William “Bill” Griffith – Olympian, Sports Entrepreneur and Musician

In 1972 Cobourg was once again represented at the Olympics. W.R. (Bill) Griffith competed at Munich, Germany in the XXth Olympiad, One-Person Canoe (C1) Whitewater Slalom.

Bill’s love for the sport began when he was paddling with his Dad and Scout troop in Algonquin Park.

Bill Griffith tells his own story:

I remember an elderly paddler in Algonquin Park saying that if I ever tried whitewater paddling I would be hooked.

A few years later, in 1969, I transferred from the University of Waterloo to the University of Washington in Seattle, Wa., to study Aero and Astro Engineering. Once there I went looking for local paddlers and met one from Hungary: Al Zob. Al introduced me to whitewater canoeing and, as predicted, I was hooked immediately, paddling initially in C-2 with Al and later C-1. That same year I founded the University of Washington Canoe and Kayak Club.

After competing throughout Europe in 1970 and 1971, I qualified for the Canadian Olympic Team in Whitewater Slalom to compete in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. The event was held at the famed “Ice Canal” in the City of Augsburg, a half hour train ride from the Olympic Village and Stadium. At this event, early in my paddling career, I finished 16th in C-1 Slalom.

Competing at the Summer Olympics was a very bittersweet experience. The excitement of the games turned suddenly to horror as terrorists took hostages and killed eleven Israeli athletes. It is an event still difficult to process.

While at the Olympics I attended an evening concert of African music which kindled a passion for Ghanaian drumming. One of the performers there, Kpani Addy, later became my friend and drumming instructor in Portland and Hood River, Oregon.

The 1970s were great years for me competitively. I was ten-time Canadian National Whitewater Slalom Champion in C-1 (1971-1980). At the 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand I was Gold Medalist in the C-1 Whitewater event. At the World Championships in Skopje, Yugoslavia I finished 4th in C-1 Slalom narrowly missing the podium. That same year I won Gold at the International Slalom in Tacen, Yugoslavia. My fellow competitors and I were very disappointed when the Canadian Olympic Association decided against including Whitewater at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

In 1980 at the winter Olympics in Lake Placid, I attended as a design engineer with K-2 Skis and worked with the Nordic Cross Country skiers.

In 1981 I put down my paddle and took up windsurfing, designing sailboards for Connelly Skis in Seattle. I soon moved to Hood River, Oregon and started the first windsurfing shop in the Columbia Gorge, Wind Synergy. Being close to Mt Hood, I took up snowboarding and soon, with two others, started the first Snowboard School on Mt Hood at the Mt Hood Meadow’s Ski Resort.

Presently, I live in Hood River, Oregon, where I enjoy kiting, cross country skiing, snowboarding and playing the Rhythms of Africa music on marimba and drums.

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