ECHO was founded in 1972 with a whopping investment of $5,000, a GMC Suburban and the adventurous spirits of two high school teachers, Joe Daly and Dick Linford. What began as weekend dashes from Berkeley to the American or Stanislaus Rivers quickly became a way of life for Dick and Joe, who would drag themselves into their classrooms on Monday mornings, tired but fulfilled.
At this time, rafting was on the lunatic fringe of adventure. River guides were called "boatmen" and donned cut-off Levis, old sneakers and big Buck knives. Lifejackets were for only the biggest rapids and wetsuits were for sissies, even on cold, high-water trips. Early guests were a hearty bunch as well. Saddled with their own camping gear and utensils, they were quick to assist the boatmen with loading boats, cooking, and clean-up. ECHO's answer to cold water was to cut head and arm holes in garbage bags.
"In the 70's, our guests' idea of fun was being cold, wet and scared."
As Dick and Joe pioneered this wild sport, they modeled their company to change with the times. ECHO was one of the first rafting companies to hire female guides, a move that was met with disapproval and disbelief from both guests and other outfitters. However, these women soon proved to be just as tough and capable as the men and created a more family-friendly experience. It also ensured that the boatmen bathed and shaved on occasion. It was, in fact, females that hastened the moniker for river guides, as boatmen suddenly didn't apply. As ECHO expanded, the food improved, camping was made more comfortable, and river trips became great family vacations.
For the next 10 years, ECHO grew steadily. Both Dick and Joe continued teaching part-time until 1979 when they traded pop quizzes for paddles. By 1981, ECHO was running 19 stretches of river in 5 states and Yugoslavia. However, both felt that the most important element of their trips, fun, had ceased to be the focus. They were tied to their desks, overseeing a sprawling, albeit successful business and at that point, decided to emphasize quality over quantity: quality of river, quality of river trip, quality of lifestyle.
"We are incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living out of something we love."
During ECHO's next decade, Dick and Joe simplified things by running trips on their favorite rivers: the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Rogue. ECHO still remains the largest outfitter on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, and maintains that staying small and specializing on their favorite river has allowed Dick and Joe to get very good at what they do. They know their guides personally, know their river well and you can still find them guiding on trips every summer.
The Modern Era
By 2007, it became apparent that Dick and Joe were ready for even more down time. They made a decision to tap into their pool of river resources and hired seasoned river guide Zach Collier to manage day-to-day operations. It was Zach's decision to move the company, that had been Oakland based for 35 years, to Hood River, Oregon.
Zach has rowed ECHO into the 21st century, and as a former guide and river lover, he knows what it takes to run great trips. Although Dick and Joe have taken a step back, they remain very involved with their guides, their rivers and their clients. Their commitment to quality, attention to detail and retention of excellent river guides have given ECHO the reputation of one of the premier rafting companies in the country.
"I'm proud that ECHO was selected by National Geographic Adventure Magazine as one of the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth in 2008 and 2009. We work hard to maintain the impeccable trip quality ECHO is known for." - Zachary Collier