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HomeNL-2014-04 History of the SW Canoe Rendezvous

History of the Southwestern Canoe Rendezvous Revisited
April, 2014
by John Bartos
One of the most significant activities that the Houston Canoe Club has been involved in was the Southwestern Canoe Rendezvous. These were the largest on water canoe and kayak shows in the country and took place from 1989 through 2001. The first two were held at Chain O’Lakes near Roymayer Texas, then at Huntsville State Park and the final two years took place in Sugar Land, Texas. This was a major undertaking for a volunteer group and was a huge success. Below is an article published in the HCC Waterline in 1994 of an interview with the late Bob Arthur.

           - John Bartos

History of the Southwestern Canoe Rendezvous: 
A conversation with Bob Arthur


  Bob Arthur
Bob Arthur promoted the idea of a canoe gathering to take place in Texas and has been the chair and prime mover every year since. A friend once said that Bob was the slowest talker and fastest thinker he ever met. That may be true, but there is no doubt that the success of the Rendezvous is due to his unique brand of East Texas promotion. The following conversation has been digested from 37 hours of tape and 23 packs of cigarettes.

John: 1994 marks the sixth Rendezvous. It's hard to believe. How did you happen to have the idea of a rendezvous in the first place?

Bob: In 82 or 83, a bunch of people from Houston went up to a Solo Symposium that Blackhawk (Phil Sigglekow) and Curtis Canoe (Dave Curtis) put on in Arkansas. This was my first exposure to knowledgeable people or gurus if you will. And I realized at the time that I didn't know very much. I had taken basic Red Cross lessons and knew all there was to know about paddling, until I saw these folks up there! Pat Moore, Harry Roberts, Mike Galt, Mike Chicanowski, Steve Landick and people like that. 

I thought that these were the superstars of the canoeing world and they were very accessible to us.

J: I guess this symposium in Arkansas got it in your mind that other people should be exposed to this.

B: Well, I thought so. It changed my way of looking at the sport from just a pasttime into an avocation. Something that I just wanted to get better at.

J: Whatever made you think that a group like the Houston Canoe Club should get involved in doing one of these?
B: It was probably pure stupidity (laughter).

No, as time went by there were some other shows that developed here, there and yon. Charlie Wilson's Conclave. But we thought if they were having them elsewhere, why couldn't we have them here. We had to more or less invent the show as we went along, with help from Charlie Wilson and other people. I talked to the people with L.L. Bean show in Maine. I talked to Harry Roberts.

We introduced the idea in 1986, but nothing happened.

J: You introduced the idea to the Canoe Club in 86 and it was approved?

B: The club voted to do it, thought it was a great idea but it simply didn't happen.

J: In 1989 you were elected a Governor and I was elected Commodore and I remember you brought it up at the first meeting we had and for some reason none of the rest of us ever stopped you. I don't know what we were thinking about.

B: In 89 I was financially able to spend the time on it. I didn't realize it would take as much time as it did.

J: Well, there were a lot of considerations that first year since we were just inventing the thing. One was trying to get somebody with some reputation in the business involved and that's why we called Charlie Wilson.

B: And (the late) Harry Roberts, who at that time edited Canoesport Journal. They donated $500.00 to us and they helped influence the industry to come down here. And we had a highly successful show as far as industry participation and it has happened every year.

J: Who came down the first year?

B: Cliff Jacobson, Dr. Forgey [both with ICS Publishing] ...

J: Mohawk came with a big trailer ... Steve Scarborough and Dagger.

B: Mad River brought their road show down with Robert Harrison.

J: Joseph Sedevich (Seda) contributed a memorable Freestyle exhibition.

B: Stand up Freestyle. McCann Paddles, Sawyer, Dana Grover ... [When we got the first exhibitor check from McCann we figured that we might just have a show.]

J: Bunny Johns [President of Nantahala Outdoor Center] has been to every Rendezvous.

  John Bartos, left
Bob Arthur, right
B: Old Town with Roger Bills and in later years Scott Phillips came.

J: Let’s not forget our local retailers who have been participants and supporters every year.

B: A to Z came in Billy Fullers' first year in business, Canoesport, Don Greene. Ralph Julian from Tyler did a paddle building exhibition. Roy Gorman from Beaumont did a wood strip canoe building demo.

We had a 'Women In Paddling' panel discussion that included Molly Stark, Bunny, Marilu Wilson, (who came with Mike Galt and demonstrated and taught Freestyle).

J: I do remember the dinner show. It included a debate on sizing paddles and a terrific slide show, one of the best that I've ever seen.

B: Blair Pittman did his Big Bend slide show. Harry Roberts said that the canoe world had never gathered where there were table cloths and flowers on the table. That was at Chain-O-Lakes.

