Saturday I took off from Nashville with a group of friends from Arkansas, Memphis, and Cookeville for a trip to Cheoah and Tallulah... After deciding to play musical boats lap after lap it seemed like the perfect day to try out a line I've been thinking about for a while, the infamous Left to Middle line on Bear Creek Rapid.
(photo by Jordan Byrum)
It's been done before, though not by many, but I had never SEEN it done myself. Believe it or not, that does make a difference, and after looking at it from the river left side, I decided that it was definitely the time to go for it. I gave the thumbs up and waited for the cameras... Huge success or epic fail, we wanted video either way... It went so well in the Zen I had to do it again in the Villain... good times!
So you want to be sponsored? (a long but necessary read)
I decided this would make an interesting post for a variety of reasons, and I've been putting it off for a while. I receive almost weekly messages from other paddlers asking me how to go about getting sponsored. Kids today want to be cool, get sponsored and just paddle all the time, but there are a lot of misconceptions about sponsorship that even the general public could benefit from. Ever wondered what it takes? The purpose here is to explain what goes into sponsorship from the athlete's perspective nearly every outdoor sport.
Why do people want to get sponsored?
First, it seems like a lot of kids (and grown-ups) want to get sponsored to validate their skills... it sure isn't for the money (there's not much of that around). An example of this is on Hookit.com, a social media marketing site for hooking up athletes with sponsors... specifically with there first sponsors... most are happy with a 30% discount and then tell all their friends they're sponsored. The companies on the other hand, post up their pro team (sometimes) and then "sponsor" 400 kids with 30% discount deals, still making money and using the desire to get sponsored to sell product. Corran Addison was awesome at that when he started Riot Kayaks. It was one of his bigger marketing strategies, geared specifically toward teens through women in bikinis and a surf style persona with flashy sponsors. Second, there is the illusion that once you get good enough, sponsors will just give you free boats and travel and life will be good. It just doesn't happen that way in reality. The same misconception holds that sponsorship is given purely on the merit of skill and paddling experience.
The Bottom line is that getting sponsored purely on the merit of skill is not likely to happen beyond occasional industry/pro deals (discounts). While skill is important, there's always someone better. World class boaters are everywhere these days and good boaters are a dime a dozen and it's much easier to get good now than it has ever been. At the same time manufacturers have less money than they did 10 years ago and typically make less on products than before. This means sponsors are looking more for good marketers with industry insight and a versatile skill set who happen to be great boaters, than for just great boaters who want to model free stuff and run the goods. Personality, approachability, skill, and marketing savvy, are typical qualities sought by major manufacturers. Keep in mind that less than 20% of the sport is whitewater and an even tinier portion of that is extreme whitewater and hardcore freestyle, maybe 10% of the whitewater portion (I'm no math major but I think that's 2%... which is pretty generous). For a company to survive they have to reach out primarily to the other 80% which is the touring/rec industry to make enough money to stay on top. Sponsorship is an accessory budget which is important from a marketing perspective, but the first to be cut from a business perspective.
So what do sponsors want?
With that knowledge sponsors are looking for the following:
> Marketing savvy, including the ability to work with dealers, create new markets, promote to current markets, and market ones-self via shameless self promotion for the sake of sales...
> Constant communication, staying in touch with each sponsor at all times (yes, you have to do all the work) and explaining how you benefitted the company today... updates are important
> Marketing insight, knowing the paddling industry deep enough to know how to get a manufacturer deeper into the paddlesports industry... this helps with larger brands.
> High quality, High Resolution Photos and HD video for use in marketing & promotions- athlete branding in all photos, videos, and exposure, showing logos and gear- cross marketing exposurevia their logos in other sponsors ads-
> Media Exposure as free advertising for them (yes you do all the work again)
> Dealer visits, where you educate dealers on the product, perform clinics, and work with dealers to promote increased sales.
> Social Media updates for web content - this means blogging regularly on and keeping up with... drum roll... 10 different blogs... AT THE LEAST
> Web content (stories/writeups/etc...) for their websites... you have 10 sponsors you have to update 10 websites.
> Gear testing and feedback (actual R&D work is fun, but more work than it sounds)
> product assignments, getting specific shots of specific gear for specific ads
...and the least keeps going but you've got the idea...
