Behind every guide trip is the preparation, planning, and partnerships that make it all work.
“We all play a role in either our success or failure…You will row!” If you’ve spent any amount of time on the water, you’ve heard this before. On a guide boat heading towards a big hole in the river, or the hallowed words of Hunter & Garcia, “Seems a common way to go, get out and row..” Last week, a social media post from Master Gunnery Sargeant Jeff Shaffer thanking Sawyer for creating a unique service award caught our attention, and it seemed there was more to the story to share.
“The prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides bending the next bend in the road. Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner.” ~ The Scroll Marked III, OG Mandino, The Greatest Salesman In The World
Jeff, thank you for creating this unique recognition award and including Sawyer in the process. How did this idea come about?
“I am responsible for the training and development of Marines attached to Marine Corps Recruiting Station Cleveland, Ohio, which covers northern Ohio and southeast Michigan. Prior to being assigned to this unit in July of 2017, I started thinking of something which could bring these Marines together, and help them understand their individual importance. I wish I could say the idea behind the oars was something I could fully take credit for, but that’s not the case. It was actually based on what P.J. Fleck, now head football coach of the University of Minnesota started with his first football team in 2012. When I saw how he used the oar as a symbol to bring his team and community together, it just made sense.”
Rivers are known to forge nature, and the humans that live and play in their deep canyons, broad plains, and treacherous waves. The power of water, the forces that bend and shape us; what connection do you personally feel to the water, and what does the oar symbolize to you and to the Marines?
I have always been an outdoorsman, gaining a love for nature very early in life. For me, water, especially that of our rivers, lakes and seas, represents life, and is something to respect and appreciate. I unveiled this idea in 2017 at an annual planning conference I put together in West Virginia. Mid-week, I took them on a rafting trip down the New River. We discussed afterwards the journey we had taken, and then I tied in my “Row the Boat” vision. This must have resonated well, because they all wanted to get back on the water as soon as possible. We just so happened to be right in the middle of the Fall Gauley Season, so we rafted the Upper Gauley, which was just tremendous! This was repeated again this past year, and will likely occur again this year.
When rowing a boat, everyone faces the aft of the vessel. The oars are being pulled through the water while traveling to the destination, with those who are rowing only focused on keeping their oars in the water. Everyone in our unit “Rows the Boat”, and so, everyone has an oar. The oar represents the individual. It is the tool necessary to move the vessel towards our goals. The “vessels” are the small units which make up the organization. Certain people/organizations in our community also have oars, something we are continually building upon. There is a compass as well, which is embedded in the blade of the oar of those in supervisory positions. They are responsible for keeping the boat on course, and providing those with the oars in the water directions to ensure the vessel is heading towards the destination.
Every oar has a plaque affixed to it, which has the Marine’s name, the unit logo, and the phrase, “Row The Boat.” Based on each Marines’ performance, there are different items which can be attached to their oars, as well as Para-cord wrappings. At the end of their tour, they take their oar with them as a symbol of their importance to the unit.
The Sawyer “Smoker” Oar became our official oar after I had ordered a few other examples from other companies, and was less than impressed in their quality. When I called to find out about the oars, I had a conversation with Aaron Stone (Account Territory Manager based in Colorado) and explained to him who I was and what I wanted the oars for, and he was more than happy to assist me with my vision. It turns out, he is a Marine (Once a Marine, Always a Marine), which made this whole idea that much more perfect.
The oar is a specially-made SMOKER Utility, a quality solid ash oar for small water craft, fishing pontoon boats, dories and drift boats. Built with the same profile as our Sawyer Utility Oar, but with the added strength of solid ash, making this the toughest commercial grade wood oar made. They truly are the best oar for commiting situations where strength and long term durability is essential. Good match, I’d say.
Next up, wise words from the Bighorn River, MT. Until next time, Eddy Out.
A young man from east of the Mississippi, the largest river in the United States, travels west to experience the Wild & Scenic Rogue River in Oregon.
It’s common to find professionals in the outdoor industry at the forefront of design and performance, leading the use of new technologies and materials and adapting their tools to the job at hand. Sawyer is no different, and continuous feedback from professional guides, outfitters, and athletes drives our innovation. With a racing history (see Part 1 in the series) that influenced design, handcrafting wood oars out of raw materials like Ash, Cedar, and Douglas Fir, and composite oars and blades (fiberglass and carbon fiber) for fishing guides and anglers took a different approach to the centuries old task; controlling a boat on a body of water safely, and back home again. Today, an oarsman might make 1000 oar strokes per mile. After 10 years of guiding anglers myself, and with many sets of oars, today’s Sawyer lightweight and high-performance products are perfect for professionals and recreational users.
When we design oars and oar blades for anglers, the end result isn’t always a finished product that fits the traditional profile. As you read before, the Shoal Cut blade was designed with shallow-water applications in mind. I liken it to the differences between a spoon and a knife. Buttering a slice of warm sourdough right of the toaster? A knife with a long, thin blade for an even application. A bowl of oatmeal for breakfast along with it? A spoon, of course (yes, we’ll even talk about the beloved Spork in future posts!).
Brian Wheeler, a professional fly fishing guide in Montana, has two sets of Sawyer oars for different boats and purposes. At around 80 days a season guiding and another 40 or so floating with his wife and their dogs, they spend most of their time on the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Madison, and Smith rivers. Here’s his take.
“In my 13’ Aire Tributary I row the classic Smoker DyneLite in a 9’ length with the narrow blade and have abused these oars for the past 7 years. I am in love with them. The lightweight, smooth flexing construction with the bomb-proof blade are simply perfect. I personally love both the flex and pop you get from wood. In fast-paced pocket water, you have to be able to dip in behind and around rocks to make corrective and speed-stabilizing micro-strokes. It’s simply second nature with these oars. The “pop” of wood allows for maximum efficiency of your stroke in those tight spots where trout live, if your anglers can hit the spots!”
“In my Clackacraft Eddy, I upped the size of my oars to using 9’3” SquareTop Dyno X, also with the narrow blade. The Eddy is a wide boat. Adding 3” to each oar, though adding some weight, was definitely a benefit. My hands stay closer and my rowing stroke stays in the power zone, instead of reaching farther apart and putting stress on my already stressed out shoulders. Though 9.5 footers would be great as well, for me, the 9’3” is the perfect balance of extra length, swing-weight, and functionality. The Dyno X wrap stiffens up the wood oar to a noticeable degree, though it still beats the complete lack of feel in fully composite oars. The stiffer flex helps me get moving when the water gets pushy.”
Brian is clearly a toast-is-best-buttered kind of guide. Until next time, when we’ll hear from a member of our speciality shop team, on why they choose Sawyer for their customers. Eddy Out!
After a legendary canoe racing career, which includes being a 10 time AuSable River Canoe Marathon Champion (and recently being inducted into the Canoe Racing Hall of Fame), Ralph Sawyer began building paddles and oars. In 1967, he established Sawyer Paddles and Oars in the small town of Rogue River, Oregon, where he quickly fell in love with whitewater rafting and began producing whitewater oars. Sawyer oars were soon found in the hands of river outfitters all over North America with a reputation for quality, performance, value and beauty. Ralph drove the use of Douglas fir, for its high strength to weight ration and flex in combination with Ponderosa Pine and Sawyer’s signature Walnut racing stripes. His use of these woods in combination with fiberglass popularized the concept of composite paddles. Ralph is now retired and enjoys exploring the Puget Sound and Alaskan waterways from his home, an ocean faring catamaran, with his wife Roberta (a.k.a. Bobbie).
Bruce Bergstrom took the helm in 1987 and propelled the company’s innovation and reputation of durability. Most noted was the introduction of the Sawyer SquareTop Oar matched with another of his innovations, the Cobra Oar Lock. This combination is a favorite among drift boat fisherman and whitewater rafters, which may row a thousand strokes per mile positioning for the perfect cast or negotiating heavy whitewater. The two innovations paired together make for the highest performing whitewater oar and oarlock system in the world. Bruce also acquired chief rival Smoker Oars & Paddles in 1992. The acquisition set up Sawyer to be the premier paddle & oar maker in the USA, complete with a durable line of composite oars balanced by a line of legendary solid ash wood oars for extreme conditions. Bruce was recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by the American Outdoors Association for his contributions to our industry.
The SquareTop Oar, a nod to history and the future
Link Jackson, owner of Streamtech Boats, was one of the first to row with a set of SquareTops. Well, his wife Becky also was. “My first experience with Sawyer Square Top oars came years ago when Bruce Bergstrom sent me one of the first pairs of them made to row around and give him feedback on them. I took them on an early spring trip camping and floating on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam. It was a cold day with rain, sleet, snow, wind and all the miseries that come with it. Becky chose to row first and so she was the first to test the new SquareTops. After our customary half-hour or so I asked her to change up and let her fish for a while as I rowed. She said No. So I waited a while longer and asked to row. She said, “No”. So, I asked how those new oars were working? She said, “Shut up and fish”. A while later I said, “Come on, tell me how they feel”. She looked me square in the eye and said, “You can pry these from my cold dead fingers.” And so, I learned that SquareTops are the finest oars we have ever used.”
A few years later after the Shoal Cut blades were developed, I finally decided it was time to give them a try. We took a set of them on an 8 day trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon on a low water September trip. We decided to take only Shoal Cut Square Tops along to force the issue of testing them well. It was immediately apparent upon entering “Door #2” on the very first technical spot that shoal cut blades would be an advantage. The entry to this drop is very shallow and the blades provided great purchase on the shallow water. More importantly, the rounded shape was glancing off rocks nicely rather than pitoning and grabbing as I was accustomed to. After running them in larger rapids feathering the blades on lateral waves, I found the shape to be excellent for fine feather on big waves. On one occasion I managed to jam an oar and pop it out of the oarlock. That is when I learned that SquareTop oars float very high and do not sink like hollow oars can. We easily retrieved the lost oar a short distance downstream floating high in an eddy. We have not rowed anything else since that day. The Shoal Cut Square Top Artisan Series oars are now standard equipment on all Streamtech Boats packages.
Coming Up Next
We’ll talk to Guides, Outfitters, and Specialty shop owners about their oar and blade preferences, what and where they work and row, and their experience with Sawyer products. Eddy Out!