Letter: A tribute to Chan Zwanzig
My old friend, mentor and kayaking hero Chan Zwanzig passed away July 17 after his long battle with cancer at his home in Steamboat Springs. His lifelong wife and devoted friend, Katie, was with him, holding his hand to the end. He was 71 years old. At the end, he told me he has done everything he wanted to do. There is nothing else on his bucket list.
With so many river trips together and so much great boating advice, I will truly miss him. He was a true kayaking innovator and advanced the sport beyond measure. What an amazing life.
The sport of kayaking was introduced to the states by Europeans in the 1950s. Chan was called “The eccentric spearhead … and founder of Wave Sport Kayaks,” based in Oak Creek in the 1980s. His boat designs were pivotal in moving the sport of kayaking from a slalom style to “freestyle rodeo kayaking.”
And then Wave Sport released the action video “Dashboard Burrito,” now on YouTube, and the revolution took off. It was named for the way Chan would warm and eat his breakfast on the way to a river run. He envisioned the “park and play” water features that led to the building of so many whitewater parks across the country including the Steamboat River Park and Eagle River Whitewater Park.
All the top competition boaters would agree that Wave Sport revolutionized and dominated the freestyle kayak scene through the late 1990s and 2000s, due to Chan’s energy and dedication to the sport — Google, “Wave Sport. The End of an Era” — “There are so many incredible kayakers who made their careers through Wave Sport. There was about six years when virtually every boat on the river was a Wave Sport.”
“Chan is an intense guy, the type who would do five things at a time, 24 hours a day. He was all over the place, always going a million miles an hour. But he got things done, and wanted to make kayaking the next cool kid sport. And he pushed it every way he could to do that.”
And he loved to party. A tribute party and memorial is being planned for next year during the Yampa River Fest, when hopefully, the world will be a different place.
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