On September 30th, 2017 our founder, family member, and friend, Ron Smith, will be inducted into the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah.
Ron was on his very first river trip around 1955 at age 13 or 14. He organized a family trip from Green River, Utah down the Green to the confluence of the Colorado River and upriver to Moab. His father and siblings got sick early in the trip. Ron took over as pilot of the boat and thus began his love of river running.
In 1961, on the day after graduating from high school, Ron went on a river trip as a customer through Canyonlands National Park with Georgie White. During the trip, one of her rafts flipped and Ron recovered it. By the end of the trip, Georgie was impressed enough with his river skills that she hired him on as a guide. Two years later Ron and Sheila Smith started Grand Canyon Expeditions.
Ron began his commercial river running using military surplus rafts and pontoons. Over time he re-designed these rafts, developing the S-Rig which became the primary boat used for expeditions through Grand Canyon. Ron’s innovations of boats and river equipment set standards for commercial river running that are still in place today. Besides improving inflatable boat designs he also built kayaks and canoes. Shown in the photo below is the Smith river kayak built in about 1962.
Built to handle large western rivers, the kayak was 17 feet long, 26 inches at the center beam, had two airtight storage hatches, a fiberglass hull, and 8-foot oars. His kayak was powered by oars rather than paddles because they provided greater maneuverability and power. If Ron resembles a NFL defensive lineman it’s because he’s wearing his high school football helmet, a testament of his commitment to safety.
As Ron’s inflatable boat designs improved opportunities arose to explore rivers in other parts of the world. Grand Canyon Expeditions ran the Omo and Congo rivers in Africa. With the National Geographic Society, they conducted reconnaissance trips of the Indus River in Pakistan and the Blue Nile in Africa. Jacques Cousteau used the S-Rig to explore the headwaters of the Amazon River in Brazil.
In 1986, Ron sold a majority of his ownership in Grand Canyon Expeditions. He is now retired and living in southern Utah with his wife Jana, with one foot in Wyoming. Grand Canyon Expeditions is in its 54th season and is currently the second largest outfitter in Grand Canyon. Ron Smith, a pioneer of river rafting, had the vision and motivation to build a first-class river company putting customers and employees first.