Charlie MacArthur’s passion for sports and life is utterly contagious. A river expedition teammate says he’s that fun-loving guy that you can trust with your life because he’s savvy and aware, even in the most stressful scenarios. Competitors note he’s the guy who routinely, quietly beats a field half his age in a boat twice as old as any other on the Upper Colorado River’s toughest stretch of whitewater.
And yet MacArthur has the personal touch; the consummate instructor, thriving on sharing his knowledge about the interplay between equipment, physics and human physiology – possessed of the rare, uncanny ability to make his students feel comfortable and confident in trying new things in new places.
“Charlie MacArthur put river standup paddling on the map,” says Todd Bradley. Bradley should know… He co-founded C4 Waterman, one of the largest companies in our sport. River paddling started when Charlie brought a paddleboard from Hawaii back to Colorado, to see what he could do with it on the river. He made a short video clip of the experience and posted it to You Tube.
Todd Bradley saw the clip, and quickly reconnected with Charlie. (Bradley hadn’t seen Charlie in 20 years.) Soon after, Todd and Charlie – with the help of C4 shaper Dave Parmenter – set out to design the sport’s first river-specific production board, the C-Mac All-Terrain Board (ATB).
More recently, the team debuted C4’s first river-specific inflatable standup board – the iSUP. It’s based on C4’s Sub-Vector, which was nominated for board of the year by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association.
Among the lightest boards on the market, iSUPs – the 9’3” Sub-Vector and 10’6” C-Mac ATB – are better suited to the hazards of standup paddling on rivers with jagged obstacles and shorelines.
It’s those jagged obstacles in shallow, quickly moving water that created an intimidation factor for veteran surfer Bob Olson, who transitioned from whitewater kayak student to the first standup paddling student at MacArthur’s Aspen Kayak Academy.
“My biggest fear was falling in moving, shallow, water,” Olson said. “But Charlie’s a very gifted teacher. He has a more natural ability to train and inspire confidence than I’ve experienced from instructors in any of the other extreme sports I do.”
MacArthur says Olson is typical of the students he introduces to standup paddling. After just one lesson, most students go on the hunt to find their own board and many form social groups around the sport.
Olson said he was tentative in the beginning but, thanks to his surfing background, found the sport quick to pickup once he got some basics under his belt. Now he absolutely loves standup paddling. He takes his board out in his home waters in the harbor around Newport Beach, Old Man’s break at San Onofre. Last summer he even did a trip down a Class II stretch of the Colorado. “It’s a ton of fun.”
When he’s not busy teaching at the Academy, MacArthur inspires and encourages extreme sports enthusiasts onscreen.
Inheriting movie star good looks from his father and mother, actress Joyce Bulifant Perry, MacArthur has appeared in print and TV ads for the likes of such major brands as Diet Mountain Dew and Suzuki. He was the featured whitewater and snow kayaker in the Warren Miller movie Snowonder. With longtime friend and fellow adrenaline junkie Paul Tefft, MacArthur also made extreme kayaking videos including Meltdown Madness, Paddlemania and Paddlemania Worldwide.
MacArthur and Tefft, who in 1997 founded Aspen-based full-service video production company EnviroAction Productions, first teamed up a decade ago over their shared love of whitewater kayaking and extreme skiing. The pair notched first descents on rivers in Colorado and Hawaii and are now returning to some of the same rivers to notch first standup paddling descents.
The two recently released the first full-length action-adventure and instructional DVD simply called RiverSUP. Shot entirely in HD, MacArthur steps viewers through the early stages of learning to standup paddle on a river and is also among the paddlers featured in the action-adventure sequences.
Tefft, MacArthur and Bradley also envisioned and launched the inaugural Whitewater Standup Paddling National Championship. Held last summer at the whitewater park in Glenwood Springs, CO, the event attracted whitewater standup paddlers from throughout the region, California and Hawaii. Notable participants included C4’s Noland Martin and another formidable whitewater standup paddler, Dan Gavere.
The event tested competitors on a slalom course, a turbulent six-mile downriver race and wave surfing. Gavere, a veteran whitewater kayak pro who is also at the forefront of the whitewater standup paddling movement, narrowly edged out MacArthur for top honors.
Fellow Colorado pro Ken Hoeve, who paddles for Surftech, said MacArthur was fun to compete with. “He really inspires me on and off the water. He’s a true river man and a true mountain man.” Hoeve noted that as MacArthur gave other competitors tips on how to perform better, scores kept rising.
Charlie’s wife Jenny competed too! Jenny laughingly describes herself as a single mother of two – the couple’s 5-year-old daughter Riley, and Charlie himself, who she says is “just a big kid.”
Jenny says she knew from the moment she first laid eyes on him that Charlie was “the one.” She says her husband has a passion for whatever he chooses to do and gets as much satisfaction from doing the sport as he does from sharing it with others.
MacArthur’s outlook on life comes from a deep-rooted “fascination with different cool things to explore and also exploring familiar ground on new vehicles – but most importantly, meeting new people with different backgrounds and different toys.”
MacArthur reckons he got his adventurous spirit from his parents, who always encouraged him to try new things. With characteristic humility, he says he doesn’t really feel like a naturally gifted athlete. “I’ve worked really hard at a lot of sports to get to a very competent level.”
His friend Tefft has a different take on it: “Charlie’s passion for teaching and his boundless energy have combined to launch this new twist on the sport into the mainstream.”
MacArthur took time out for a couple fun standup trips this fall. The first was a trip to the Colorado River’s popular Westwater Canyon, just west of the state line between Colorado and Utah. About a dozen other leaders of the sup whitewater movement in Colorado were on the trip including Hoeve, trip ringleader Seth Hollar, Denver Post reporter Scott Willoughby, and Earl Richmond, co-owner of one of the country’s most successful kayak stores.
Westwater was flowing at 3,400 cfs, making it far less intimidating than when it’s churning at peak optimal kayaking flows of 13,000+ cfs. By all accounts, the goal of the trip was focused on good friends getting together to have fun and egging each other on to push the limits of whitewater standup paddling in the challenging waves and holes of the classic desert canyon run.
Richmond, who hopes to build Colorado Kayak Supply into an inland sup sales empire, describes MacArthur as one of the best whitewater paddlers in the state and says that in the decade since he first met him at Colorado’s infamous Gore Canyon Race, MacArthur has always been “super positive, excited, happy, and worry-free.” The potential for inland suping, especially on flatwater, is not lost on any of the Westwater crew.
Nor is it lost on MacArthur, who contends that standup paddling on a flat lake can make folks feel cool. “Let’s face it, everyone somewhere inside wants to be a surfer – it just has a high cool factor.”
So, flatwater or fastwater, there’s a standup style for everyone.
For now, MacArthur (along with a few of his friends) is pioneering and popularizing standup paddling on rivers.
Ken Hoeve sums it up best… “Charlie brings the Aloha mentality to the mountains.” •