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In memory of Shannon...

Posted: 07.29.2013 by Chris Gragtmans

Shannon, There are no words to describe what happened last week. When I found out the news about you passing away, I closed my eyes, bent over, and I swear I could feel the Earth shaking and groaning around me.

Surely that amount of positive energy being snuffed out could be sensed by every person alive. It felt to me like a celestial event- a supernova star with incomprehensible energy at the end of its life. Its death sends a shock wave out through the galaxy, and changes everything around it.

I cannot make sense of what has happened.  I still find myself thinking that I will wake up from this bad dream, jump on another Dagger conference call with you tomorrow and make magic happen.

While we all adjust to a world without you, I wanted to thank you for teaching me a few lessons on how to live life right.  I’m thinking back on my time spent with you, and realize that you centered your existence around a few key ideals.  The ones that stand out to me are your passion, devotion to your community, and unending joy.  You taught all of us the importance of these ideals through gentle example, and always with a smile on your face.  I wanted to share a few of my favorite memories of you with these traits in mind…  


I first got to know you when I put up a post about a Marketing internship at Dagger.  You messaged me and enthusiastically expressed your desire to apply for it.  I told you that you were welcome to put me down as a reference, “for whatever that’s worth.”

Of course you got the gig, and quickly made yourself indispensable to your coworkers.  I wasn’t in the office full-time with you, but even with my limited visits, I can’t express how many positive things I heard from your peers about your contributions to the team.

I’ve worked closely with you for a while now, and one common theme has always stood out about you… passion.  You were passionate about everything that you touched.  The lines between work and play blurred for you, and I loved watching your creativity pop up through your work.  Your kayak prom photo, putting mustaches on coworkers at events, and working together on the microphone to build suspense when giving away boats for Team River Runner or First Descents- you were always passionate and I loved working with you.  Through your actions, you gave your peers pride to be doing what we were doing.

You contributed to our vocational fulfillment.


You knew one thing that we all innately feel inside, but can’t quite put our fingers on.  You knew that the experiences we have in the outdoors are beautiful, but the true gifts that we receive from these experiences are the people who are in this room- the people with whom we share them.    

You knew this better than any of us, and you made up the very best of this fabric that connects us.  I know that you’re with us today, and you’re probably blushing at receiving so much attention.  But Shannon, what you have here is a testament to the way that you lived your life.  You are the common bond that has brought all of these people together, and your actions have given us something to strive for.

I remember putting together my French Broad Distance Project for First Descents (a project I still need to complete).  I swear I had put the fundraiser page up for no more than a half hour, and you had already found it, donated to it, and shared it with your network.  That is how you operated… spreading positivity in your community in every way possible, and supporting those who you believed were trying to do the same.

Another happy memory occurred at the Mountain Games in Vail.  I brought you to a couple of gatherings, and it was amazing to watch you make new friends.  I realized that your energy and presence in a room actually made people around you feel better about themselves.  You not only lived your life in a certain way, but you also elevated everyone around you as well.  After having just a small glimpse into your energy, my friends couldn’t stop asking me questions about you.  They were drawn to you in a way that they couldn’t even explain, and I think that goes for all of us.

Your tribe mourns for you today, but we have been brought closer to each other by you- the hub that connects all of us.  I know that your focus on your community will live on through your scholarship fund, and through us, the people who carry on your legacy.    


There’s one memory that I can’t seem to shake.  This past New Years, you and Jay came up to Asheville to hang out with my friends and me.  Of course I was stoked to have such an awesome crew together, but I was very disappointed to find that the pub that I guided everyone to (with promises of dancing into the New Year) had a DJ, but no dancefloor.  All that existed was a bunch of tables in front of a big screen TV with football playing.  I felt defeated, but you took the situation into your own hands.  Once the football game was over, you immediately moved our table over to the side, creating a small dancefloor at the front of the room.

Instead of giving up, you just started dancing.

Without self-doubt or insecurity, you expressed your joy for life in your own unique way.  Of course Pablo, Jay, and I weren’t going to leave you hanging, so we jumped in and started dancing too.  And that is what we did- just the four of us, for over 30 minutes!  It’s fun living like you- just saying “I will do what brings me (and those around me) the most joy in this moment.”

After a long time of over 100 people just staring at us from their seats, we could see a few standing up, visibly tempted to jump in and shred with us.  It was funny- they were mostly girls pushing their boyfriends to get out there with them.  But one by one you would either physically grab them and pull them out, or coax them more discreetly through dance moves like the fishing line cast and others.  Your goal was to create joy for yourself and as many people as possible around you, and I’ve never in my life seen anyone with more joy than you Shannon.

It was as if every night when you went to sleep, you somehow plugged your batteries into an infinite source of unadulterated happiness.  This allowed you to wake up anew and spread positive energy with every breath and every action.

That was a night to remember- each of us just being joyful and comfortable in our own skin, like you were.  What a great way to live life.

After reflecting on these lessons that you taught me Shannon, I now realize one thing- you are irreplaceable.

You are one of the most wholesome, pure, genuine, and beautiful people that I have ever met.  And while this void cannot be filled by anyone else, all of us can learn to add a little bit of you to our own lives.  Your presence in our lives made every single one of us better people Shannon, and it is now we who must strive to live up to the example that you set.

All of us knew you in different settings Shannon, but I think I will always remember you with that image of you dancing.    

And I know that last week you danced joyfully into the Light.
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Park and Hucks- Warm Up!