In Return, you MIGHT Get:
> free gear
> financial aid on paddling trips (that you have to mix with a full tour of dealer visits)
> Industry deals on other product
> Paid entry fees
> money for exposure, if you really make it, through Media Incentive Contracts, etc...
> additional exposure, development, or project opportunities.
Did I mention you're taxed on your sponsored income??? keep up with those travel expenses!
So I'm no Tao, no Tyler Bradt, and no Eric Jackson, how do I make money?
well there are a lot of ways but these are what I've found to be the best...
1. Selling photos to magazines - they're picky and it takes a LOT of work for $50-$300 a photo
2. Media incentive contracts... created with some sponsors where they pay based on where and how often their logo shows up in my personal exposure. It's also based on the circulation of the media it is in.
3. clinics...great to split $$$ with a dealer for a clinic in their name
4. Some sponsors will pay for a dealer visit (sales clinic), but it hardly covers gas. It's a great way to travel across the country though.
What I like to do is sell a photo to a magazine with good logos showing up, then cash in on media incentives, then send in the exposure to all my other sponsors who then send gear or other help in return... this way one photo is worth quite a bit more than it would be if you just sold it. Did I mention magazines only want exclusives? Unless it's a world record descent... they don't want to publish a photo used somewhere else. If you're lucky, you'll break even and get some awesome opportunities out of the deal. If you're really good, you can make a little $$$ but you'd make more as a teacher with 3 months off to paddle and every holiday If you're Tao or EJ you might get 6 figures... but how many boaters out there are THAT good? and how many have THAT marketing savvy... How many can start their own kayaking company? Personally, I LOVE to boat all the time, but I also love teaching.
If you want to get sponsored, there is no magic formula, but here are 5 steps you can take to get in:
1. paddle as much as you can, in as many different places as you can. Variety yields experience and versatility... but think beyond that. As you travel around - NETWORK!
2. Get in touch with your local retailers. You may even want to work at one for a while. You can develop a feel for sales, sales strategy, and learn more about industry product and the outdoor sports industry in general.
3. Practice filming and photography as often as possible. Document trips with friends and develop the skills and framework to not only get the shot, but also to learn how to edit and share effectively.
4. When you're ready, teach lots of free clinics. Teaching is a great way to fine tune skill, AND teaching is a skill in and of itself. It's absolutely necessary and vital to have when you start traveling around teaching clinics for retailers.
5. last but certainly not least, train, train, and train some more. The more mental and physical discipline, strength, stamina, and balance you can build, the better the athlete you will become.
Hopefully this will help paddlers understand what it really means to be sponsored and what really goes into sponsorship.
Although its only a class IV creek, it's been called the Green Narrow's redneck cousin. Regardless of skill level, Johnnies finds a way to make it near the top of every paddlers hit list, and they always return year after year.
If you ever wanted to run Johnnies Creek or if you just miss it, you'll enjoy this little vid.
Every rapid is included with some rescues thrown in for good measure...
One of my favorite runs in the Southeast, Big Creek always leaves me with "the biggest smile I've EVER had"... every time. The smokies just have a way about them that serves up some of the best whitewater in the southeast. I'm not sure if it's the crisp air or the round, smooth boulders. Maybe it's the emerald water and friendly crowd. Regardless, I always feel like I've come back home. Unfortunately, in my excitement I forgot to turn the camera on a few times and I didn't capture all the goods. What I DID capture were some good times, great friends, and HUGE smiles... hopefully enough to get my point across.... Big Creek is a truly special place.
So it's getting close to creeking season in the southeast and lots of us are picking out those sweet new rides for the coming rains. With the multitude of choices and styles out there, it can be tough to decide on just one creeker. I've been asked a few times recently how to know a creeker is the right one for you? Well I'm going to do my best to answer this question as completely and concisely as I can.
First, ask yourself if you're a passive/reactive paddler or an aggressive/proactive paddler.
A creek boat should compliment your style and make up for your short comings.... so know thyself. I'm assuming you're considering creeking in it?
