Tom at Haw River 1975


GOPC Owner Tom Valone recalls the early days

Circa 1975. GOPC founder Tom Valone in his Chuck Taylors at the Haw Rivers steel bridge take out.

Notes on the back of this photo indicate that it was mid June, and that the river was running about 21/2 ft on the old US 64 Gauge, which meant that there were a few class 4’s and lots of 2’s and 3’s. The boats are nylon/glass Phoenix Cascades, the paddles are Kobers, the cartoppers are Quick N Easy’s, life vests are Seda, the helmets are hockey helmets that make one look like he has an outsized frontal lobe, and the old river car is a ’59 “219” with about 220,000 miles on it. Note the high tech tee shirt stretched over the massive chest, the forever-to-dry cut-off shorts and Chuck Taylor river shoes.

This thing called “kayaking” was developing in all sorts of ways, with guys like Walt Blackadar and Royal Robbins pushing “first descents” out west, while the rest of us just kind of ran rivers. Point A to B was about as complicated as it got, at least here in NC. We had yet to get bored and start putting our boat noses in places that might prudently be avoided. This trip was different, the beginning of playing in individual rapids and holes to probe our limits and those of the boats.

The Haw was an interesting run. The water at 21/2’ was a mix of Triassic red mud and USDA red dye from the Cone Mills polyester plant upstream, guaranteeing that this clean guy photo was taken at the beginning of the shuttle, not after the take out. And, the boats have no holes visible, and I know for a fact that there were holes in the Cascades after the trip. There was even 6” of bow missing from my boat, chomped off by a demonic ledge under which I put the nose trying to get air in a maneuver called an “ender.”

If memory serves, since we did only a bit of surfing and playing at the bottom of Gabriel’s Bend, at Smooth Ledge and Finders Keepers (too much boat damage, wet exits and long swims!) the real challenge was avoiding the 100’ poison ivy vines bouncing in the current and copper mouthed rattle moccasins sunning themselves on low limbs and on exposed rocks. That and keeping clear of likkered up BUBBAS (North Carolina acronym for “Boys unburdened by BMW’s, Briefcases and Ambition”) some of whom were body surfing the bigger holes and others pissed off at recent college grads oogling their nekkid womenfolk. Seems like there was also some rusty re-bar and a few old cars in the river as well, but that could be an exaggeration. I really hate to exaggerate.

Joe and I did get to yelling “hey y’all, watch this” as we dropped into holes or punched thru high standing waves, or knocked serpents out of trees and into the water. We got real tickled by that, but some of the Bubbas thought we were making fun of them and ended up chasing us and throwing rocks and half empty beer cans at us as we turboed away.

At the take out we surveyed the smashed boats and made a corporate decision to buy the minimum order of 6 Hollowform kayaks roto-moulded out of cross linked polyethelene from a company in California; one for each of us and 4 for sale. These only came in yellow, weighed about 65#, and the brilliant design elements moulded into the hull relaxed out in our southern sun. They were a bit hard to paddle, but because ya couldn’t break them, the rivers were soon “yellow with boats.”

Whitewater paddling and play boats have come a long way since ’75, with the best designs being made here in the southeast. They come in lots of colors, and there is a design for just about any paddling niche one can imagine. The lower Haw, including all the great rapids and holes are now under Jordan Lake, but the big oak tree in the background of the photo is still there shading folks fishing for catfish. And, on weekends in the summer, one can still hear “hey y’all, watch this.”