Company gets lift from high-flying kayak event

As far as extreme sports go, kayakers usually leave the big air tricks to their snow boarding and mountain biking brethren.

But a Hanover-based event company is changing that by helping bring a new kind of spectator sport to the River City.

T&B Equipment will take a break from building bleachers for sporting events across the country and instead will build a ramp to send kayakers flying into the Kanawha Canal at the Dominion Riverrock Festival next weekend.

Richmond Sports Backers, the event organizer, approached the company for ideas on how to build the ramp, which will be used for a new event called the Red Bull Canal Crashers.

Kayakers will descend a 45-degree ramp starting 30 feet above the canal. As they pick up speed, they will get catapulted into the water.

Berk Ellis, CEO of the business (which is based on Leadbetter Road in Ashland) said that this is their first ramp.

“They came to me with the project, and I told them I could do it,” said Ellis. “We have done lots of scaffolding work; the ramp makes this an interesting project.”

The company’s bread-and-butter is building bleachers and skyboxes for major sporting events throughout the country, including basketball, racing, tennis and 75 percent of the PGA Tour events.

They recently provided all of the seating for Virginia’s gubernatorial inauguration.

Ellis’s father started the company, which grew from a contract with NBC Sports to provide structures at golf events more than 30 years ago.

“We still have the contract with NBC,” Ellis said.

The company has about 150 employees and additional locations in Phoenix and Orlando.

Ellis said the company does between 150 and 170 events a year, both large and small.

Ellis calls the ramp “crazy” and said they recently tested it with weighted kayaks to make sure it works.

Jon Lugbill, executive director of Sports Backers, said that his organization approached T&B Equipment with the idea because they use the company for pedestrian barricades at its street races and other events.

Lugbill expects about 25 kayakers to brave the ramp for a chance at glory and the $1,000 grand prize.

Lugbill describes the jump as similar to going off of a waterfall.

The kayakers will be jumping into an inflatable pool that will be placed in the canal. The actual canal was not deep enough.

Friday will be the qualifying round, and the best 10 will compete for the prize money Saturday at 7 p.m. at Brown’s Island.

Spectators shouldn’t have a hard time finding the event. Lugbill said there will a 15-foot inflatable Red Bull arch at the top of the ramp.

Sports Backers came up with the event and asked Red Bull to become involved.

Red Bull is working closely with the organizers and the contractor on the design and construction of the ramp, Lugbill said.

Lugbill said he expects 25,000 people to attend over the course of the two-day event, about 10,000 more than last year.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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