Kayaking Community Mourns Death of Idaho, Surf Kayak Legend Jim Grossman

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Idaho, and the paddling community, lost one of its most iconic whitewater kayakers with the death of Jim Grossman, 56, of Sun Valley, in a kayaking accident Monday, May 30, on Idaho’s Class V South Fork of the Salmon River.

According to a news release, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office found Grossman’s body near the Fall Creek area, with Idaho County Coroner Cody Funke reporting the cause of death as drowning. The Idaho County Sheriff’s Office reports its office received a notification from the International Emergency Response Coordination Center about an SOS call from a Garmin inReach device advising a kayaker had died. Two Bear Air of Whitefish helped recover Grossman’s body in an area not accessible via road. The section is still 4 miles or so above the river’s confluence with the Main Salmon. Grossman was reportedly kayaking the river with his son, Buey, also an expert level kayaker and Division 1 ski racer, and paddler and friend Henry Cherp.

According to USGS water flow site at South Fork Salmon River near the Krassel Ranger Station, the South Fork was flowing about 2,500 cfs on the day of the accident, or 6 feet on the gauge. That was down slightly from a flooding high of 3,300 cfs, just two days earlier, a day when the Main Salmon rose to 57,000 cfs, causing permit holders to cancel trips. A death was also reported on the Middle Fork Salmon that same weekend.

Sources close to the family told TheInertia that the accident happened at a rapid called Greyhound. Buey and Cherp went right and Grossman went left to avoid a massive hole in the rapid. Grossman apparently ended up being surged into the hydraulic and was recirculated, eventually coming out of his boat. Due to the speed of the river, the rescuers weren’t able to catch up to him until after Fall Creek.

Grossman was a world-class Class V kayaker and well known in Idaho’s paddling and skiing circles, as well as its philanthropy and conservation communities. Taught kayaking by his father, Sam, and growing up in Santa Monica, CA, and later Idaho, paddling alongside his brother, John, Grossman was especially well respected and known in both the Class V and surf kayak communities. Most notably, he was a regular on Idaho’s Class V North Fork of the Payette—site of the prestigious North Fork Championship, one of the toughest whitewater competitions in the world—ever since he first ran it as a teenager. Following the lead of North Fork pioneer Doug Ammons, he was also one of the first people to regularly hand paddle the top-to-bottom section of the river.

“I loved Jimmy and have a huge respect for him,” says Ammons. “He was always up for any new challenge. When we were hand paddling the North Fork, he was like a kid in a playground—he was the only person to jump in and say, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ He’d jump in every hole in the river, in perfect Jimmy style, and try anything. I’ve never seen anyone with such great reflexes, balance and poise-under-pressure. He was also super intelligent, and paddled that way—he was a true problem solver, everywhere he went.”

Jim Grossman – A whitewater legend

“He was a whitewater legend for sure,” says friend and fellow Idaho paddler Joe Carberry, a former editor for Paddler and Canoe & Kayak magazines who’s now an editor with TheInertia.com. “Athletically, he was just so confident and skilled – a very powerful kayaker who could handle scary situations. Even at 56, he was still an extremely gifted kayaker.”

Carberry adds that the South Fork at those levels is big water Class V. “It’s huge at that level, just massive,” he says. “I’ve been in there at that flow. It’s like trying to ride on an earthquake, jumping from plate to plate. At 7 feet, it’s pretty stout…there’s no harder piece of whitewater in the West.” 

Grossman
Grossman winning another heat at the Santa Cruz Surf Kayak Festival (courtesy Bryon Dorr)

“A tragic loss for the boating community,” adds Idaho kayaking legend and North Fork pioneer Rob Lesser.  “He’ll always be the kayaking boy wonder in my mind.”

Lesser echos that the South Fork at that level is one of the toughest big water runs in the country. “From five feet to seven feet are the nasty flows for the South Fork Salmon,” he says. “The holes are powerful, defined and numerous. It’s a scramble the whole way down. If anyone thrived on that kind of challenge, it was Jimmy. He loved chaos and had the physical talent to be comfortable in it. It’s a very sad day for all of us who knew Jimmy. He left his mark with the life he led.”

As well as being an expert skier and paraglider, Grossman was equally, if not more so, known in surf kayaking circles and a longtime elite-level competitor at the Santa Cruz Surf Kayaking Championships. The World Championships of Surfkayaking’s Facebook page called him “a brilliant athlete, fierce and courageous competitor, larger-than-life personality with an infectious sense of fun…Jim was also an incredibly kind, thoughtful father and friend.”

In the cult paddling film Dashboard Burrito, Grossman could be seen surfing a Wave Sport X kayak under the Golden Gate Bridge in massive surf.

“He was a legend in the surf kayaking world and a phenomenal kayak surfer, for sure,” says Nick Hinds, who competed alongside him several times in Santa Cruz. “It was ridiculous…he won all kinds of multiple divisions, often on the same day. He’d compete on a wave ski, short boat and high performance, all in the same competition. But he had the fitness to do it, to compete in multiple heats per day, all with a long paddle out.”

“He was a pioneer of getting it done out in the West.”

Grossman is survived by his wife Shannon and children Buey, 20, and Saba, 18. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Read more on Jim’s story at: https://www.idahostatesman.com/outdoors/article262036632.html#storylink=cpy

Related Story about Jim’s son Buey Grossman

Sun Valley’s Buey Grossman Kayaks North Fork’s Juicer Rapid…Blindfolded

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