Posted: 12.31.2012 by Chris Gragtmans

There are many fun rapids and waterfalls out there that are not located in the middle of a river run. Sometimes, you just want to pull the vehicle over, run one drop, and get back in to move on to the next adventure.

While this is extremely fun to do, and is generally how the largest drops in the world are run, many people have trouble with getting themselves in the right mindset and zone for running a park and huck.  It feels strange committing to something challenging with cold muscles and having the first couple of paddle strokes being out of the eddy and straight into the action.  There are many fun rapids and waterfalls out there that are not located in the middle of a river run. 

Sometimes, you just want to pull the vehicle over, run one drop, and get back in to move on to the next adventure.  While this is extremely fun to do, and is generally how the largest drops in the world are run, many people have trouble with getting themselves in the right mindset and zone for running a park and huck.  It feels strange committing to something challenging with cold muscles and having the first couple of paddle strokes being out of the eddy and straight into the action.  

Photo by Bryan Kirk

This is not an abnormal feeling... it's very natural to be tentative about running a big rapid without getting that paddling warmup that you usually get on home river runs.  Our bodies are like an Indy race car- we can't just turn the machine on and immediately redline!  Any machine needs a proper warmup to run at it's highest level, and our body is no different.

I'm far from a cutting edge big waterfall huckster, but I have run a few drops in the 35-90 foot range, all of which have been with no warm-up rapids above them.  I have been fortunate with good lines on all of them(knock on wood), and one thing that has worked well for me and others is using a series of simple exercises to get the blood and oxygen flowing in my muscles.  By warming up properly, you allow yourself to be more resilient to the massive impacts that can come with these drops, and also allow yourself to feel more fluid and at-home in the river.  You can also output higher levels of work capacity (paddle harder to save yourself/rescue your buddy) if you need to.

**Keep in mind you don't need to be running huge drops to find value in this- it helps to be warmed up no matter what size rapid you're looking at**

Here are my staples.  

This is what I do if there is no way I can paddle before I slide into the river.  If there is water nearby, by all means incorporate an on-water warmup too.  But this is my absolute bare minimum for running something big:

Now go and style the crap out of that rapid, because you are properly warmed up.

Photo by Adam Goshorn

I hope this has been helpful, and I'll see you at the next horizon line!

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Upper Gauley Jitsu! (with the ladies)

Posted: 09.24.2012 by Chris Gragtmans

Gauley Fest 2012 was another one for the ages! Great times were had by all, and it was a pleasure experiencing the event from my new role of Dagger Pro Team Manager.

I was amazed with the amount of interest in the raffle Green Boat to benefit AW.  People were stoked about the one-of-a-kind Storm color, and it was cool to pull the winning ticket and award Sir Matt Redmond with his new boat.  His buddies carried him off in the boat on their shoulders!

That Sunday I got to paddle the Upper Gauley with a specific goal in mind- put together a video of our new playboat, the Jitsu.  Fortunately I was rolling deep with some of the Dagger ladies!  Anna Levesque, Laura "for real" Farrell, and Shannon Christy joined me, and I got to watch them ripping the river to pieces.  I think more than a few guys' feelings were hurt...  

It was really fun to see the looks on their faces as they tapped into the potential of the boat, and explored the possibilities from downriver freestyle, to wave and hole play, to running class V rapids.  Needless to say they were excited about the new boat in the Dagger fleet, and it was another great day in the office for me!

Here is the video, hope you enjoy...

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New Freestyle Boat Testing...

Posted: 07.11.2012 by Chris Gragtmans

It has been a pleasure to be involved in the testing of the new Dagger freestyle boat. This boat represents a true collective team effort, fearlessly led by the Dagger in-house designer, Mark (Snowy) Robertson.

Snowy started this project by interviewing the whole Dagger team to see what it is that that they want in their dream freestyle boat.  Somehow, he aggregated all of this information and began design on the boat around several core concepts:

  • Ease of paddling in all environments (wave, hole, downriver)
  • Volume distribution that allows simultaneously for massive hole aerials and consistent balance for cartwheels
  • Rotational stability for the McNasty/Phonix combos
  • Fast and loose on waves – a dynamic and sporty feel was paramount
  • Release from the bow and the stern for amplitude and control on wave aerials
  • Forgiving “catcher’s mitt” stern for landing backwards and not backendering
Andrew doing some fall testing session on the Gauley River.

With these baselines in mind, Snowy got the first protos together and distributed them around the world to Team D.  World Champion James Bebbington tested his at the unique features in the UK and Europe, Rush took his to the White Nile, Tyler sent feedback from Montana, and Snowy, Andrew Holcombe and myself tested our boats on the Gauley, New and Eternity hole in the Southeast.

Snowy looping in Eternity.

From the beginning, we knew that Snowy had created something special here, but as the kinks have been worked out, this boat has proven itself to be a game changer.  We have had a blast testing it, and had one final session with the medium size at Skook a few weeks ago.  The athlete comments on this final proto ranged from “don’t change a thing” to “best boat ever” to “the release is better than anything I’ve ever tried.”  We’ve been doing our best to be critical and keep improving, but it really is fun to be completely satisfied with where a prototype is.

Rush going huge as usual.  Credit: Snowy Robertson

Myself testing the backwards release.  Credit: Snowy Robertson

Rush floating the clean.  Credit: Hector DarbyMaclellan

Taking advantage of the elusive green ramp!  Credit: Alison with Markus Leppanon's camera.

While Snowy has poured in his blood, sweat and tears far beyond anyone else, it has truly been a collective effort, and I know that all of Team D is excited to bring this one to the world.  Stay tuned to the website for more info about sizing, release dates and specs.

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