When Shane Benedict hits the river with his kayak, it’s all about a smooth ride.
“There are so many different approaches to the river, but what I like about it is the smoothness of running a line in a rapid,” he said. “My favorite way is to make a line really smooth, with the fewest strokes possible, just turning and gliding down that river. I’m very lucky to have been doing this for a long time—it’s like walking for me, it’s so engrained.”
Sitting behind his desk within an enormous warehouse in Fletcher (just south of Asheville), you can see Benedict’s eye light up when asked about what it’s like to be out there, on the river and in the elements of the Green River in Saluda—home to some of the finest paddling anywhere in the country.
“On a personal level, it’s about being in that water, in that sticky summer air, pushing through some rhododendron thickets, along ancient bedrock that the river flows over and around,” he said. “And with the Green River, you can hit the water year round, which just makes this place that much more popular with paddlers from all over.”
“All of this started with such a simple base philosophy, which was that we wanted to make the boats that we wanted to paddle.”
—Shane Benedict, Liquidlogic
A lifelong paddler, Benedict is the co-founder of Liquidlogic, one of the premier manufacturers of freestyle kayaks. Strolling the 100,000- square-foot Fletcher facility, Benedict noted there are 44 employees and 20 dogs within the building, a large family of passion and progress within an independent and locally minded business model. During the 2016 calendar year, the company built over 10,000 kayaks, shipped to every corner of the globe.
“It never gets old when I’m traveling somewhere and see one of our kayaks atop a vehicle heading down the road,” Benedict said. “All of this started with such a simple base philosophy, which was that we wanted to make the boats that we wanted to paddle.”
Hailing from just “over the mountain” in Knoxville, Benedict came to Western North Carolina as a young kid, camping and paddling the Green River. It became an aquatic sanctuary for him, a place he would soon call home when he arrived in Asheville during his college years.
“This was just the beginning of Asheville becoming this hip and up-and-coming city,” the 50-year-old said. “It’s wild just to see how far the city and region has come, especially when it comes to outdoor recreation, and the culinary and music scenes.”
Initially, Benedict was working for a renowned kayak manufacturer in Upstate South Carolina. But he and several of his co-workers felt the products they were making weren’t representative of what they as hardcore paddlers were looking for, let alone something that could evolve the paddling industry in the right direction.
“When we started in 2000, we were the new company in the industry, but we had a 100 years of experience between the handful of us that started Liquidlogic,” Benedict said. “As a group, we came out of the gate running.”
Deciding to make Liquidlogic’s headquarters between the Green River and Asheville was a no-brainer for Benedict, who to this day looks at their location in Western North Carolina as the “best of both worlds.”
“Asheville and the Green River is the perfect combination,” he said. “And it’s that combination of a great city and a wild river that has made the paddling community what it is here. That community has exponentially grown since we showed up. I mean, how many outdoor enthusiasts can there possibly be in one region? It’s mind-boggling to see where it is now.”
With their 20th anniversary just a few years down the road, Benedict is in awe of Liquidlogic’s humble beginning and where it aims to go. It’s an internal drive to bring the sport of paddling to the next level that never seems to waver within Benedict and his colleagues.
“We’re in the water and we’re thinking about how to deal with it, what we need to do to keep making a better product,” he said. “We’re at the core of this sport and we want to keep being that. We want to make the boats that are fun for all of us to paddle—to push the sport forward.”
The Green River Narrows Race
This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to order your own free copy.