Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Environmental Responsibility in the Whitewater Industry

Over the past years I’ve had the opportunity to work as an athlete representative for a number of very cool companies in the outdoors industry. I’m particularly excited about this year, because I’ve recently started working with Astral Buoyancy, Immersion Research, and Mion Footwear.

These three companies make top-of-the line products, and all of them share the very cool distinction of being environmentally progressive with their production methods and materials. The following is a brief look at how these three companies are making a positive impact on the world of whitewater business.

We’re fortunate to have Astral Buoyancy based right in Asheville, NC. As most of you probably know, this company is owned by Philip Curry, who also started Lotus Designs while he was in college(at Warren Wilson by the way), and eventually sold it to Patagonia. Astral is responsible for exposing the toxic externalities of using PVC foam(the industry standard at the time) in both the production and disposal of pfds. Since then, they’ve fazed in an organic, buoyant fibre by the name of KAPOK, as well as PE(polyethylene) foam, both of which are much lower impact, and PE can be recycled in the same way as plastic bottles... meaning that all the excess PE foam from the dyes can be recycled, rather than dumped in a landfill or burned like PVC. Very cool.

Enjoying the Aquavest 300 on the Green.

Photo by Spencer Cooke.

I’ve been wearing the Aquavest 300 this spring and summer, and it’s an extremely versatile piece of equipment. A couple of things that appeal to me about the vest are the tow tether with quick release, impact protection for the rib cage, and the fact that the extraction loop on the front of the jacket, as well as the shoulder straps have 1200 lb. tensile strength! Basically, you can rappel with confidence with this vest, as well as get yanked out of the worst of situations by your shoulder strap, because the webbing in the vest tightens around you as the shoulder strap is pulled up. It’s an awesome, very safe pfd, and I’m fired up to be wearing it in my creekboat and playboat.

Mion Footwear is another young company making waves in the kayaking world these days… started by Martin Keen previously of Keen footwear. Mion stands out with regards to its progressive energy practices… They are a carbon-neutral company, meaning that each of their sales reps’ vehicles features a Terrapass, which offsets the climate impact by supporting projects in clean, renewable energy. In addition to this, Mion purchases wind power from South Dakota to offset 100% of the energy used in manufacturing the shoes, and the European distribution center is 100% powered by on-site wind turbines and solar panels. The US distribution center in California is close behind with 60% of its power coming from on-site solar panels. It’s very cool to promote and be associated with companies who care enough to put these kinds of ideas into practice.

About to hike over the 12,000 ft. Bishop Pass during the 12 mile hike in to the Middle Kings River... with 85 pounds on my back! Very spiritual moment, and I'm glad I had some good hiking shoes...

Photo by Pat Keller.

My Flood Tide shoes lasted me all spring, through a Skookumchuck trip, Colorado, 2 Upper Cherry hikes(11 miles each), and 1 Middle Kings hike… and they still look barely used!


These shoes are pretty unique because they combine the play booty with the full on creeking shoe… meaning that’s all you need for any river trip. The play booty slides easily in and out, and both are made out of super tough, sticky, non-marking rubber. I couldn’t believe the play booty stood up to the razor sharp barnacles of the Skookumchuck Narrows in BC for 7 days in a row, but they still look great.

This fall, I plan on using the Fast Canyon shoe for creeking. It looks awesome with much higher ankle support and some burly treads for hiking through anything… Fast Canyon Link

Immersion Research is another company that I am super stoked to be working with. I’m coming from 5 years of representing Level Six clothing, and although I can’t say enough about the people and products over there, I feel as though IR will be a better fit.

With regards to environmental stewardship, IR is another company that just has it together… they have some very innovative new products coming down the line for 2008, but you’ll have to wait until OR show this year to hear more about those! In general, John, Kara, Roger, and everyone else at IR care about how their actions will affect the well-being of our planet.

Click here to view IR biodiesel video.

Aside from the biodiesel production, all paper, plastic, and can waste that is produced at the factory is recycled, boxes are reused, and light use is kept to a minimum. Most of the members of the IR community are also able to ride bikes to work rather than driving, and Roger Loughney rides to work a couple times a week in spite of the fact that it takes him 2 hours one way!

So, one piece of equipment that I absolutely couldn’t live without in the sport of kayaking is the Union Suit. For those unfamiliar with this product, it’s a super comfy thick-skin fleece one piece that you enter through the neck… and it is sooo warm. It comes in particularly handy on multi-days, because you can comfortably paddle snow-melt high elevation whitewater all day, and when you get to camp, strip off the rest of your gear, dry your Union Suit around the fire, and you’ll sleep a lot warmer in your sleeping bag. I probably would have been hypothermic during the Upper Cherry blizzards this year if it weren’t for this piece of gear!

Thankful for the Union Suit during a cold session in the Eternity Hole, NC.

Photo by Jeb Hall.

Anyways, I’m going to conclude my rambling, just wanted to share my excitement about working with a couple of very cool companies that care about the larger impact of their actions. Feels like a breath of fresh air in the profit-driven, image-oriented society that we live in.

Immersion Research
Astral Buoyancy
Mion Footwear

Signing out from Picton, Ontario.
Chris Gragtmans

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