Why Go PRO?

I’m a pretty darn lucky guy. I’ve made it through the Grand every year since I was 13 years old. I’ve run 200 trips or so – mostly in rowing rigs, but also driving a variety of motor rigs for science. I guided for OARS Inc. 40 years straight in the Canyon. From the Alsek to the Zambezi, I’ve spent about 9 years on the water covering around 60,000 river miles. Early on, I knew improvements in gear, techniques and organization would have to be made if I was going to enjoy any longevity as a guide – and as things were less than ideal in the late 60s – early 70s, it was pretty easy to make improvements. My love for river running, a passion for efficiency and a background in physics and engineering inspired me to design, redesign, reorganize, modify, repurpose, etc, etc systems and gear to make a raft trip as painless as possible. By reducing the physical labor involved, my boating career lasted far longer than I ever imagined possible.

The PRO Rig

The PRO Rig is the culmination of efforts to bring you the safest, most comfortable, easiest boat to rig and row available. Our rafts are custom built to enhance carrying capacity and handling along with made-to-order D-ring placement that is specific to the PRO frame system. The valves have been relocated for ease of access – allowing all chambers to be topped off with the pump in a stable position on the frame. After 10 years of development I built the first PRO frame in 1981; it has since become the industry standard, in use by the majority of commercial outfitters and the NPS. The design allows for a variety of loads and configurations, and offers each boatman the opportunity to customize his or her rig, accommodating a full range of body sizes and shapes - from someone 6’7” like me to someone who is 5’. The PRO frame design was the first to incorporate storage areas (drop bags) where there used to be thwarts. This innovation greatly enhanced storage capacity while lowering the center of gravity – creating a more stable boat. The frame also utilizes PRO dry boxes which replace a variety of heavy military boxes. The “classic” side box, which is the size of 3 – 20mm boxes side by side, weighs less than 1 – 20mm box and holds the contents of 4 – 20mms. Having suffered many a blister early on due to warped wooden oars, I transitioned to composite oars about 20 years ago. We started with counter-balanced but have now converted to the Dynelite oars. The Dynelite blade design is excellent and they are ½ the weight of a wooden oar, saving you and me energy with every stroke. Knowing first hand how pleasurable it is to enjoy a cold beverage at the end of the day, coolers play a central part in the PRO design. The Galaxy coolers we use are the best fit for your purposes. We make ice in the cooler itself, on site, allowing for the longest lasting ice available. Our coolers have also been retrofitted for ease of use and draining.

The PRO Shuttle

I’ll admit it right up front – I’m a gearhead/car nut, whatever you want to call it. My father was a mechanical engineer whose favorite brag on me was that I did a complete brake job on the family ’65 Mustang when I was 12. All through school I supplemented my summer river income by rebuilding/restoring vehicles during the winter. During the summer when I wasn’t on the water, I could often be found under the hood of a shuttle vehicle making sure we got to the put-in or made it home from the take-out.

For 15 years or so I observed first hand what worked and what did not in regards to shuttle vehicles. By the time I started PRO, I knew what I wanted - so it was just a matter of saving and waiting for the right vehicle to come along. Once owned, each vehicle is set up with tool kits, spares, and communication ability in order to deal with the “what ifs”. Each vehicle has a specific maintenance schedule which is carefully followed. Our drivers perform a safety check before each drive, and file a report after each shuttle with our shuttle manager - so that any issues or concerns are dealt with immediately. We have used the same mechanics for over 10 years – they know our vehicles and what we do with them. They do a safety check with each oil change. If they have any concerns they know my instructions will be "fix it now". Our longevity has allowed us another comfort factor – we have spares; if a problem does arise we can deal with it in a timely manner. Several of our office and warehouse staff also do shuttles, so we always have experienced drivers available. I am fully aware that the most dangerous aspect of your Grand Canyon trip is getting to and from the river. Your safety will always be our primary concern.

