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The History of CCA

CCA was not formed in a vacuum. Serious canoe racing was on flat-water, in the high kneeling Olympic style out of the Washington Canoe Club (founded in 1904). In the 1948 London Olympics, Frank B, Havens earned a silver medal. In 1952, Frank brought home the gold from Helsinki, Finland in the 10,000 meter solo canoe.

In 1954 Hal Leich wrote “Whitewater on the Potomac” for the Appala-chian Trail Club Bulletin in which he called Washington the “white-water capital of the USA.” Little Falls was denounced as a “killer.” Andy Thomas, in the same issue, advertised whitewater cruises out of Washington for the American Canoe Association. Twelve of our favorite rivers were cited, including Smokehole, Hopeville Canyon, the Cacapon and Goose Creek.

Andy Thomas and friends had been paddling local rivers in foldboats and canoes for at least 15 years before founding the club. In 1956 Bill Carr in a foldboat joined Earl Mossburg, Andy Thomas, Dick Bridge, John Berry and Bob Harrigan in a whitewater run down Goose Creek.

In 1956, the American Canoe Association was recognizing whitewater races in the West, especially the international slalom race in Salida, Colorado which originated in 1949 as a downriver race. Slalom was added in 1953. The Brandywine Slalom in Wilmington Delaware was in its second year. More races were needed!

The American Canoe Association, and the Sycamore Island Club partnered with unaffiliated future CCA members to organize the first Potomac River Downriver Race on May 6,1956. Participation by the 19 competitors was by invitation. Calico Rapids was run, not Yellow Falls, then considered too dangerous. Olympians Frank and Bill Havens won the race in one hour 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

The First Potomac Downriver Race

In October 1956, the culminating event of a series of meetings at Andy Thomas’ house, was a letter mailed on green stationery, inviting the original ten enthusiasts to a meeting at the Sycamore Island Club with the stated purpose of forming a whitewater canoeing club. Henry DeMarne, when pressed years later, produced the ten names to whom the letter was addressed: Andy Thomas, Henry DeMarne, Bob Harrigan, Jim Johnston, Bill Gilbert, Todd Miles, Sid Hess, Bob Farr, Grant Conway, and Chris Christy.

Word got out. People invited friends who invited friends. On the actual meeting night, October 15, 1956, many more than ten people clambered aboard the Sycamore Island ferry in the dark to enthusiastically put their names down as members in the new organization. Thus we can now call the original ten, Founding Fathers, and the subsequent signers, Charter Members. Charter Members included John Berry, Dick Stanton, Jack Hazzard, Aubrey Graves, Dusty Rhodes and probably many more.

Andy Thomas designed the CCA emblem, the tortoise. As Jack Hazzard remembered, the tortoise is “ a landsman as well as a casual seaman as he carries his house on his back.”

The fourth CCA meeting was December 12, 1956 at the Washington Canoe Club. New signatures on the roster included Dick Bridge, Osgood Smith and Ernie Miller. The trip schedule included Goose Creek, the Cacapon, the Cheat Canyon in May, and the South Branch in June. Trip leaders were selected. Safety was a hot topic.

The sixth meeting, held on April 2, 1957 was in preparation for the second Potomac Whitewater Race. Thirty one attended. The Canoe Cruisers Association was off and running. Whitewater racing and cruising had arrived!

Barbara Brown
Canoe Cruisers Association