The origins of DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking go back almost 40 years, to a time when Phil and Mary, separately and on opposite sides of the country, fell in love with whitewater. It would be 12 more years until they met, but the company they created in 1993, based in Coloma, grew out of the transformational force of veering from the straight and narrow.
For Mary Hayes it started in 1980 when as a young nurse she signed up for a beginning kayak course. After watching an instructional whitewater film she wondered, “What the heck did I get myself into”? Yet even with such a cautious first impression, she was soon hooked! Within 2 years she was a lead kayak instructor for the Nantahala Outdoor Center. She started their Costa Rica trips and guided in the Grand Canyon and on Chile’s Bio Bio River. Later she became the assistant head of NOC’s instruction program. During her time there she won two National Wildwater titles.
On the other side of the country, Phil was living in Arcata, CA, working on design and production for Moonstone Mountaineering. Originally a rock and ice climber, Phil found that the rainy climate of Humboldt County made those sports difficult to pursue. So he tried kayaking. After flipping in a minor rapid on the Pigeon Point run of the Trinity River, he found himself carving a trough down a shallow gravel bar with an exposed elbow as he exited his kayak. His thought? “This is a stupid sport!” Yet within a year, Phil (always one to share his passion for the outdoors with others) began teaching and guiding, first at Sundance Kayak School on the Rogue River. He went on to also teach at Otter Bar Kayak School on the Cal Salmon for nearly 20 years and became the head instructor there.
In 1985 Phil joined friends to spend 4 months exploring in Chile and Peru. He and a group of Coloma buddies, Eric Magneson, Lars Holbek, and Mark Allen bagged many first descents, including the Futaleufu. Soon after, Phil and two others accomplished the second descent of Canada’s Stikine, starting only 3 days behind the first group to do so. In addition to Chile and Peru, Phil has gone on to do first descents on rivers in Nepal, Venezuela, Honduras, Baffin Island, and Bhutan.
Mary and Phil were aware of each other’s reputation through the paddling grapevine. But it wasn’t until video producer Kent Ford (a former member of the US team in C-1 and head of instruction at NOC) brought a group of instructors together in 1992 to collaborate on an instructional video that Phil and Mary met. They quickly recognized their shared enthusiasm for the adventure and joy of teaching. The next several winters were spent in Chile, guiding for Chris Spelius on the Futaleufu. While there Mary was one of 2 women kayakers featured in the ABC Sports production “A Passion to Play: Stories of Women in Sports” filmed on the Futa.
In 1993 they worked on the River Unit of “The River Wild” starring Meryl Streep. Their job was to keep the actor’s safe while in the water. Phil, a photo double as well, can be seen paddling a canoe into the sunset, and it is his ankle into which a knife is secretly slipped to help out David Strathairn!
Living out of Phil’s truck for the next 3 years, they taught up and down the west coast. Students appreciated Mary and Phil’s wizard-like ability to spot their gaps and grow their skills, and the supportive atmosphere of exploration they created. Paddlers began asking for more venues.
And so DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking slowly took form. Their first offerings included a raft-support trip on the Rogue River and fall trips in Honduras.
Then, Hurricane Mitch, a category 5 storm parked itself over their base of operations and flooded out all the runs. In 1995, and for the next 20 seasons, they offered trips to Ecuador. That year they sealed another deal. Their wedding took place along the banks of the Cal Salmon River where they met.
Phil spent the summer of 1996 back in Arcata, designing Kokatat’s first lifejacket series. Mary started looking for a place where they might teach year-round. She headed to Coloma and fell in love with the South Fork and the community. Here she was hired by Mother Lode River Trips to teach kayaking. With the PFD project done, Phil joined her in Lotus.
Over the years, Phil and Mary participated in making more instructional videos and were keynote speakers at Whitewater Symposiums in MA, NC, and CA. They contributed chapters to several books and wrote many technique articles on the sport for Canoe and Kayak and for Kayak Sessions, where they also got profiled as “legends.” They were included in Tyler William’s book, Whitewater Classics. The American Canoe Association recognized their accomplishments in 2011, awarding them status as Legends of Paddling.
DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking has grown, teaming up with stellar outfitters for their raft-supported trips on the Owyhee and Rogue rivers of OR, the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon in ID, and the Grand Canyon.
Sami Hawkins, a native of Coloma, brings her playful demeanor and high standards to these trips as well. Her enthusiasm for teaching and love of kayaking make her the perfect complement to the team.
Phil and Mary still teach groups, individuals and ACA Instructor Certification courses on the South Fork for Mother Lode River Trips. They are known as teachers of teachers, certified by the ACA at the highest level. Yet they will tell you they are most proud of the recognition and appreciation of their students, many who join them on river trips year after year. Their joy of the river and their sport is contagious.
Internationally, Phil and Mary return to Bhutan almost every fall to run trips. Their first visit to this Buddhist Kingdom came in 2006 as an invitation to join a Discovery Channel exploratory. (The final production aired in May of 2007).
In addition to their kayaking and rafting trips in the Himalaya, they also lead trekking and cultural tours and have done a photo excursion with local Coloma photographer Betty Sederquist. To top it off, Phil has lead 2 exploratory expeditions in Bhutan, adding several more first descents to his name.
DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking is truly an example that if you follow your passion, doors will open. All you have to do is paddle on through!
Profile piece in Kayak Session magazine http://adventurekayaking.com/documents/DeRiemer_Kayak_Session_Profile.pdf