Most people associate Mongo with that farting mongoloid on Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. But as head raft guide for Vail, Colo.’s Timberline Tours, and captain of the U.S. Raft Team since 2001, Chris “Mongo” Reeder, 40, is better known for creating blazing paddles. He’s hoping his teams paddles will be blazin’ this week (May 17-23) as his team competes at the World Rafting Championships on the Vrbas River in Bosnia…
Growing up rafting in Maine and guiding rivers throughout the U.S. for more than 22 years, Mongo works on the Vail Ski Patrol during the winter, and runs a side business, Mongo Products, creating rescue and technical equipment for the adventure sports community (mongoproducts.com). But his heart returns to raft competition every spring, this year looking to better his team’s 6th-place showing in the Sprint event and 15th-place showing in Slalom at the 2007 World Championships in South Korea; and third-place overall finish at the 2005 World Championships in Ecuador — the best finish by a U.S. Men’s team ever – which included a Gold Medal finish in Sprint.
PL caught up him before the trip overseas for some of his thoughts (for more info on the US team, click here
In His own Words
“We have two new members on the team since the last worlds in Korea. One is Seth Kurt-Mason, our alternate in Korea who has been paddling with the team for three or four years. The other is Joe Sialiano, who earned his spot on the team by competing with two others for the spot last summer; he was the best paddler from our competition at Nationals last spring). Our alternate is Andrew Bishop.
“We started our training in December and our trainer Topper Hagerman from Howard Head Sports Medicine has come up with a truly sadistic program.
“One thing we did different this year was getting on water twice a week through the winter. With the Worlds held early this year it was crucial to get time in the boat. Gym time and cardio is important, but nothing gets you prepared to paddle like paddling.
“For years our trainer has been dreaming up new ways to add resistance to our boat when on the river, like piling it full of weights or rocks. This year he had us paddling the raft in the pool at the local rec center with the back tied off to the diving board with a big bungee cord. The view never really changed but the resistance is incredible and we felt ourselves getting stronger each week.
“The Bosnia course is a Class III-IV section with a lot of flatwater pools. We’ve always had an advantage on tougher runs because of our background running steep rivers in Colorado, but I think we’ve made some changes that will help us excel on rivers with a few more pools. Our team this year has all of the power we had before with 60 pounds less weight. That could be deadly.
“The biggest threats are the reigning World Champs Brazil, the Russians, the Czechs, the Germans, Canada and the Japanese. We’ll just have to see…but we’re feeling pretty good.
“I don’t even remember where the nickname Mongo comes from. My old friend, Harlan, started calling me that when we were guiding together in Boulder and I was drunk most of those years.
Mongo’s Tips on Getting Started
“I’ve seen a thousand different approaches to getting beginners down a river. Some fail to train their crews properly and then blame the guests when things go wrong. Others feel every guest is looking for a near-death experience. Then you have the screamers, who yell at their guests to motivate them—they live by the creed, ‘The beatings will continue until the paddling improves!’
“Be calm and train your crew until you’re comfortable with them. Crews will generally reflect your own mental state. Panic equals panic. When I’m hiring new guides I’ll generally look for the ones who are having the most fun. If a guide is having a good time, so are the guests.
“Getting paid to make sure people have a good time on the river is one of the best jobs ever. Some of my best crews have been first-timers who haven’t developed any bad habits yet. I love watching someone’s initial fear turn into excitement.
“Selecta trip according to your fitness level rather than your prior experience: It’s frustrating to get a men’s lacrosse team signing up for a scenic float trip because they don’t have any experience when they’d have much more fun on something more aggressive.
“One thing I’ve learned is that while a little bit of fear is a good motivator, a horrified guest is “baggage” and will quit paddling at the most inopportune times. Whenever I see the screamers in action I can’t help but think “and these people paid for this?