The current USA men’s rafting team has consistently represented their Country on the international scene since the 2003 World rafting Championships in Czech. Like most teams they have had a couple of changes through out the years but always they are there amongst the top ranking teams pushing the level of competitive rafting.
I first remember meeting some of the members of team USA at the 2005 World Championships in Ecuador and since then it has been great to catch up with them every couple of years at the international competitions. I sometime think what makes teams keep coming back year after year but really for me it is a very easy answer. The competitions take you to some amazing locations around the world where you get to experience different cultures, raft down some amazing river, but mostly it is the great friends you make not only within your own team but from around the world that keeps you coming back for more. Even though you may only meet up every couple of years the experiences you share during a competition are some of the most unforgettable, most memorable experiences of your life and it is always sad to say goodbye at the end of the competition.
I know members of this American team have been great role models for many ‘younger’ teams from around the world so I caught up with Todd from the team to find out more about their rafting experiences and life in the beautiful state of Colorado. Todd is a very experienced river guide and has been working professionally as a guide in Colorado since 1993. He competed in his first raft race on the Colorado River in 1996 and 17 years and many competitions later he is still just as passionate and enthusiastic about racing.
Were you a founding member of the current USA team?
I am not a founding member of our team that’s our captain Mike Reid who founded the team in 2000. I used to race against mike until I joined the team in 2001. Then the next year we added Mongo and the 3 of us have been together for the last 12 years not only racing but guiding together for Timberline Tours in Vail Colorado.
How often do you train together as a team?
We train close to 7 months each year starting the first of March and going until the last race of the year. For the upcoming PAN American championships in Canada we have been going 3 days a week. We usually will do a flat-water day on lake then a slalom day and also a downriver day.
Here in Europe we have many races that we can attend through out the season and have to opportunity to compete against different Countries. Are there many races that you can attend in the USA and is there much competition?
We have a raft race series through the United States Rafting Federation. There are 6 or 7 races throughout the summer. As for now our team has only been able to participate in races held in Colorado. There are races on the west coast and 1 or 2 races on the east coast but due to money we concentrate on going to races close by (1-3 hours away) and or practice close by. As far as participation there are only 3 men’s teams who practice, 2 are in Colorado and the other is in Oregon.
Do you have many youth teams coming through who will give you a run for your money?
We don’t have any youth teams in the United States at all. There are no teams to really give us a run yet.
What would be your most memorable experience from competitive raft racing?
My most memorable racing experience was in 2003 in the Czech. It was my first international race, I remember walking down around the hill and all the rafts were stacked with all countries flags and all the international competitors, it was overwhelming. For me its not just the competition it is also going to races all over the world experiencing different cultures. The Czech was beautiful I will defiantly be back, hopefully for next year’s Euro cup.
Your team consistently finishes in the top 10 but what has been your best result at a competition?
Our best result was 2005 in Ecuador. In the sprint race we won and finished 3 rd overall. As far as ranking in the world we are in the top ten teams. There are currently 12-15 teams that have the potential to win any given race.
Has there been one competition that you have been to that stands out above all the rest?
My most memorable competition came this year during the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. The raft race is just 2-person and I was able to race with Masayuki Takahati from the Japan raft team. His knowledge of white water is amazing, I am so proud to have been able to paddle with him and learn. We paddled very well together and I would be honored to paddle with him again.
As we all know travelling to competitions around the world can get very expensive. Do you manage to secure much sponsorship to help with the costs of competing?
Our sport in general does not get much sponsorship. We have been able to secure sponsorship from Teva, Mitchell paddles, NRS, WRSI helmets and Oakley. We usually have a sponsorship party to raise money to travel on. We get no money from our government, so like most teams we have to come up with money on our own to make it happen.
So this year you are heading to the Pan American championships in Canada. Have you been rafting in Canada previously and is there are there any teams there who you have a good competitive rivalry with?
We are very excited to be headed to the pan am race in Canada. We have never been rafting in Canada, so we are not sure what to expect. The competition should be great, with the Slovakians, Brazilians and a couple teams from Canada we are excited not only to race but to see friends from these countries.
We always enjoy the sprint race between Brazil and us. They have been known as the team to beat.
How would you like to see raft racing develop for the future in respect of R4 and R6 competitions? Would you like to see it as an Olympic sport?
I would like to see our sport go to the Olympics. We have such an exciting sport, it is a shame there is not more of a push to try and turn the sport towards the Olympics. The paddlers are at the Olympic level. The four-man format to me is the way to push the sport to the next level. There are enough teams who are interested to have a four-man race every other year. The 2010 race in the Netherlands was great. I wish there were more races similar to the course in Holland.
After many years of raft racing what is it that keeps you coming back for more?
After all the years of racing it is my team mates and all the international competitors that makes me continue to come back. Our team has great unity and we really have the utmost respect for each other. When I see my friends from all the other countries, we may not speak the same language but look in each other’s eyes and know we a passion for the same sport.
Colorado is renowned for its beautiful natural environment and amazing rivers. Do you see future possibilities of hosting an international competition there?
For a world championship there is a section on the Arkansas River called the Royal Gorge. This is a fun class 3&4 section with splashy white water mixed with a couple technical moves, great for all teams as a whole. The area is beautiful and has lots of lodging options and camping as well.
For an invitation race the class 5 section of The Colorado River, near Vail, Colorado known as Gore Canyon would be great. Gore has very technical moves with big drops, its known as one of the most difficult commercially ran sections of white water in the country. Vail has great lodging and camping as well.
Thanks to Todd for chatting with us and good luck at the upcoming Pan Americans.