This story first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Canoe & Kayak.River Roots Studios occupies an upstairs flat in the quiet town of White Salmon, Washington. The snowy cone of Mount Hood looms across the Columbia River, which crawls past far below. On the far shore lies the bustling town of Hood River, home of Full Sail Brewing and a touristy main street. White Salmon is unsophisticated by comparison, a nice fit for the wilderness-based sport of whitewater kayaking. Lately the area has become an irresistible hangout for full-time kayakers. Part of that draw lies in the spring-fed rivers that tumble into the Columbia River Gorge at the edge of town, particularly the renowned Little White Salmon. Another powerful source of that magnetism is River Roots and its main man, Rush Sturges.
The walls are adorned with mounted color prints: a group of paddlers bombing down the last drops of California’s Fantasy Falls, a red kayak pitching vertically down a ribbon of travertine in Mexico. Five kinds of coffee sit beside a sink and a new silver refrigerator. Sturges sits at a laptop plugged into a 27-inch monitor. Kayak magazines are strewn across a coffee table. Rafa Ortiz, one of the best young paddlers on the planet, sits on the couch, his shoulder in a sling. He’s on the phone, trying to arrange a flight home to Mexico City, and an MRI. Sturges looks at me and deadpans, “Mountain biking, the number one kayaking injury.”