Joe Lacy was the first Colorado boater and got others involved in the sport during the early 1950's. Like many of today's ideas, CW was founded while floating down the river with friends and conversation. It was Larry Zuk who took the initiative beyond just conversation. He gathered information from local boaters and asked them to participate in the club's first meeting. Here is the letter he mailed out:
April 14, 1954
Dear Fellow River Rat,
We are calling a meeting of all the canoeists, foldboaters, and white-water enthusiasts that we know about and would like you to come and bring anyone else that you know would be interested.
The meeting will be at the Red Cross Chapter House, Tuesday, April 27 at 7:30pm
The purpose of this meeting will be to establish a friendly type of local organization for the exchange of river information and to discuss the possibilities of developing more slalom races, canoe courses in techniques and safety, and to schedule some group cruises for this summer.
Mostly, however, it is a chance to get together, swap tall stories and see what the other canoeists are like. The gals will be more than welcome and there will be quite a few there. So please plan on being there Tuesday, April 27th. We'll be expecting you!
Yours, Larry Zuk
At the first meeting, attended by nearly 20 people, they decided to create a club where boaters of all skill levels could attend river running classes, meet up for cruises, and compete in local races.
The first official river cruise was run on the South Platte at Ox Yoke, now known as Foxton, in 1954. Dave Stacey led 8 kayaks and 4 canoes to the confluence.
The success of the first river cruise quickly led to the second cruise on the Cache La Poudre just a few days later. Clyde Jones decided to take 12 beginners down the “Waterworks” (aka Filter Plant) run. Yes, right through Mad Dog rapid! This was the first time CW taught basic river skills on moving water.
Also that summer, four CWWA members raced in the International Slalom Competition, Amateur division in Salida, Colorado. The Europeans finished 1-4th place, then Larry Zuk was 5th—the first American to finish. For most of the Americans, it was the first time completing in a slalom race. It was obvious that the Americans were far behind the Europeans as they were pioneers in the sport. Also, many CWWA members raced in the long 26 mile downriver race. Dick Stratton finished 5th place in the kayak division, and in the canoe division Roy Kerswell and Bud Parks did well finishing 16 minutes behind the World Champions, Pean and d'Alencon from France.
In November 1954, a fourth meeting was held to elect officers, make plans for the next year, and officially name the club, Colorado White Water Association (CWWA). Officers elected:
President – Larry Zuk
Vice President – Dick Stratton
Secretary – Clyde Jones
Racing Committee – Steve Bradley and Willie Schoeffler
Cruising Committee – Dave Stacey and Harry Shade
Social Committee – Keith Anderson
Publicity – Joe Lacy and Roy Kerswill
Safety – M.P Drummond and Joe Pendleton
By 1955, members were charged $1 annually for dues. Their money was used to print and buy postage for a bi-monthly newsletter subscription, The Spray. Check out the first Spray ever published. Some members also contributed articles and photos to the American White Water Affiliation (AWWA) and other publications. Clyde Jones was appointed by AWWA to be the Colorado spokesperson.
The club also strengthened its instruction program with training sessions at Washington Park Lake and on the rivers, competing in more slalom and river races, and practicing with the Europeans who had become residents, mostly in Salida. CWWA members helped set up slalom courses on Clear Creek, Blue River, and a few others. Larry Zuk and his wife, Paula, competed in the Tin Cup, a 26 mile race, and placed 3rd. She was the first American woman to ever complete the race in a canoe.
In addition to the instruction program, some members started designing and building new whitewater canoes and kayaks, exploring the rivers, mapping runnable sections, and taking groups on weekend trips. In those days, there weren’t existing maps of most of the Colorado rivers. So the more experienced boaters would carefully run sections of the rivers, find the best way through the rapids, and name the rapids. Most of the rapid names are still used today! Larry Zuk was on a committee to establish how to rate the rapids (ie, class III, IV).
Plus, social activities such as kayak polo competitions, photo sessions, parties and dinners, and even club dances were initiated.
In early 1956, the instruction program added classes at the swimming pool where beginners could practice rolling and boat control using a figure8 around two buoys.
You may have noticed from some of the photos that the canoeists and kayakers aren't wearing helmets or lifejackets. The Europeans didn't wear them so the Americans didn't either. In the 60's, boaters slowly started wearing them.
The molds of kayaks and canoes continued to be made in Larry's garage where many members would come help. They made 64 canoes and kayaks over a five year period. These boats were incredibly light! They also made their own wood paddles.
In mid-60's, a few members took a guided trip down Yampa, their first extended trip. Started doing more longer trips with raft support and putting equipment in their kayaks and canoes.
Larry Zuk was inducted into the ACA Paddlesport Hall of Fame in 2012, and more recently inducted into the FIBark White Water Hall of Fame in 2013 “In honor of their pioneering & community!”.
In 2013, Colorado Whitewater started a Kids Paddling Team, initiated by Peter and Kathy Holcombe, teaching kids 8-17 years of age how to kayak. Each year the program has grown with more kids, more instructors, and a fleet of kid sized kayaks and other gear.
If you are interested in learning more about Colorado Whitewater's history, we have archives stored at Denver Public Library, WH1088.