Active vs Passive: If you like to sit sideways and figure things out then throw out longer,faster boats like the Villain... they need to be driven deliberately and proactively. You'll probably be more comfortable in shorter, more maneuverable creekers like the Hero. If you're a paddler that KNOWS where you want to be and where you want to go with a strong forward stroke and no second guessing, faster boats like the Villain compliment your style and will work well with you. That said, you can actively drive a Hero or passively paddle a Villain... but It's a lot easier to actively paddle a Hero than it is to slow down a Villain in the heat of the moment when you suddenly aren't so sure where you're going.
Know your weakness: If you have a weak forward stroke or are a bit light and have trouble powering through holes and curlers, then a longer boat will put you at ease, providing all the speed you need the moment you want it. At the same time, if you're lacking technical skill and have to rely on powering through rapids, a longer and faster design may feel more comfortable for you. If you're a strong paddler with a powerful stroke but you tend to miss your boofs or lack the more fine tuned, technical skills of a seasoned creeker, then a shorter boat may be the best compliment for you since they boof and maneuver easier while still utilizing your speed.
Know your geology: For really steep, rocky creeks a displacement (round) hull will usually be better. For higher volume creeking or pool drop style runs, a planning hull can be a huge help for carving tight turns or carving out of holes. Planing hulls provide a unique level of control but can catch on the sharper rocks found on mankier river beds. At the same time, longer designs may handle longer, more violent rapids better where powering through is the best option.
Hole blaster or hole bait? This can vary with technique (ducking under vs punching vs boofing/ramping holes), but a common myth is that short, stubby designs are hole bait. It simply isn't true. While logically you would think that a short, bulky, stubby design should be more retentive, typically these designs have planing hulls. Longer designs typically have displacement hulls and many longer designs are MUCH more likely to overstay their welcome in a hole. Why is this? The real issue boils down to maneuverability and hull design. It doesn't matter what design you're paddling, if you end up hitting a hole at 45 degrees to 90 degrees (sideways) you will more than likely be getting to know your new bubbly friend. It doesn't matter what design you're in. If you have a displacement hull you're only bet is to gather speed and get to a corner so you can power out. Unfortunately, that isn't always possible. If you have a planing hull you have another option. You can initiate the edge, catch water as you would in a playboat and edge your way out of a hole. The edge has more drag and more applied surface area so you have more options and are much less likely to spend any time in the hole. Personally, I'll take the risk of a shorter design for the extra maneuverability and ability to edge out any day of the week.
So figure out what kind of paddler you are, what kind of skill set you have, your strengths and weaknesses, and what type of water you'll most likely spend the most time on and you'll be well on your way to knowing exactly what you want in a creeker.
I finally had the opportunity to take my first trip through Vallecito Canyon in Colorado. It was at 2.3+ ft and at an awesome, fluffy level. Exhausted from the slow, rainy day I was running on cold, probably not an ideal state to be in before a run like Vallecito. The hike was hot with the sun beating down and I arrived at the put-in breathless, sweaty and near heat stroke. Long story short, this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. By the time I settle in and started feeling "warmed up" it was over. I was just starting to thoroughly enjoy it and we were already done. On one hand it's probably good its so short, scouting was useless and directions were vague and you just have to find your way through lots of it. A bad day could be really bad and the shortness of the run is its only forgiveness. On the other hand it left me wanting more. I wanted more of the quality rapids found within the short box canyon. I wanted more of the same adventure; I wasn't ready for it to be over. A video is worth a thousand words though and the writeup is coming soon. enjoy...
Well it was pretty epic but I'll keep this as short as I can.