The PRO Food Pack

The foodpack is probably the most important aspect of your trip. Groups can rally in spite of rips and flips, bad weather, etc., but nothing can put a damper on a trip like running low on food. Been there done that – my first trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon was salvaged only by the generosity of the Fly B Ranch which resupplied us. When running the Grand became a reality, my mother volunteered to organize the food. Both my grandmothers and mother were excellent cooks, so a lot of thought went into our meal plan (which I still have a copy of). For a month prior to our trip, my bedroom became the food room – lined with about 50 grocery bags, each assigned to a specific meal. We ended up eating far better than several of the participants did at home. That menu plan became the basis for the commercial trips that followed a few years later and its influence can still be enjoyed today. In the mid-80s it was clear that these new computers could be a big help in tallying up shopping lists and organizing menus - so, Nancy and I worked with a programmer to create menu planning software. This allowed us to offer a wide variety of meals and different styles of packing food to satisfy individual preferences. The current version of that plan allows us to accommodate food allergies while also offering Ethiopian specialties for your enjoyment. The cookbook, which you receive both in an electronic format before your trip and in a binder with your foodpack, provides you with recipes for all your meals along with a pull list. You are also provided a total inventory which has been annotated with the location of each item in your pack. As your boats are loaded at Lee’s Ferry, the location of each box is noted on a boat map; so in conjunction with your cookbook you can easily locate what you need. Once you pull your first meal, it will be clear that besides a generous quantity, quality is our prime focus. Whether it’s choice meats or fruits and veggies chosen to ripen at the appropriate time – we do not/will not compromise. This is a big adventure and a well fed, healthy crew is key to its success.

The PRO Warehouse

It’s one thing to go out and buy a bunch of river gear, it’s another to have a place to take care of it and properly store it. Having worked for and with numerous river companies over the years, I can safely say that I’ve seen most possible variations of warehouse facilities – from dirt lots to fancy front offices. One way or another they all worked, but very few were purpose built. PRO began its life in our home basement. As PRO’s needs grew I started planning my dream facility – incorporating many of the “good ideas” I’d seen and added those I felt appropriate for our unique situation. I had plenty of time to design and redesign – we were in business about 15 years before we broke ground. We moved into our “new” home in 1998 and have enjoyed the benefits of a purpose built facility since. Of course, the important thing is what this means for you, so here you go:

  • A location close to town with easy access to the interstates – hard to beat getting your kicks on Rt. 66
  • A four-season warehouse which can open up to take advantage of summer weather while also being functional through the winter with Flagstaff’s normal 12’ of snow per year. This means that we can prep and load for your winter trips inside and be ready to roll once the roads are open. No other company can offer you that peace of mind.
  • The size of our warehouse also allows us room to store/stockpile goods – saving both of us money by buying in bulk.
  • Our fabrication shop is also located in the facility so any repairs, modifications, and or new equipment needed can be accommodated on site.

The PRO Crew

Having the “right stuff” is a beginning, but organizing it as you requested and getting it to you in excellent condition is our most important job. I am proud to say we have the most capable crew around. A big goal all along was to find folks I could trust to run PRO so I could enjoy being out on the water. Our staff is mostly made up of boaters who understand how vital it is to “get it right”. Several have been with me 20+ years. Knowing the value of experienced, happy folks working well together, PRO offers its employees health insurance and retirement benefits. Our crew makes sure the knives are sharp and the glue in your repair kit is fresh. After the warehouse crew has prepped and cleaned them, our drivers check out each vehicle before every drive. Everyone at PRO knows the job he or she does is essential to the enjoyment and success of your trip. Believe me – they much prefer receiving tips and accolades from you, to having me discuss any problems or inadequacies with them. The PRO crew can also offer some peace of mind when things don’t go as planned. Whether it’s a flood at Diamond Creek or a vehicle issue, PRO has the depth in personnel, gear and vehicles to make the best of any challenges that arise. Ultimately, PRO is a dedicated group of multi-talented folks who love boating, want to make your trip the best ever, and follow a main rule of thumb: nothing leaves the warehouse that “the Big Fella” wouldn’t be pleased to run himself.

I hope you can see this whole business has been an ongoing labor of love. My goal from day one has been to set you up with the best gear, organized in a user friendly way, to maximize your pleasure on the river. And we are constantly listening to feedback, re-evaluating and re-designing to improve the quality of the experience anyway we can.

I was lucky enough to get a 20 year head start on most of the competition, and like to think we continue to take good advantage of it. While there are any number of imitations on the market – PRO is the only outfitter offering you the full benefits of its uniquely integrated system.  If you’re still confused about which outfitter will deliver all you need to fully enjoy your “trip of a lifetime”… ask our customers – they are our best advertisement.

No brag just fact,

Bruce Helin
Professional River Outfitters, Inc.