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Former Olympian Builds Whitewater Parks in Rivers Across Colorado

from Colorado Inno, Nick Greenhalgh

He competed in three Olympic games and designed rafting courses for three others. Now, Scott Shipley is creating whitewater parks to revitalize rivers across Colorado and the country.

Shipley’s background is in competitive whitewater rafting, last competing in the 2000 Olympics and winning four world titles in addition.

After the 1996 Olympics, Shipley earned a bachelors and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and began designing and building whitewater parks around the world.

In 2005, he launched engineering firm S2O Design and began changing the way parks were designed.

“We design the parks for the people that use them,” he said. “We recognized that we should design [the parks] for profitable operations and also for races.”

“Other courses are focused around what the gold medal athletes are focuses on,” he added.

Shipley and S2O’s services have been in high demand in the whitewater park industry, thanks to a technological advancement he designed and implemented at the 2012 London Olympics.

Shipley created RapidBlocs, a three-dimensional movable obstacle system that allow for the creation of any shape, at any angle, at any point within the channel system. RapidBlocs gives the course operator a fully adjustable course that can be tuned, remodeled or updated.

Before RapidBlocs, Shipley said course design options were expensive and limited, not offering much alteration or mobility. With the instant success of RapidBlocs, S2O has been involved with the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, and will contribute to the Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 games.

S2O recently completed a project in Eagle, Colorado, transforming a barren truck stop and unused section of river into a community whitewater park. The park features waves, chutes and drops for tubing and floating during low flows, and large waves for surfing, standup-up paddling and kayaking as flows increase.

This is the first time for an in-stream project that S2O has incorporated RapidBlocs, allowing the company to tweak the design as conditions and needs change.

The design also includes a bypass channel around the two upper features serving as a recreational safe route and a fish migration pathway, and mid-stream fish channels in the lower section for upstream migration.

“One of our hopes is we’ll pull people off the interstate that are driving from Salt Lake to Denver,” Shipley said.

S2O’s eight-person team is based in Lyons, Colorado and is currently working on projects across the state and region.

As they continue to grow, Shipley said the company will begin to focus on river restoration projects following flooding and disaster in addition to whitewater park design.

tim braun