We caught up with Shawn Alexander, fabricator and proprietor of Fall Line Canoes of Richmond, VA, and a skilled open boater in his own right, recently and asked him a few questions about flotation bags, boating, and LIFE…
DBP: Shawn, you’re legendary in the East Coast open boat scene. Please take a moment and tell us about yourself. How long have you been paddling?
Shawn: I started out canoeing in the early 80’s with the Boy Scouts, and they failed me on the canoeing merit badge twice because I refused to do a “proper” J-stroke, lol! I paddled mostly Class II stuff until I ran into the Corn Youth Alliance here in Richmond. I started stepping up my game in 2004 when I got a Mad River Outrage and set about destroying it. Since then the runs have gotten bigger and the boats smaller.
DBP: We know you hand make top quality gear, most famously your custom float bags. Tell us about how you came to start Fall Line Canoes. Is there a story behind the name?
Shawn: As many people do, I always customized my boats and outfitting, and made many of my own backpacking/hiking bits. I majored in Textiles at University of Montana in Missoula in the late 90’s. I stepped away from canoeing in 2009 to try and build my contracting business. When I got back in boats a few years later I was shocked at the low quality and high prices of most of the gear out there. I decided to take a shot at making some of my own.
Fall Line Canoes came to me as the perfect name as I started my paddling career here on the Fall Line Rapids of the James River here in Richmond Va.
DBP: You’re not only a top rank fabricator, you’re a true artist in welding boats together. Tell us about one of your favorite Frankenstein projects.
Shawn: I have to say that my favorite so far is the tiny canoe I made for my 6yr old Daughter.
DBP: To those who have had the pleasure to get to know you, you’re a fiery, passionate guy who sinks his soul into the product. Explain to the folks who need ‘splainin’ why it’s so important to spend on quality gear, and Buy Local. After all, boating ain’t Disneyland rides; the sharp edge of our sport is death.
Shawn: You’ve got that right! Nothing against the big guys out there as many of them started where I am, but I see a need for gear that is designed BY the paddlers not just for them. Quality is key when you are talking about gear that can literally save you and your friends lives out there. I do what I do because I love it! I do it because it dominates my thoughts. I do it because I love the boating community (for better of worse) and always enjoy making people’s experiences on the water better.
DBP: It’s always fun to talk boating. What’s your personal favorite river to run and why? And what is sitting at the top of your To Do List?
Shawn: Favorite so far is the Upper Gauley. I love the power of that river, using it to finesse a canoe through some great moves, slipping past monster holes, and just the overwhelming feeling that can be had from moving past your fears and nailing your goals.
Whats at the top now? Good question. The bar has been raised so much since I first started pushing my skills. Realistic goal? clean the Green Narrows and the Russell Fork at big boat flow. On the Dream list? Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Upper Blackwater, and NF Blackwater.
DBP: Tell us about your personal favorite whitewater craft, please.
Shawn: Blackfly Canoes Octane 85! It embodies everything I loved in a long boat sans the length. you can do a hell of a lot with a 9ft 5″ canoe
DBP: We as dirtbags are all in between swims, and open boaters – like us rubber pushers – are known for epic Wallaces. Recount for us if you will your hairiest swim.
Shawn: Wow, to be honest I’ve had more scary beatdowns in my boat than out. Hairiest to date would have to be Goshen Pass here in VA. I botched the right entry at the top of Devil’s Kitchen, boofed into an undercut, and just barely was able to pull myself out as the canoe got sucked into the current and down the rapid. I had to swim across the sketchy right channel and got body pinned twice before reaching shore. That was my first swim in 4 years and was a good reminder of what CAN happen.
DBP: Dirt Bag Paddlers is fond of the saying, “Flow Together, Grow Together,” which we first heard from our homie Bhupi Singh Rana. Your support of ZapPaddles was covered in an article on Vince Zappia’s custom whitewater paddles here in DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE (5/20/15). Got any other friends in the community whom you’d like to throw props to?
Shawn: Absolutely! Blackfly Canoes, without Jeremy’s innovations we would be in the dark ages. Matt Todhunter at Ridge Spirit Saddles, he has taken over another legend (Bob Britt) in the outfitting communities saddle production and added his own flair. I look forward to great things from these folks!
DBP: Any plans to hit whitewater festivals this year? We’d love to hang out, buddy.
Shawn: Damn skippy! I’ll have a booth at Gauleyfest as always and will be at the Green Race supporting my team members. Hopefully Beaverfest and Moosefest as well.
DBP: Shawn, thanks for the time, we know you’re a busy guy. Good luck with everything, and thanks for providing superior float bags for the open boaters amongst us dirtbags. Cheers, bro! Any last words for the community?
Shawn: Above all else, have fun, be safe, and always support your Brothers and Sisters on the river. Cheers!
Fall Line Canoes homepage
FLC Facebook page
SOME AWESOME FOOTY FROM SHAWN’S MANY TRAVELS
Cheat Fest 2015