Paddling World Mourns Loss of Shredder Inventor Tom Love

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Shredder inventor Tom Love. (Photos courtesy Charlie Walbridge)

The world of R2ing will never be the same.

Tom Love, the inventor of the beloved Shredder inflatable made by Airtight Inflatables, died on June 22, leaving a cadre of hard-charging cataraft aficionados in his wake.

Love’s invention, a small inflatable cataraft aptly dubbed the Shredder, changed the way paddlers rafted whitewater rivers, spurring similar inflatable cataraft craft made today by such manufacturers as AIRE, Rocky Mountain Rafts and others. “He will be greatly missed,” posted longtime whitewater safety expert Charlie Walbridge. “He was a river guide, boatbuilder, and unique and wonderful human being who was a friend to many.”

A young Tom Love kayaking Swimmer’s Hole on the Lower Youth in a custom River Chaser.

According to a story by Allyson Nullon Pennsylvania’s LaurelHighlands.org, in 1971 Love was a river guide living the dream in the small town of Ohiopyle. With extensive experience in repairing and crafting boats, Love was approached by his friend Tom Clark, who suggested that they collaborate to create a boat that would accommodate river photographers.

They needed something light and sturdy and together came up with the idea for a boat with a fiberglass frame. Love made the tubes, but Clark never made the fiberglass poles. Thus, the Shredder was born.

“The boat was awesome, and still is,“ says longtime paddler Kurt Casey, founder of www.peruwhitewater.com. “I’ve had two of them over the years and they’re still awesome. You can run anything in them.”

In 1992, writes Null, Love committed to production and held a contest to name the boat; his neighbor won with her entry of “Shredder.” The first production Shredder was tested on the loop section of the Lower Youghiogheny by Love and his friend, a video showing them illegally running iconic Ohiopyle Falls.

The Airtight factory churning out another Shredder.

Its uniqueness stems from being the first high-performance inflatable raft without a metal frame, that’s also self-bailing. It’s since become a favorite among seasoned paddlers and can be seen on rivers all over the world.

Don’t believe us? Just ask Walbridge, a famed C-boater who has been a fan of Love and his beloved craft since the boat’s inception

“Our first run in a Shredder was on the Lower Gauley in 1989,” he says, crediting the craft as helping him meet his future wife, Sandy. “We had just met. Sandy was rafting the Upper commercially with friends on Saturday and I said, ‘Why don’t you come raft with me on Sunda’””

Shredder fan and safety expert Charlie Walbridge and his wife, Sandy, shredding in the shredder.

“I knew Tom from guiding and he loaned me one. Sandy was a little unnerved when I blew it up — it was a lot smaller than a typical 14-foot guided boat. ‘Where’s the rest of it?’ she asked.

“We swam at Mash but otherwise had a great day. Tom R-1ed with us and picked up the pieces. I ordered a Shredder right afterward.”

“We’ve since had our Shredder out on many of the local classics, plus a run on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. It’s always a good time, especially as hard boating gets harder with age. What a guy…we miss him already.”

Longtime friend Travis Cowles has set up a GoFundMe memorial page in his honor.

“Through these boats he has brought many people happy days on the water,” Cowles posted. “Tom expanded that fun through his charm, quick wit, and willingness to help get people on the water. He made everyone’s lives more fun once he got involved.Tom’s legacy of building “the best boat possible, out of American made products, for a fair price” will live on.”

Donate to Love’s GoFundMe site here:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/tom-love-memorial-fund?utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_cp%20share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&fbclid=IwAR1N9cYtSShhKKUHGRCTRd3_QEzPxpAp8NrWJsiUvcrMF_aQq5sn_bmfmEs