THIRTY YEARS AGO, if you wanted to run a river, you steered a 60-pound barge and prayed. But today, a serious boater owns a quiver of vessels, from a Royalex canoe to a rodeo kayak. Here’s a salute to the designers who built the rides.

In the late sixties, Los Angeles fireman and amateur paddler Tom Johnson spent more time patching fiberglass than running rivers. Then Johnson and his buddy Don Carmichael, an employee at the plastic-trash-can manufacturer Hollowform, convinced execs to start producing plastic kayaks. Boating was soon transformed: In 1973, Johnson designed the canary-yellow, 13-foot-long River Chaser, and the age of California-style steepcreeking was born.

Read: Splashmasters | Outside Online.