Reading Whitewater (History)

In preparation for the release of my historical documentary on whitewater canoeing and kayaking, I have enjoyed some fine books that nicely capture segments of paddlesport history.

Most exhaustive, and most important, is Sue Taft’s “The River Chasers”. This book is the product of tremendous research, and nicely details key moments of whitewater history in the US. It is an important document, particularly so because of the thoroughness of the detail.

Lots of fun is Doug Ammons book, "The Laugh of the Water Nymph." This was printed in 2005. It contains 22 adventure stories, from jungle rivers that disappear underground and cast off huge waterfalls, to glacial rivers running through the wilderness of northern Canada. The book was voted “One of the best outdoor books of the year” by the National Outdoor Book Awards. See

I am a huge fan of Renny Russell’s book “Rock me on the Water”… Picking up where its predecessor—the bestselling On the Loose —left off, this reflection revisits the physical and spiritual terrain that shaped two brothers’ lives. Consumed by a passion to fully experience the western wilderness and to navigate untamed—and unpredictable—waterways, Terry and Renny Russell set out to travel down the Green River in Utah. Interweaving the past and present, this vibrantly illustrated meditation documents the metamorphosis of Renny’s psyche, the natural environment that has sustained him, and ultimately his redemption.

The Most recent release that hits on whitewater history is Will Leverette’s “A History of Whitewater Paddling in Western North Carolina” From the Chattooga to the Nantahala, the thrilling rapids and unparalleled scenery of Western North Carolina’s rivers attract thousands of whitewater paddlers each year. Ride along with Will Leverette as he recounts the exhilarating adventures of paddling’s pioneers from 1923 to 1980, both those who started the craze and those who guided it farther downstream. People love the photos and stories of summer camps. Find it on Amazon.

I think my favorite, best written book is by Doug Woodward “Wherever Waters Flow”. He relives his role as canoeing stunt man on the set of the Deliverance. But more importantly he Paddles with President Jimmy Carter as he makes a “daring” open canoe run of the Chattooga's formidable Bull Sluice Rapid. And Doug shares a wide range of family adventures, that together, help one remember and understand the precious start to whitewater sport.

I wouldn’t have understood Walt Blackadar as well were it not for “Never Turn Back”. Now I understand better how his accomplishment on Turnback Canyon was the river equivalent of the first ascent of Everest, and when excerpts from his Alsek journal were published in Sports Illustrated, he became an instant sensation. He was at the top of his sport at an age when most athletes are long retired.

I also quite enjoyed Richard Bangs “The Lost River: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Transformation on Wild Water”. Of course I had heard of his SOBEK expeditions, and adventures, but I hadn’t realized how close to my original home in Washington DC Bangs had his start. Available from Amazon or

Those reads ought to keep you busy, while you await the release (soon I promise) of “The Call of the River”