Dispatches, March 1998
Five years ago, Jeff Snyder had a rather tragic mishap. Kayaking over a 45-foot waterfall in Mexico, Snyder misfired and his boat landed perfectly flat — a shock that seriously injured his spine. As you might imagine, the accident was an eye-opening experience. And upon returning to his job as a rafting guide on Maryland's Youghiogheny River, Snyder had an epiphany. "I was walking real funny for a while," he explains, "and I began to think that boaters were a little too vulnerable." Surprisingly, though, given Snyder's near brush with paralysis, it was not the act of hurtling down raging rivers and over mammoth drop-offs that he began to question. Rather, it was the way most folks were doing so. "By design," he says, "our feet were made to be under us."
Thus was born the new sport of striding, in which Snyder — using a ten-foot-long paddle and an inflatable kayak and wearing an impressive array of homemade, wooden protective devices (shin guards, helmet, breastplate) — takes on Class V flows such as West Virginia's Gauley and New York's Moose standing up. Challenging as this is, what with maneuverability limited by the fact that the strider's center of gravity is a good three feet higher than normal, Snyder insists that his position is often safer than the traditional seated posture, particularly for going over falls. "It's a little more tenuous at the lip," he concedes, "and ideally you've got enough water that you don't pencil in at the bottom, but all in all it's a very smooth ride."
Could it be that the nation's kayakers will soon rise up, both literally and figuratively, to forever change their sport? Snyder certainly has the craze-starting credentials, having previously been in on the invention of squirt boating (a brand of kayaking involving sleeker boats designed to travel under the surface of the water). Thus far, however, Snyder has lured but one disciple, 30-year-old Nathan Mills, a man who says that after a year of striding he's totally hooked — but admits that the sport is a tough sell. "You really wouldn't feel comfortable goading someone into this," Mills says. "I mean, I spent the first three months seriously doubting that the sport was even possible." — CRISTINA OPDAHL