there!

By the way, I sold my whitewater kayak and associated gear, but by god I still have a Mad River Outrage X in my arsenal.

Cheers,
Big Water
 
Joined
Oct 10, 2022
Messages
8
Reaction score
2
Location
New England
Hi, Glenn,

Great video. Those guys have a sixth sense for whitewater canoeing. Amazing abilities in big water.

As I was watching I noticed one boater that looked like it was Mark Miller and sure enough his name appeared in the credits. I took a whitewater canoeing clinic Mark Miller put on years ago. It was right after the Dagger Genesis came out and Mark let me use his one day and I ended up buying one. I believe the Genesis is what Bob Foote and Mark used when they ran the Futaleufu and Bio Bio in Chile. Here's a video of some of the crazy stuff Mike Yee, Bob Foote, Mark Miller, Al Hooper, and John Hill were doing down in South America...

 
Last edited:
Joined
Jan 8, 2014
Messages
1,379
Reaction score
360
Location
Minden, NV
Wonderful.
such a radical idea.
The closest I have come to paddling with canoeing royalty was having Jerry Nyre in my boat on the S Platte River in Denver. Jerry and a partner were the first to paddle upstream to Moab from the Confluence of the Green and the Colorado Rivers.
 
Last edited:

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
3,254
Reaction score
1,450
Location
Connecticut
Here's a video of some of the crazy stuff Mike Yee, Bob Foote, Mark Miller, Al Hooper, and John Hill were doing down in South America...

Great video, Tom. I love watching the whitewater experts of the '80's and '90's, which were my peak years as a whitewater canoeist.

Here's a story about Bob Foote's critical influence on me.

I learned whitewater paddling in 1980 in northern California in Hollowform kayaks. I didn't like being restrictively confined in such a small boat, especially when hanging fearfully underwater in a rapid, but I did like the concept of a deck and double blade. So, I had a heavy fabric spray cover custom made for my Mad River Explorer, and began running north California rivers in it with a 9' Carlisle double blade paddle. That's the time I met Bob Foote, who was one of the rare open canoeists in California.

My last of three day trips with Bob was on Cache Creek, a 2-3 run whose "big" rapid was Rowboat, a long, technical class 3. Foote had watched me dump earlier in a pour-over, and eddied out next to me above Rowboat, sensing I was nervous.

Looking at my 9' paddle, he said, "You're not really canoeing with that double blade, you know."

Puzzled, I said, "What do you mean? I am in a canoe."

He replied, "That's not the point. The long double stick is hurting proper canoe technique. For example, you can't work the paddle close to the boat."

(But I didn't know what he meant by that last comment until at least a year later.)

Bob continued, "I know you're good enough to run Rowboat with that nice Mitchell single blade you've got stuffed under your bags. I advise you to take it out right now. You'll feel very good about yourself after you successfully run Rowboat with it. And I further strongly suggest you never use that double blade again."

Having gained confidence by Bob's encouragement and optimism, I took out my forlorn single blade Mitchell, successfully ran Rowboat with it, and indeed felt very good about myself after having done so. Bob Foote is a natural teacher.

However, I didn't yet follow his advice about retiring the double blade. I used it one more time in a class 3 rapid on a three day trip on California's Eel River and . . . dumped . . . and . . . had to let go of my canoe . . . which ended up pinned at the top of class 5 Coal Mine Falls . . . right on the the middle rock in this picture . . .

Coal Mine Falls.jpg

. . . and . . . lost all my gear, which was in a large Bill's Bag that fell out of my canoe and disappeared down Coal Mine Falls as we were unpinning the canoe with pulling ropes from atop the highest shore-side boulder.

Since that disaster on the Eel in 1982, I took the second part of Bob's advice and never paddled any canoe again in any kind of water with a double blade paddle. (Though I was an avid double blading seakayaker from 1996-2004.)

I never saw Bob Foote again until 2009 because had I moved to New York in 1982, and he had moved to Oklahoma, I think. In 2009, I ran into Bob at Marshall Seddon's The River Connection, a kayak outfitter in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York. I was returning from a flat water freestyle symposium in the Adirondacks, and Bob's wife, Karen Knight, was putting on a freestyle canoe exhibition for Marshall Seddon's kayak class. I reintroduced myself to Bob and, as he was curiously inspecting the Harold Deal Hemlock SRT, Mike Galt Lotus Caper and Huki V1B outrigger canoe on the roof of my van, I told him the Cache Creek story I just recited.

He didn't remember the episode or me. But he seemed gratified to know that he had long ago and far away helped a whitewater novice not only to run Rowboat Rapid, but eventually to become an eclectic paddling fanatic.
 
Joined
Oct 10, 2022
Messages
8
Reaction score
2
Location
New England
Great story. Sometimes the best lessons are learned from tough experiences.

Other than a handful of times paddling bow in a Grumman when I was a kid, I didn't start canoeing until I was 33 years old. A friend had taken up whitewater kayaking and convinced me to try it. Not liking the idea of being inside a boat in whitewater I bought a well-used Blue Hole OCA tandem and set it up for solo. It was a big boat to handle solo but it got me started. So I started following my kayaking friend down rapids I really had no business being in. But after being pulled into a bad line and plunging through a pour over with a scary swim through a Class III+ rapid I thought maybe I should think about a different boat and some lessons. I backed off the Class III stuff after that. Later that spring Mark Miller saw me and a couple of kayaking friends at a take-out on the Methow River (WA) just below where he had a house so he walked down and started talking with us. I think mainly he was curious about me and my canoe, which was (and still are) an uncommon whitewater boat in that area. He mentioned that he was putting on a whitewater canoeing clinic and that I could try out different solo whitewater boats during the classes. So I and a friend (another newby whitewater canoeist) signed up. We had blast learning not just how to get through rapids without tipping, but how to read the current and play with the river. We even learned how to roll a canoe, though I never was comfortable rolling in big waves or rocky sections. Mark was a great instructor and his obvious love and enthusiasm for whitewater canoeing got me hooked on the sport.

After that I bought the Genesis and I started taking on bigger rapids (Skagit River and the Methow at higher flows) and the more technical Class III sections of local rivers (Chewuch and Twisp) with my paddling buddies. I was no longer just barreling through each rapid but stopping to play with surfing waves and eddy hopping the rocky sections. I still swam on a regular basis but it wasn't scary anymore.

I no longer paddle whitewater (though I do miss it) but now enjoy playing around in a freestyle canoe on ponds and swift water. It's all good. :)
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jun 12, 2014
Messages
3,561
Reaction score
772
Location
NW Iowa
While we're on the subject let's not forget a member of this forum, Uncle_Swid, ran the GC solo and unsupported. I believe he claimed he was the first to do so in an open canoe.

Pretty amazing story overall. His canoe was stolen months before the trip. He bought a new canoe but didn't like it as much. Then, just a week or so before the trip, his stolen canoe was found stashed in some backyard/alley and it was returned to him just in time to take it along.

Then his helmet and go-pro were lost when they slipped off the canoe. Weeks later it was found by another paddler in an eddy and it was returned to him with footage intact. It looks like the link from where he posted the video is gone. I don't know if it's still on Youtube somewhere or not.

He also posted a nice trip report.





Alan
 
Last edited:

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
3,254
Reaction score
1,450
Location
Connecticut
While we're on the subject let's not forget a member of this forum, Uncle_Swid, ran the GC solo and unsupported. I believe he claimed he was the first to do so in an open canoe.

His trip reports are in this forum, but here is a third party report of his trip and some other Grand Canyon history.


I'll be posting more open canoe Grand Canyon video in the Nolan Whitesell thread.
 
Top