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A Team Of Pro Boaters Is Attempting To Break The Grand Canyon Speed Record

Ryan Heinsius

An eight-person team will hit the water Thursday around midnight in an attempt to break one of the most storied boating records in Grand Canyon lore. They plan to paddle all 277 miles of the Colorado River through the canyon in under 34 hours. The current record was set in 2016 after being held for decades by the crew of a legendary wooden dory called the Emerald Mile. Flagstaff river guide Lyndsay Hupp will embark on tonight’s journey along with members of the U.S. Men’s Whitewater Rafting team. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with her aboard their boat built specifically for this speed-record attempt.

Ryan Heinsius: Can I come aboard? Permission to come aboard?

Lyndsay Hupp: Yeah, come aboard.

RH: This is quite a vessel. Maybe you can tell me about it a little.

LH: Well, this vessel was the mastermind of these fellas over here that are the U.S. Men’s Raft Team, and the dream to do this speed run came about a few years ago as a trip for them to do together as a crew, something kind of wild and crazy and a challenge. So they put their brains together and came up with a boat design basically pulling together bits and pieces of gear and materials that they could get their hands on. They have two cata-raft tubes, one on either side. They are about 41 feet long, about 24 inches in diameter, and the aluminum frame is around 30 feet long, and there are six rowing stations, three on each side, and so each rower has one oar. And the seats are just like the same seats and foot cups that you would use on a rowing machine at the gym.

Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU
The 41-foot boat a team will use to try to break the Grand Canyon speed record.

RH: And so this is totally customized for this specific trip.

LH: Absolutely. I can’t think of any other boat in the world that looks like this one. As far as bringing together the need for speed, so wanting to have something that goes fast and is maneuverable and rigid and strong, all those things together, and to handle big whitewater, it had to be something that was totally unique.

RH: Why set off in January? It should be pretty chilly down there I would imagine.

LH: You know, I asked a lot of the same questions about that. I was like, “So what’s wrong with the middle of the summer?” Well, it’s hot, it’s hard to row all day, physically, it’s really hot and terrible even if you get wet. And then there’s a lot of traffic on the river during the warmer months, so you’re trying to deal with boats and passing them, which can totally interrupt your progress. It’s harder to get a permit. We still are going on a private permit just like anybody else, so in order to get that permit you have to put in a year-and-a-half ahead or whatever, and it’s just easy to get one in January.

RH: Why attempt this record?

Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU
Flagstaff River guide Lyndsay Hupp

LH: You know, for me personally, having spent the last 20 years of my life in Grand Canyon for the most part—it’s been a major factor in my life for work and play, and so this is another way to experience it, and it’s almost for me to see it again for the first time in a completely different approach than I’ve ever had before. And we can’t help but to chase after those dreams even if someone else came up with them and we just want to hop on that dream with them.

RH: I sense you’re probably referring to the Emerald Mile record set in the early ’80s. How might it be meaningful to be part of that legacy in a way?

LH: Well, I can’t help but to latch on to the romantic side of it. You know, the simplicity of just jumping into a boat and going down stream and not stopping and just having this kind of total passion to just chase after something that seems so huge and out of reach maybe but going for it anyways, and feel what it feels like to just go in there and have that experience whatever it might be; to float in the moonlight, to put full focus into every second of the whole day, night, and take yourself mentally and physically to a place where none of have ever really been before. And just the thrill of adventure and being wild and free and just going after something. This I think carries on the spirit of that.


Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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