The only paddler to appear on a Wheaties box loves Richmond, Virginia. Jon Lugbill is widely considered the greatest whitewater canoeist ever. He's a five-time world champion in C-1 slalom and has 12 World Championship gold medals. After competitive canoeing, his primary challenge became building the city he loves into a sports mecca. He took on the position of executive director for a nonprofit called the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers in 1993, turning it from a small mom-and-pop with a 67,000 budget into a competitive marketing and event behemoth with an annual business revenue of $3.5 million, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Now his goal is to make the Dominion Riverrock—a multi-sport festival taking place May 14-15 in Richmond—a vital adventure sports stop on everyone's list. Outside caught up with him to find out why.
Where did the idea for Dominion Riverrock come from? Was there an "aha" moment?
Our first attempt at having a major event on the riverfront was when we tried to attract the ESPN X-Games and the Gravity Games to Richmond. Unfortunately, we lost our X-Games bid to Philadelphia and two years later in 2002, we lost out on a chance to host NBC’s Gravity Games. Because we are a small television market, we were pretty sure we would continue to lose these bids on a national level. And, we kept looking at our riverfront and saying to ourselves that the river was the most important feature. I also visited the Gorge Games in Oregon and the Teva Mountain Games to look at their two different models. While these events helped crystallize our plans, the original frustration of not winning the X-Games and the Gravity Games motivated us to develop our own unique riverfront event.
I realized through a combination of experiences that Richmond was ideally suited for a “modern riverfront festival” on our downtown riverfront. We have a unique mixture of whitewater on the James River, 20 miles of single-track mountain bike trails, and an outdoor concert venue—all right next to each other in the middle of downtown Richmond. Where else can you showcase these activities and the feel of the “park and play” lifestyle? Richmond is so unique in that it provides that perfect environment for mountain biking, kayaking and trail running. And, don’t forget, Richmond is extremely dog friendly.
There is a good mix of events, from air dogs, to boatercross, to mountain biking. How did you pick the events?
On any given weekend in the spring you see people kayaking, running, biking and walking their dogs in the James River Park in downtown Richmond. We selected events that are fun to try, exciting to do, and great to watch. All of these elements combined with great bands and food and drink makes for an incredibly high energy atmosphere.
Did your career as a kayaker influence the festival?