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In most types of boating, captains avoid treacherous water. But not Carl Johnson. He looks for it. On the wild rivers of Idaho, Oregon and Washington — on the Snake, the Salmon, the Rogue, the Columbia and the Payette.
This is whitewater jet-boating, and it takes a different kind of captain willing and able to challenge the raging rollers and menacing troughs wrought by tons of meltwater crashing through narrow, boulder-strewn canyons.
Johnson, 48, is a different kind of boater in more ways than one. He lost both legs at the knees in a catastrophic encounter with a high-voltage line while operating a farm crane, and he suffers partial paralysis in one hand. But thanks to an indomitable spirit of adventure and a pair of prosthetic legs, he still dances with the river.
In fact, Johnson often goes solo, handling tasks like towing, launching and beaching his 24-foot Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs (BWC) jet boat in a river’s unrelenting current. About the only special adaptation on his boat is a custom electric switch to shift in and out of reverse.
“I try not to let anything slow me down too much,” said Johnson as we began our run up the Payette River north of Boise, Idaho, last June. Indeed. When not flying along a river, Johnson flies a helicopter. He’s a commercial pilot and owner of Airflair Aviation, based in Homedale, Idaho.