We stayed ahead of the storm Friday night while driving in some incredible wind. We had New Years twice!!! :-o once in each time zone... Feeling off to a good start, we decided to head on to the Tellico and camp, sleeping in the rain. Now we expected a storm and knew there would be wind and lots of rain, but we had no idea what kind of night we were in for. Camping at Baby Falls is no longer allowed and it has been paved over (sad and unfortunate) with the new camp ground WAY upstream in a flash flood zone toward the top of the pass... a really, REALLY
shitty place to be in a storm. The wind was horrific and large limbs for flying out of the trees and the rain was torrential, like a Tellico Monsoon! At one point I looked out of my window
worried the tarp was flying away (the EZ Up was bow-tied and off the ground!) and I saw Jonathan's tent airborne except for the one place Jonathan was curled up inside.... lightening, thunder, wind, rain, limbs flying around us, and the campground threatening to flood. We were alone in one of the worst camping situations I've been in... The next morning the downpour hadn't stopped, so we knew things were about to get interesting. We decided to completely pack up camp after making some breakfast and coffee and we started the trek back down to the Tellico Ledges. The Small tribs upstream were swollen beyond belief and things were looking more like Cheoah on a big day. We reached the confluence with the Tellico and it was looking powerful but maybe fun. This next part is still hard to report, like stones inside, but I'll do my best for those wanting to know.I got a good look at the first ledge and noticed a crowd gathered where we were stopped by a boater and told there was a problem and to help. We pulled over, got out, and asked around to catch up on the situation and saw the group of 3 men performing CPR on another guy across the river. Already geared up we asked if help was needed and we were put to work. There were a LOT of people standing around watching, filming, and walking around in shock so it was hard to tell who was doing what and who was just in the way. I was buddy belaying with a live bait team and providing whatever support I could for the rescue already in place. Samantha is a first responder and was assessing the situation with the victim and the team across the river. Things were not looking good but another team was preparing a kayak
raft to ferry the drowned kayaker across the river. It's not ideal to have a break in the CPR but after 20 minutes and no professionals yet it starts looking like the best option. A pickup truck was waiting to receive
the kayaker so CPR could continue down the road until they could meet with the ambulance... We prepared for the crossing and it was finally successful. Me and Samantha got him out where the shock came to me as I immediately recognized him from a conversation we had in an eddy on the Ocoee. I remembered how lively and friendly he was and his passion for the sport but I was hoping maybe it wasn't him. Before we could give him some rescue breaths to go on,
Jonathan and his crew were already there to help, taking him up the hill and loading him up in the truck. They resumed CPR as soon as they could. The rescue continued until ALL rescuers were safely to the river left bank and out of the river. A memorial page has been set up for Paul
With the Tellico at 8' and rising, we should have gone to Conasauga Creek in the Tellico drainage. We were drained, shocked, and just not feeling lively after our long night and rough day so we decided to move on to a different drainage to start our New Years over. We were thinking smokies or bama since Johnnies was running strong. We went over to check out the Little and Tremont since we were so close to knoxville. I've never seen things over there quite like that, I guess because when it rains that much I'm usually in Alabama. We looked at Kick Yer Dog Falls on Lynn Camp which was PUMPING! It looked great and the bottom drop looked smooth and deep. Since I hadn't paddled since Colorado (months) and since the drama was still fresh from the Tellico, I decided I should take things slow. I ran Lynn Camp alone (well, Jonathan and Samantha on the trail) and it was easy, but I was sloppy. I think it was a mixture of exhaustion, stress, and lag time but I knew I had to get my mojo back :roll: :| I met a randem guy from knoxville at the put-in for Tremont and we ended up getting a late (dark) run of a very flooded tremont. It was completely dark when we got out.
From there it was mexican and we ALL needed a drink... Me and Jonathan experimented with beer sizes lol and samantha enjoyed a stiff Margarita... we decided we should stick close and just "wait and see" so we grabbed a hotel (not feeling like another crazy night) and we woke up to one of my favorites... BIG CReeK!!!!
Big Creek was crowded and the scene was awesome! We were blessed with fresh snow melt, blue skies, and clear water cascading out of the smokies. We started our New Year over. After lapping Big Creek we ran into Drew Armstrong for another run....
While I hope our New Years isn't an omen, I can say that after my time off the river, I got my Mojo back 8-)
So we met up with our friend Josh Oberleas in Crested Butte, CO to catch the last of Oh Be Joyful Creek for the season. With filming ambitions in mind all around, we broke out the GoPro Heros and put an idea Josh had been working on to good use: the GoPro paddle!
Josh Oberleas on the lip, patiently waiting with his GoPro paddle
photo by Samantha Brunner
Josh broke a paddle a while back and decided to put a flat mount on the paddle blade for his GoPro Hero HD. With the broomstick extender in place (high tech lol and true to a paddlers budget), we could hold it out over the drops, follow each other, and create more dramatic motion in our filming. Now obviously I'm sure we're not the first to do this; but it just goes to show that with the small helmet cams these days, a little imagination can go a long ways. I've taken the same idea to my break down, but with extra shaft segments, so it doubles as a filming tool... pretty sweet!
Boyd Ruppelt dropping in under the paddle cam while Josh films