In 1993 I was being alienated and threatened by both the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team for my “fundraising” efforts on the streets of DC. It was at the U.S. Team trials in Buena Vista, Colorado where I was struggling to feed my then three year old daughter, and Kristine with a bun in the oven when I met the owner of Wavesport, Chan Zwanzig. Chan, who I didn’t know, came up to me and said he was proud of what I was doing and would support me if I needed his support, “against the authorities of the sport”. Well, all calmed down and I stood my ground, so I never needed to call him on the offer. However, in 1995 I was ready to leave Dagger, who didn’t have the same kind of passion for the top athletes, that I wanted to see. I called Chan and he was very interested in putting a team together of top athletes. I would be his first, “international” athlete in 1995 and was paddling the Frankenstein. I helped with the testing and providing input on the Kinetic, Godzilla, and Stubby, as well as competed. I handed Wavesport their first international medal, along with Jamie Simon at the 1997 World Freestyle Championships with a pair of silver medals in the Stubby. Meanwhile, I had designed two slalom boats with David Knight to use for the worlds and Olympics. I also designed a boat with David that would later be called the “X”. After 5 prototypes that the team at Wavesport didn’t like that was coming out of the factory, I finally convinced Chan to build the X that David and I made. The boat got hot and cold responses from the team at the time. However, after paddling it at Rock Island and getting lots of good video doing things that Chan had never seen a kayak do, I convinced him that this was the boat. It seemed that David and I had our first freestyle kayak. I flew to Colorado to meet with Chan and Bo Colbert (part owner of Wavesport and still working at Confluence). My goal was to sell them on making the “X, Y, Z series” They accepted my proposal and we put those boats out. I almost lost my design job before we did the XXX due to some internal struggle over what that boat should be, but in the end we got it through. David and I built the prototype in David’s basement using our own money, materials, and time just to assure that it got built like we wanted and then tested, got video and sold them on the merits of the boat. I was very excited about how my boats were doing on the freestyle scene, both in the USA and at the big international events. The X won the 1998 Pre-worlds for men and women. In 1998 Wave Sport was sold to Andy Zimmerman of Wilderness Systems and it was under the “Confluence” umbrella. I convinced Andy to let David and I do the ForPlay. Meanwhile the XXX was tearing up the rodeo scene. The ForPlay debuted in New Zealand at the World Championships. It also was paddled to first place for men, while the X and XXX swept all of the medals for the women’s class in 1999. In 2000 I won the Pre-worlds in the XXX with Jimmy Blakeney taking second, and the women again won the gold in the XXX. My career had also changed dramatically upon it being sold to Confluence. I became the Brand Manager where I did the projections, determined what boats we would design, among other things. The company went from 5th place to number one in marketshare in those two years. The production capacity of Confluence coupled with the demand for the product where enough to over take the big companies. The growth was difficult on administration especially with me being an athlete and traveling ambassador. I didn’t spend much time at the factory. Frankly, I spent as little time as possible there. It wasn’t good for my athletic career, nor was I the most productive there. I design all of my boats in Washington, DC with David Knight, I train where there is good whitewater, and I can’t show my designs to the customers while in High Point, NC inside a factory. There is plenty to be done there and they put another person in my place as Brand Manager. My title went to “Director of Wavesport”. The title isn’t really important to me, I just want to put out the best designs and win in them, all while traveling to the best paddling places with my family, simple. Well, my biggest battle in the marketplace and what I am most proud of is helping to overcome the practice of dealers and kayak schools of putting new kayakers in old designs that hold them back and reduce their chances of success on the water. History had been repeating itself year after year with todays hot boat becoming tomorrows beginner boat. Sounds OK, except that if todays hot boat will eventually be considered to be tomorrows beginner boat, why punish the beginners of today by putting them in anything else but the best beginner boat of today (which is, of course the boat that will eventually be a beginner boat). I spent more time trying to convince Wavesport and the dealers, general public, and the kayak schools that the X and Z where the ultimate beginner boats. At the time the RPM was the beginner boat of choice. Now, of course, you see that most schools and dealers, and manufacturers are long past the type of boat for beginners and boats like the EZ, I3, G-Ride, Blaze, etc. are the number one choice for beginners. Well, that was my crusade. I fell on deaf ears at Confluence and at many dealers and schools for a long time. It was long enough that the X and Z really never got the chance to be the best selling boats of all time. However, the EZ series, was intentionally designed to be the best all around boat with river running first and playboating second (a close second). The EZ’s were still prototypes and I was telling the dealers at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake, “This is the boat I will paddle in the world championships, and this is the boat you will sell to a beginner. Some of the dealers bought into it right away, some waited a year, some two. (some are still stuck in a time warp and are selling old designs, but that is life) Now the EZ is the best selling design across this continent. My career at Wavesport was quickly becoming more and more removed from the decision making action. I was happy to spend some time making videos, teaching clinics, training, and competing while spending lots of time with my family. My job at Wavesport would certainly qualify as a dream job by most standards. In 2002-3 I found that I was spending lots of time designing boats that Wavesport wouldn’t make. We felt the pinch over the past couple of years of the economy and the lost sales to companies that were outworking us. Dagger was coming out with 8 new models in a year, Pyranha too. Liquid Logic started up and we only put out one model in four sizes in 2002. I certainly hated to see the company cut down designs that would affect our sales while struggling to find ways to improve sales at the same time. My job just didn’t seem to have the same impact or satisfaction. I am a competitor and want to win. I wanted to take Wavesport to number one and keep it there. It was simple math that one new model can’t compete against several in different categories. Three days before I was flying to Austria for the World Freestyle Championships I was told that David Knight, my design partner was being fired unless he moved to NC. Now David’s full time job is at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Maryland. This is his full time job, and he is only a couple of years from retirement there. Well, I lost my design partner of 10 years. I flew to the worlds not knowing anything except that I love the concept of Wavesport, but I have a longer standing relationship with David Knight and my career was built on designing boats with him. I needed several months to really decide what was truly important to me. I decided that I would rather struggle with out this job than compromise my design team. If they had fired me, I know David would have also have been right with me. I am proud to say that I have not worked on any boats at Wavesport since they fired David. Don’t get me wrong, the design of new Wavesport product is in good hands with the team lead by Bob McDonough. Bob is a great person and a capable designer. I expect that his new designs will be just fine.
Looking back, I had a great career there. I am very happy that I hung my hat at Wavesport for the last 8 years. I hope that my leaving will allow them operate in a more conventional way that works for them. I plan on having some great competitions coming up in my Transformer, and some quality creek runs in my Mutant.
See you on the river,