I’m Blu Bong, and my life has been playing in and on H2O. From a very young age until now, I have been energized by H2O. My life has ebbed and flowed like the rivers I run in the spring and summer. For me, I was lucky to be born in northern Minnesota with all the ways we can interact with water for enjoyment.
“My life has ebbed and flowed, like the rivers I run in the spring and summer”
Being in the water started when I was around 3 years old. I remember we had moved to Denver Colorado, and my family and I went camping and fishing in the mountains; standing in that numbing icy water on a sapphire blue-sky day watching my father catch trout. But, as with most kids, I was curious to play with the fish on the sandv bank. Mom took a photo of me helping them swim through the sand, and Dad was not amused by his sand covered school of fish. Later that winter I learned to ski at a small place called Breckenridge. My time in the mountains was short-lived and by age five we were back in Minnesota.
“Dad was not amused by his sand covered school of fish”
Once back to the Point on the wolf’s nose of Lake Superior, my love for H20 could only grow. I found myself calling the large mud puddle that formed in the driveway on our very small hobby farm, Blu’s Lake Superior. I would take my winter sled and use it as my boat. Note this puddle was 4 cars wide and 3 cars long, it took a long time to paddle (push) myself across it. The fishing is terrible on Blu’s Lake Superior. At about age 6, I got to paddle on the real Lake Superior. My father took my little brother and I out fishing in an aluminum canoe on the north shore. I was not doing well fishing out there either, I was so enthralled by the clear water and how I could see the bottom all the way down there. As with most days on the big lake, the wind picked up as it got later in the day. We had to paddle back in through some rolling waves. Wow, did I ever enjoy that sound and feel of the waves moving around the canoe as we maneuvered back into the shore that afternoon.
“At about age 6, I got to paddle on the real Lake Superior”
My summers until High school were with my dad fishing. There was a lot of trout fishing, walking along small creeks near our house and on the north shore. Learning how the water moved between the banks and over the rocks as this would tell me where the trout could be found. Little did I know that this education would be something I would love to teach and pass on for the rest of my life. There were also the weekends on glassy mirror days sitting in a canoe on lakes in the Boundary Waters canoe area. Not just with my father but on camp trips with a local High school teacher and my classmates from school. Our church did an annual trip with the youth each summer. You can’t be in the BWCA that much and not get stuck in waves that you must paddle through; as I had learned many years earlier out on Lake Superior. But even a calm lake can give you a rough and fun ride once and a while. I have learned to take the obstacles presented to me and work with them as the river flow does with the rock in the stream-bed. Or you can keep pushing on it, but it may not get you anywhere for a very long time.
“Little did I know that this education would be something I would love to teach and pass on for the rest of my life”
As a High schooler I learned how to run the rapids of the rivers in a canoe. This was informal training by my father. I watched top-level whitewater athletes from around the world paddle on the lower St. Louis river during the slalom races there. Our H.S. football team earned money for helping set up the event. I volunteered to help set the gates over the river. This meant learning where and how to safely swim across the river with a rope (and that was the easy part). The hard part was climbing to the anchor on the cliff wall while wet from the swim. Having a college instructor/competitor I was helping during the setup, I started asking more questions and started getting a better understanding of how they picked the paths to get down the course. This improved my knowledge of how to run rapids. As a couple of years of this went by, I wanted to be down there in the water where the action was. By my junior year, I stopped by the local rafting company, Superior Whitewater Rafting, after school. I had heard he hired kids to help. Little did I know that I would be moving up right away. I was told to go down to the UMD pool session for kayak rolling. I learned how to roll and paddle the agile crafts (well, compared to the canoes I knew). That May I was tagging along with the rafting trips learning the hard way, test by fire. After paddling, the guides would talk to me and fill in gaps for me. By mid-summer, I was getting paid and being run over by rafts. Now this is not the best way to learn to whitewater kayak. Most people get an instructor or mentor and take time learning on easy rapids with no moving objects to avoid, but I quickly learned to be preventive or reactive while paddling, where most get to plan out their run.
“I had heard he hired kids to help. Little did I know that I would be moving up right away”
During college, I switched from engineering to outdoor education as It was becoming clear that was where I felt most at peace in life. I had started an outdoor club at NDSU that did more than just camping and flat-water canoe trips. Shortly after, I left Fargo to come home to UMD to start my path. So, I was formally trained this time. After college, I continued to work for the University of Minnesota Duluth outdoor recreation program as a whitewater kayak and canoe instructor, certified by the American canoe association, where I assisted in teaching swift water rescue training each spring. That was not enough, so I started a retail store for whitewater paddling in Carlton, MN called “Over The Edge Adventures”. I picked up a night job at Jay Cooke state park as a park security officer. During that time, I worked closely with local law enforcement and rescue squads, which lead to pushing them to get training in swift water rescue. I had to perform body recoveries in the park and saw the level of training they had. I have since provided this training both voluntarily and compensated for them.
My summers were full of fun employment and feeling great in my path. But with no college anymore I needed to do something during the winter. I decided to work at an area ski resort, Mont du Lac. I also became a member of the National ski patrol. Two years later I was an instructor for both the medical training and chair lift evacuations. This is where I crossed paths with the now owners of Minnesota Whitewater Rafting. Years later when the raft company came up for sale, I told Chris and Steph they should buy it as they were already looking for a company to buy. I would run the river side and they could do the business side. We have been patrolling for now over 25 years together, all as instructors on the medical side. We continue to operate Minnesota Whitewater Rafting together.
“This is where I crossed paths with the now owners of Minnesota Whitewater Rafting”
Now, my family and I enjoy Rafting, kayaking, and canoeing during the summer and all forms of skiing in the winter. I have found a great balance in life teaching others how the river and snow can bring enjoyment and excitement. Watching rafters be uneasy as they start out the trip and by the middle or end be completely overtaken by the river and in the moment is beautiful. Now I hate to think what life would have been if I had been on a path more like my cousin who was raised in the deserts of southern California, I would have dried up living there my soul included. H20 is what powers me each and every day, the sounds and the feeling of it on and under me (oh, vea over me also).
“Watching rafters be uneasy as they start out the trip and by the middle or end be completely overtaken by the river and in the moment is beautiful”
See you out on the H2O!