Rogue River Rafting Vacations

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chaco Sells... and Other Rafting Innovations

If you have joined us in the last decade, you've probably experienced or at least seen a Chaco sandal. Around the campfire, perhaps you caught a glimpse of the infamous "Chaco-Z" slashed across a guides foot.

Chaco was founded in 1989 and gained popularity for its BioCentric footbed and durability. Entire crews of guides swapped their Tevas for Chacos, and the remark "you're still wearing that?!" became more common.

It's rare in the rafting world for anything to change, much less to change so quickly. Old-time guides still love their huge life jackets (that probably have lost their flotational values years ago), we still make "cowboy" coffee in the mornings, and the basic equipment we use is relatively the same. From a commercial standpoint, we buy new safety equipment frequently, tents and sleeping bags as well, but really it's one bag for an identical one - and really no progress towards anything better or more efficient. Not that there is any real room for improving these things, it's just unique for this industry that things don't really ever change.

Which is where Chaco comes into the equation. Chaco, the shoe, was the single biggest change in the river industry in the last decade and a half. Chaco changed the way guides treated their feet! Our beat up, bruised, bloodied and crushed toes loved Chaco sandals the day we first ever tried them on. Chaco came into existence just after self-bailing boats emerged. It's not fair to have such great innovations produced within a five-year span in an industry that never sees change! Obviously, Chaco was premature and should have waited ten years...

Yesterday, Wolverine, the company that owns Merrell and Patagonia Footwear, purchased Chaco for an undisclosed price. Last year, Chaco had $20 million in sales, so I guess their reach expanded passed the outfitting community. The wave of Chaco has come and passed. Guides still love the sandals, but it's an industry norm now and expected.

When will the next big change be? What do you see in the future for river users?

Happy paddlers wearing Chaco sandals:

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