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How Rafting Came to Support World Peace

Project RAFT, American, and at that time, Soviet rafters in Siberia, late 1980s.

Back in the late 1980s the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War. Both governments were engaged in decades-long propaganda campaigns spreading the fear of Nuclear War. One of the citizen efforts to push for better relations was known as Project RAFT. The acronym RAFT stands for Russians and Americans For Teamwork.

The inspiration for Project RAFT came from Jib Ellison, just graduated from Reed College (Portland, OR) in 1988. Ellison already had years of experience as a river guide and just at this time the Soviet government was warming to the idea of allowing foreigners into Siberia where many untamed rivers were just waiting for more rafters.

“Ellison came up with the idea of using white water trips to teach strangers from the two superpowers to “work together, communicate under stress, become teammates for survival and then go home and talk about it,” in hopes that the lessons they learn will “keep us from blowing each other up 10 or 15 years down the road.” https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-11-10-vw-1240-story.html

Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork) was founded as a California-based nonprofit and soon Ellison had a staff of six running international rafting adventures for Soviet-American crews of paddlers on Siberian rivers.

n 1989, a group of tourists from the United States came to the city of Perm which had been closed for foreigners. It sounds like the beginning of a fantastic film, but it was just like that. RAFT meant – Russians and Americans For Teamwork.

Project RAFT t-shirt

Project RAFT contributed to a sustainable future by promoting an archive model of cooperation among nations. The model manifested itself among people in a raft, on a remote wilderness river. Project RAFT illuminated and fostered this natural model of cooperation, by putting people from different cultures in the same raft. A seething white water rapid, symbolic of the risk we all live with, demands that these people set aside their differences, and work together to survive.


Project RAFT and Evrasia Travel organized and sponsored river rafting exchange programs in the USA, the Soviet Union and other nations around the world. http://www.permtours.com/

T-Shirt Citizens Katun (river) 1988

Project RAFT was a citizen diplomacy initiative to ease tensions between the Soviet Union and the USA by putting Russians and Americans in the same boat on raging whitewater rivers. Up to 1993 thousands of people from 40+ countries participated.”

Some of the early Project RAFT founders: Donnie Dove, Mike Grant, Jib Ellison

Today one can enjoy the whitewater of Siberian rivers flowing from the Altai mountains. https://www.worldraftingfederation.com/magazine-news/153-white-water-of-siberia-2019

World Rafting Championship History

The World Rafting Championship has its origins in the international events of Project RAFT in which up to 50 teams competed in various disciplines including Slalom and Down River on the Chuya River, Siberia (1989), Nanthala river, USA (1990), Reventazón and Pacuare rivers, Costa Rica (1991) and Çoruh river, Turkey (1993). Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork) was founded by California river guides Jib Ellison and Mike Grant and the first event, the Chuya Rally, was a collaborative effort between them and the Siberian river explorer, Misha Kolchevnikov. https://www.internationalrafting.com

Another spin-off of Project RAFT was the creation of a sister city relationship between Grants Pass, Oregon and Rubtsovsk, Russia.

The Grants Pass Sister City Committee was formed in 1990, after white-water rafters from the two cities met at an international competition during the late years of the Cold War. Candace Bartow and Lev Korshunov, then respectively the mayors of Grants Pass and Rubtsovsk, signed the agreement in 1990, ”to develop friendship between people of the Soviet Union and the United States and to stimulate economic and cultural cooperation .. .”

Grants Pass- Rubtsovsk Sister City t-shirt

Since then, the sister city committees in Rubtsovsk and in Grants Pass have facilitated visits of over 200 citizens between our cities. Pen and email pals correspond; books have been donated to each other’s libraries; special sewing machines for the blind and medical supplies were donated and delivered, and videotapes and gifts have been exchanged.

The influence of those early rafting enthusiasts continues. The year 2020 marks 30 years http://www.grantspass-sistercity.org/

Rafting enthusiasts might have noticed SOTAR rafts in the earliest videos. SOTAR is made by SOTAR Whitewater Manufacturing in Grants Pass, Oregon, still going strong. https://sotar.com/

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Thoughts, news and analysis from an American point of view on things Russian.

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