Jim Snyder is a squirt boating innovator, legend, founder and developer. He has been at the forefront of both boat and paddle design for decades. I am a huge fan of Jim’s boat designs and own all of his books (all kayakers could learn a great deal from the squirt boating world). It is therefore a great honour to have Jim take part in the Unsponsored 2013 Q&A series.
Tell us a little a bit about you accomplishments in the canoeing/kayaking world.
I began paddling in 1965. I was a raft guide for 19 years including being one of the original guides on the Upper Yough. I was a steep creek pioneer with numerous first descents in this area including 686 fpm Quarry Run in 1977 and 500 fpm, Elsey Run in 1979, and (~370 fpm) Red Run around the same time. I was an early kayak designer creating the first American ‘short’ commercially produced kayak (in glass) – the “Slice” in 1981 (3 meters long). I was also the first person to do flatwater cartwheels in a kayak in the “Baby Arc” in January 1981. I was also one of the pioneers of squirt boating and have designed around 50 squirt boats- many which never got out of prototyping stage. I’ve designed around 80 boats in total.
I was US National Squirt champion in 1993 and also was part of the ‘talent’ on the Emmy award winning filmed expedition on the first descent of the Santo Domingo in southern Mexico in 1993. I also was master paddle builder Keith Backlund’s first apprentice in 1975 and have designed a number of blade shapes including the original Slasher. I’m also the world’s premier squirt boat designer and was a pioneer of the Mystery Move. I also helped introduce and develop the sport of squirt boating in Japan and have visited there 20 times over the years. Basically I helped bridge the sport from the second to the third dimension of performance in the 80’s. I also helped design a lot of cool recreational and fishing kayaks for Emotion Kayaks in recent years.
But I guess the accomplishment I’m proudest of is creating and developing the Jimirim skirt system – the driest kayak sealing system in the world. I’ve put more than 600 hrs. of work into developing it since creating it in 1991. It’s used exclusively on my squirt boat designs because squirt boats need the highest level of waterproofing. Their cockpits are constantly underwater and if you get more than 2 cups of water in your boat it begins to debilitate performance.
When and how did you first start paddling?
I started paddling in a canvas decked canoe with a double bladed paddle in 1965 as a member of the Madhatters Canoe Club from Cleveland, Ohio. My first kayak was an imported Klepper SL7.
What is your current location?
I live on the shore of the Cheat River in Albright, West Virginia.
What scares you the most?
Heights! I don’t do big drops – although I did the first descent of the Big Sandy’s “Wonder Falls” (17′) and the steep slides on Meadow Run in Ohiopyle in the early 1970’s.
What was your biggest hurdle in canoeing/kayaking when you started out – finding people to paddle with, nailing the third end, lack of rivers etc?
Making a living in the sport. But it gave me the opportunity to develop my delicious set of ratburger recipes.
What has kept you in the sport?
Well – I really love it – even more than I did when I was a kid. My favorite things are exploring my limits on mystery moves in my Slip and also running steep shallow creeks (ELFing) in my Thrillseeker inflatable kayak.
Who is your biggest source of inspiration within the paddling world (and why)?
Well – I guess that would have to be Stephen Wright because he goes so hard and well and never talks down to anyone. He’s just nice – and playful! And he performs at the highest levels. Second to him would be Bill Friend who threw a lot of free time into the culmination of my Slice design. He is essentially my mentor for designing – he was a top creeker and racer back in the day.
Given the choice where would want to paddle and why?
My favorite mystery arena is Fascination Alley – 14 minutes drive upstream from my home and my favorite creek is Roaring Run – I live at the take out. It’s 5 miles long and class 3 so I can solo it when it runs. I also love to do kayak camping – including winter trips. I also enjoy my (almost) annual “Long Run” down the entire length of the Cheat River- 140 miles in 2 days – often solo.
What do you consider to be the biggest accomplishment in the world of canoeing/kayaking to date?
Well – that’s subjective of course. But I think it’s when a beginner says – “That’s for me!” and turns out to be right. Beyond that – my daughter Amelia’s first run over Wonder Falls – that was such an excellent moment – I don’t see how it can be equaled. But if you are talking about big drop runs – that’s an endless continuum and doesn’t hold up well to parsing out what’s the coolest thing that’s happened. The next coolest thing is already happening.
How do you get yourself in “the zone” before a competition run or when running a challenging piece of water?
Well – I’ve found that to be impossible. But – still it happens. It takes a certain amount of focus and abandon. Yeah – that’s how you do it.
What is your favourite kayak of all time and why?
My Slip – it’s totally enabling for me and has helped me ramp up my sinking abilities to the best they’ve ever been. And it was hard earned – hundreds of hours of work during 14 months of development.
What kit are you currently using?
I mostly ELF in a Thrillseeker, sink in a Slip, cruise in a Prijon Pure XL and do speed runs in my Cheta – the coolest whitewater speedboat of all time. I have a separate wood stick for each of course.
You didn’t ask how I make a living – I’m finishing my 37th year of making fine custom wooden paddles. And I am totally NOT a fan of crank shaft paddles. I think they are all wrong for a number of reasons – for one – I constantly shift my hands on my paddle shaft. If the ergonomics are *really* all that good – why did the flatwater sprint paddlers abandon them – lack of real results??
You also didn’t ask what message I might have for paddlers nowdays – and I’d say – let it be about the river- not you. That’s humble enough. My brother Jeff quietly asks “please” and “thanks” to the river on his runs – that’s probably a good idea too. I asked him about all the terrible accidents ‘experts’ have been having in recent years and he said “Maybe it’s like we are all drunk drivers who think we can drive – but maybe can’t as well as we think…”
Here is a link to an introduction to squirt boating I wrote for readers who have never heard of the subsport: