Making a splash across the pond
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A desire to be a ski bum brought him to Colorado, but Bobby Campbell is now hooked up with a different career entirely that’s sent him literally around the world.
He still is working with the same basic substance – H2O – but now it is flowing water instead of champagne powder.
Campbell, 56, of Glenwood Springs, runs a business called Whitewater Parks International. He has spent the last four years designing and building a whitewater canoe and kayak slalom course for the 2012 summer Olympics in London, England.
The course was completed in December, with a celebration presided over by British royal Princess Anne. The venue is being prepared for a grand opening in April, when it will be opened for public use until the Olympics take over.
The inspiration for Campbell’s current enterprise came from the other side of the globe, in Australia, where he coached the U.S. kayak team for the Sydney Olympics in the summer of 2000.
He recalled that the canoe/kayaking events almost were canceled for the Sydney games because there was no natural whitewater course close enough to Sydney to make competition practical.
But, Campbell said, the international kayaking community rallied and came up with a plan to build an artificial course, fed by water driven by powerful pumps.
“This was the very first, fully self-contained, pumped course,” he said, describing the first time he saw it.
“I wasn’t prepared for what a cool thing it was,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘This makes sense.'”
The most intriguing thing, he said, was that “it wasn’t just about an Olympic venue.” The course, he said, became a recreational amenity for the community, just as the London course will be.
The London facility features two different courses – a 300-meter (about 328 yards) competition course and a 160-meter intermediate and training course. Both are fed by a two-and-a-half-acre lake that channels water into a pumping station.
Campbell moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1973 to follow his original dream, and lived as a ski bum for a couple of years.
Since then he has worked with Outward Bound, an experiential education school, at its Marble base camp, and ran the outdoor education program for Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) in Carbondale.
At CRMS, he caught the kayaking bug while teaching students who went on to serious competition in the relatively young sport.
After leaving CRMS in 1996, he went to work as a coach and manager for the U.S. Kayaking Team, going to Australia for the summer games in 2000.
It was there he met his business partner, John Felton of Australia, and the two hatched the idea to form a consulting company, Whitewater Parks International, to build artificial whitewater parks around the world.
Campbell is the company’s managing director and Felton is the projects manager.
Conceding that the idea may seem a bit strange to experienced kayakers accustomed to challenging natural rapids on river, Campbell remarked, “I’m not saying this is a replacement. But it can create a convenient opportunity for people to have that experience.”
As a kayaker himself, his hope is that beginners who get inspired by the artificial version will try the real thing on a river somewhere.
So far, according to the company’s website, the fledgling consulting firm has worked on a half-dozen projects, including planning and design assistance on the 2008 Beijing Olympic whitewater venue and adventure parks in Maryland and Texas.
The London Olympics project is their biggest yet.
“It was obviously so successful, so vibrant, we were inspired to see where we could take it,” Campbell said of the business.
He said the company has new projects in the works, in South Korea and Auckland, New Zealand, but they’re still in the early design and planning stages.
“I never really jump up and down until we’re digging dirt,” he said. While working on the Olympic course was a tremendous charge, he said, it is the legacy aspect that is the most satisfying.
The Sydney course, he said, has been profitable as an entertainment venue every year since the 2000 Olympics, and is “a real model in terms of the community angle. It’s not just a theme park.”
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