J: How did we happen to choose C-O-L?

B: We looked at a number of locations including Windmill Lakes, Guadalupe Outpost, Camp Olympia. Myrna Salaun had suggested C-O-L early on and later George Jennings talked about it.

J: That was a nice place. We had the Rendezvous there two years.

B: The speaker at the second year banquet was Valerie Fons, who was very well received talking about her big trip with Verlun Kruger all the way to Tierra del Fuego.

J: The Rendezvous could not have come off without the help and support of the canoe clubs from around the state.

B: Dallas Downriver Club, North Texas River Runners, Big Thicket Voyageurs, Alamo City River People, HCC, Bayou City WW. Later the Hill Country Paddlers, Austin Canoe Club, Huntsville Travel Society.

J: The third Rendezvous moved to Huntsville State Park. How did that happen?

B: We just made a mistake and did not reserve C-O-L in time. Then we came up with Huntsville State Park in cooperation with Texas Parks & Wildlife.

J: That was 1991. We had the National Championship of Interpretive Freestyle that year.

B: And have had it every year since. We helped to turn it into a serious competition. I think it was appreciated by the competitors and the Freestyle community.

In 1992 some of our own people became National Champions. (Anne and Tryon Lindabury). And you and Cindy paddled around out there one time and even I competed. 1993 the competition was under the lights, which was another step up, I think.

J: We've had a Silent Auction every year to benefit a worthy cause. This was the brainchild of Leonard Hulsebosch, who would never let a money making opportunity escape. [Skip & Mary Kay Donovan have picked up the torch on behalf of the Hulsebosch Memorial Fund.]

B: Making money was never the prime goal of the Rendezvous, but we tried not to lose any. We risked half of the club's assets that first year and as it turned out we never had to actually spend any of that money. Without the volunteer help it wouldn't have happened. We had club typesetters, writers ..

J: lawyers ...

B: designers [Rolf Laub has designed our logo and T-shirts.] Miles have been driven and hours spent at no cost to the club. It could not have succeeded without it.

J: What effect do you think the Rendezvous has had on the HCC?

B: Member numbers have basically doubled. We have given away a considerable amount of money for worthy causes. (TRPA, GBF, Buffalo Bayou Coalition, Bayou Preservation Association, American Canoe Association)

  Marie & Fred Hurd
The club is having its 30th anniversary at this coming Rendezvous and talking with Fred and Marie Hurd, charter members, they will tell you that they could not have foreseen in 1964 that this type of activity would be going on now in Houston. We have also made a lot of personal friends around the country and made a national reputation for the HCC. And I believe that our exposure to the best instruction and equipment has increased the level of paddling in this part of the country. We have national champions in Freestyle, members who have paddled the Grand Canyon in open canoes, certified instructors and instructor trainers in every aspect of the sport.

J: Bob, you have devoted a lot of time and effort toward the Rendezvous. I know they could not have happened
without you.
B: It has taken quite a bit of time. This year we have elected committee chairs and are trying to divide up the duties. But it takes a lot of time.

And it's been a labor of love.

2014 Post Script

The Southwestern Canoe Rendezvous continued until 2001. We were proud to subsequently have another Freestyle Champion from HCC, Lilian Tigard. Many of our other members participated as competitors, judges and staff. Over the years many canoe and kayak instructors got their start at the Rendezvous and the level of paddling skills in Texas improved greatly. HCC raised over $100,000.00 that was donated to various river conservation and education causes. During the Rendezvous, most years there were 40 plus clinics, 20 or more workshops and exhibiters from all area of paddlesports. We had visitors and guests from all over the country and Canada. We kept them fed and got them housed. We bought some really nice boats. We had the pleasure of meeting and seeing the skills in kayak and ropes of Maligiaq Padilla the Greenland National Kayak Champion. We created a lot of memories and made a lot of friends. Who can forget Marge Cline the “River Mom”, age 70 something doing a headstand in her solo canoe? How about clinics and workshops taught by Bob Foote, Karen Knight, Mike Galt, Gordon Black, Kent Ford, Tom MacKenzie, David Yost and Lee Moyers? How about seeing the eyes of the alligators shining at night under the spotlights during the Freestyle Competition? How about the Dutch oven cook-off? How about the long line of cars all with colorful boats tied on coming into the park?

The 2001 Rendezvous took place about one month after 9/11 when air traffic was still uncertain and still large crowds came. We played Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful” and “the End of the Innocence” by Don Henley for the “All Paddle” after the Freestyle Competition. The thought still brings tears to my eyes.

Here’s to all the good friends we made and those whom we have lost along the way. Let’s remember the days when the Houston Canoe Club and the Rendezvous was the epicenter of the paddling world. It is part of a history to be proud of.


The author, John Bartos