GoPro Mountain Games inspire athlete to change rafting for the better
Ryan Huck found a love for being on the water in his teenage years, but after competing for fun in the GoPro Mountain Games Pacifico Down River R2 Raft Sprint in Vail last year, the 20-year-old is now pushing the sport in more ways than one.
“It was really crazy, I just remember before the race I was a big water junkie and I thought it would be fun to go compete,” Huck said, reminiscing on the event that transitioned his passion from a laid-back activity to a career. “We were excited to just go do it and have fun, having not done it before.”
This year, the Pacifico Down River R2 Raft Sprint is Saturday, June 10.
“I get there and I see Dane Jackson just hanging out,” Huck remembers about competing at last year’s GoPro Mountain Games. “So I just went up to him and said what’s up and started talking to him.”
That’s when Huck realized that Jackson, a legend in the kayaking world known for hucking waterfalls, would be his competition.
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“The first round, me and Caleb crush it. Then we make it to the next round and crush it,” Huck remembers. “Then we make it to the semifinals round and see that we’re racing against Dane Jackson and thought, ‘No way, this is the coolest thing.'”
Despite losing to Jackson and his R2 partner, Huck’s experience at the Mountain Games helped the now-20-year-old find a calling in watersports.
“That’s why the Mountain Games are so cool, because you can go race against these professional athletes,” he said. “It was such a cool race, and I’m very excited to do it again this year, hopefully by racing against Dane again.”
Huck first discovered his love for the water through float trips.
“I just fell in love with the river and just floating on it,” he said.
Then two years ago, he started running the Eagle River and Dowd Chute.
“I really got the bug for whitewater and kind of stopped doing fun, relaxed family floats and stuff like that and really started focusing on whitewater. And I just got hooked,” he said.
That season, he ran Dowd Chute 50 times, and he continued to progress his paddling skills. All that led to last year’s competition at the Mountain Games.
“It was last year’s race at the GoPro Mountain Games that made me want to transfer from running whitewater in my 9-foot catboat and start R1-ing stuff and start paddling,” he said. “That race was definitely a significant moment that changed me in my whitewater career.”
Huck, who lives near Crested Butte but has family and friends in Eagle County, is currently studying for his master’s at Western Colorado University, with a focus on the outdoor industry. In the winters he tunes skis and fits boots, and he’ll be working at a Crested Butte taco shop this summer.
While earning his degree, he’s also starting his own business — Recycled Rafting Materials. His goal is to divert waste from the landfill and give it new life by creating a waterproof product with multiple uses, eventually hoping to make full rafts from recycled material.
“What we’re doing is we’re going to actually be taking the PVC billboards from the landfill. So we’re still using PVC, however we’re diverting it from the landfill and reusing it to make a new product. So instead of buying new materials to make our product, we’re diverting it from the landfill.”
Huck is using literal billboards that you would see on the side of the road, making each product one-of-a-kind, depending on the billboard used.
Recycled Rafting Materials is starting with pads to sleep on, float on, throw in the back of a truck — anything that might find a waterproof mat helpful. In the future, he’s hoping to make dry bags and rafts with recycled material.
“So people can really feel good about this product because it has the same comfort and durability of a paco pad, however the material that’s used has already been used and it’s recycled,” he said.
In addition to studying and starting a business, while trying to spend as much time on the water as possible, Huck is also making a movie this summer. Along with some friends, he’ll be taking advantage of the high water levels due to the strong snow season and rafting all over the state — some being first descents.
“We really want to emphasize that I’m rafting this stuff and it might not ever get rafted or kayaked again because we had a crazy water year in Colorado, and if we don’t take action now, are we ever going to see another year like this?” he asked.
Keep an eye out for Huck in this year’s Pacifico Raft Cross at the GoPro Mountain Games. And if he comes across Jackson again — may the best team win.