In 1979 my Dad quit his job because he wanted to move to where there was whitewater and skiing. He chose New Hampshire. After a short day of Skiing on “Pimple Mountain” (Temple Mountain the actual name for this little hill) we came across a group of canoers and kayakers dragging their boats across 3 feet of snow from the Souheagan River. We stopped and asked if we could join them on their next trip out. They said yes and it would be the next day.
The next day came and my dad and I pulled into the put-in road ready to go in our 1977 Cutlass S Diesel with our Grumman on top. It was cold so I was prepared with my ski pants, snow boots, and down jacket to paddle in. Make no mistake, safety was important, so I was wearing my Orange horseshoe life jacket and ski cap. We put on with Stan Ekdal and friends and found that this solid class 3 run was much more than we dealt with in Pennsylvania. I was in the bow and my dad and I couldn’t agree on much on the way down the river. Soaked and cold we did make it upright. A few more such trips went successfully. Finally, on a day that I had a swim meet, my dad went with a friend from work to Otter Brook (class 3-4 on this day) and wrapped the canoe around a rock. I was pretty upset with my dad, letting him know that he could expect such mishaps without me in the bow, as any cocky 15 year old would do.
We wasted no time finding the local store, “Wilderness Outfitters” in Brookline, New Hampshire to look for another canoe. Sure enough, I spotted them right away. Kayaks. Beautiful red and white fiberglass kayaks. The salesman, Bob Potter, was ready to help me out. I asked my dad if we could get two kayaks instead of one canoe, he agreed, and I was sooo excited! “Which kayak should we get”, I asked Bob. Well, the Lettman Mark IV or the Lettman Mark V was our choices. Both are slalom boats designed by Lettman himself, the German Olympian from 1972. Bob said that the 13’2” “low volume” Mark V was too small and aggressive for us to learn in and put us in the bigger Mark IV. (I was 110 pounds and 5’ at the time.) I got a 110cm Hark paddle, big fat helmet, Omega life jacket, ¼” wetsuit top and farmer john, and some booties with carpet glued on the bottom. I was in heaven.
My first outing was on the Sougheagan River. My dad and I showed up to the river and found a group of guys ready to go. We asked if we could join them. Their reply was: “Do you have your rating card?” We said, we didn’t know what they were talking about and they told us that we couldn’t paddle with them since they were members of the Appalachian Mountain Club and we weren’t. Well, we were pretty bummed, but within minutes some kayakers and canoers came screeching into the parking lot and were raising some hell. They didn’t look like my dad and I with their long hair, tattoos, and R rated language, but they sure looked like a lot of fun to me. We asked them if they would paddle with us. Their words to us were, “Son, we are the Merrimack Valley Paddlers” and we will paddle with anybody.” My dad and I were back in business. Art Bunting, John Bennett and friends hooked us up good. Within weeks we were doing pool sessions. Back in these days it was a little different than now. Only one person really knew how to roll in the entire club of 40 people, Bob O’Neil. John Bennett kind of knew, although I don’t remember seeing him do it that year. So it was Bob, teaching me to roll on that first pool session of the Merrimack Valley Paddlers. Being a competitive swimmer, I learned in about 10 minutes. I then taught my dad and everybody else in the club that was there over those few weeks. My dad also became president of the club and we began recruiting like crazy. The club grew from 40 members to over 125 members in a couple of months and we taught everybody to roll. Meanwhile, the club bought a Phoenix Savage fiberglass kayak, and my dad made a mold from it. Over the winter anybody who was a member of the club could come to my house and build a kayak for only $100 in materials and my dad and I would help. We built almost 100 kayaks, sorry Phoenix!