Jim O’Brien

Paddler Memorial
Jim O’Brien
(Photo: Jessie Pion)

Age: 47 (1962-2010)

Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts

Occupation: High School Teacher, Agent for Bliss Stick Kayaks

Favorite Paddling Spot: Anything in the Westfields

Off Water Pastime: Hunting, Fishing, Hiking, Skiing, Camping

OBboats Memorial Website: OBboats.com

A Teacher, Friend and Mentor

By: Rob Larkham

Jim O’Brien was many things to many people. No matter what hat he wore in your life, he was always just a super guy. Many of us know Jim for all he did for the paddling community. Whether it be clearing local runs of hazards, teaching many of us to paddle or helping with safety at local events Jim always came through and gave back in big ways.

Jim was always looking for a new adventure. With every adventure he found he wanted to drag all of us along to share his passion and enjoy the outdoors he loved so much. He enjoyed boating, skiing, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. If it was outside, Jim did it. I believe the only reason Jim owned a home was to store his gear. WOW, did Jim have gear. Jim’s house closely resembled Cabela’s or Dick’s Sporting Goods. What does one guy do with 38 pairs of ski pants and almost 100 duck decoys? I’m not quite sure. 🙂

Many of us owe the skills we have today in part to the time we spent with Jim. The thing he loved to do most was teach others. That was the benefit of being Jim’s friend. He was a wealth of knowledge on and off the water and was willing to share it while asking for nothing in return.

As most of you know Jim was a High School teacher at Putnam High in Springfield Massachusetts. There he was a shop teacher and taught auto body. Many shuttle rides were spent talking about his students and the auto body shop. Jim just loved his students and wanted the best for them. At the school Jim helped put together an Outdoor Achievement Club with some of the other teachers. Jim and the other leaders took kids from the school which is in the city out to the country to learn about and enjoy the things we in the paddling community experience on a daily basis. The kids in the club absolutely loved the time they spent with Jim. Their lives are changed for ever because of a passionate teacher who was willing to share.

When it came to the paddling community Jim was also a leader. It did not matter what your skill set was, Jim would paddle with you and show you the perfect lines on his favorite runs. You always felt safe with Jim. He remembered every rock, wave, hole and eddy line on every river or creek he ran. Often I would say to Jim, I will be in your back pocket, just run it! I always knew he would get me through. We all benefited from many of Jim’s first descents. He often would ski the Westfield Hills in the winter to find local creeks which he would scout and clean of strainers and hazards. He would then return with boats and buddies to tear it up. I don’t think there is much undiscovered water in Western Mass as Jim seem to hit it all. Yup, Jim was the man!

Jim would probably not be happy with all the fuss that has been made about him since his passing. For the most part he was a quiet guy who just enjoyed life. He was a true friend to many and wanted nothing more then to enjoy life. Live it with passion while sharing it with others. We are all better people for knowing and being a part of Jim’s life. We owe it to him and ourselves to live life with his passion while sharing the things he taught us with anyone we meet. Yes, the world is a better place because Jim O’Brien passed through it.

Jim, on behalf of the paddling community and the kids you loved so much, thank you for being the Teacher, Friend and Mentor you were to all of us. You will be forever missed and always remembered.


My Brother From A Different Mother

By: Tim Vogel

I met Jimmy in the mid 90s. I was in a kayak rolling class with him and he showed up with a Savage Scorpion kayak and I had my trusty Dagger Vortex which we call (the Bass boat).

We had graduated our rolling class with hand rolls and we were on our way. After a gazillion WW videos and just as many hours of class 2 combat rolls in the Mighty Westfield River we were ready to move on up to yeah, you know it the demands of T-Ville.  We would window shade till dark and spend the rest of the week recuperating from river funk.

That place introduced us to a wide variety of great paddlers (You know who you are). Most of these boaters were running the Deerfield’s, Zoar Gap & Dryway we only could dream of that. With time or what I call “sequential progressive learning” we developed the skills and confidence to step it up and that we did. I remember our first run on the dryway we smoothed everything and for years we did the weekly trek to the Deerfield then realized after recon hiking, skiing, snowshoeing up and down our local western mass watersheds creeks all year we decided we needed to run these or at least try.

Jim started the stream team. We would hike and cut out debris from Walker brook, Factory & Coles brook, Hubbard and Sandy brooks, Fall creek, The Little river, Potash brook, just to name a few. We started running the big stuff here and we had the water all to our selves, word got out and in time we had developed a phone list to include many great boaters from the northeast and down south the list goes on. We also nailed a number of 1st descents here and life was good. We turned into local river guides leading and bashing our way down these local runs. I remember saying to him one day, “Jim our eddy’s are filling up”, and he’d just smile.

Jim would often take new boaters down a river and show them the lines, how to combat roll, catch eddys and make boofs, and it didn’t matter what the temps or weather was he was a boater. He worked for a school and helped the with their outing club, taking them and introducing them to paddling, fishing, hiking, climbing etc. He knew the value of outdoor education and how he benefited from the lessons of the river and how the river helped him deal with life.

So he shared his passion of the outdoors with anyone who would listen. He was a member of the Westfield River Canoe and Kayak Rescue Team for the annual canoe race in Huntington, MA. He volunteered on many river and stream clean ups. He also helped with the salmon stocking efforts here. He shared his skills at pool session drop’ ins and clinics whenever he could, never taking any credit or praise he was a humble peace loving guy who loved the river and bliss-Stick boats.

I love and miss my brother from another mother but his passion is still here I see and hear it when I talk to people he associated with.


[NPMB Admin notes]

  • After Jim’s passing Rob Larkham organized and held a raffle to raise money to help fund Jim’s outdoor club and scholarships for Jim’s students.

Jim showing off his Bliss Stick Mystic (Photo: Jessie Pion)

Jim getting ready to run Hubbard Brook (Photo: Scott Keenan)

Jim soaking up the beauty of the outdoors (Photo: Jessie Pion)

Revolution surfing on the Dryway (L-R) Rob Larkham, Jim O’Brien, Jay Brazier (Photo: John Wallace)


Jim (Photo: Jessie Pion)

James was a 1980 Classical High School graduate and a long time teacher at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School of Springfield. Prior to teaching, James along with his brother was part of many winning auto road racing teams traveling to tracks all over the country.

He had a love of the wilderness, the seasons and was a passionate and sharing recreational outdoorsman. His passion of the outdoors was not kept to himself. He shared his experience with students and adults alike and opened many eyes to another world which brought balance to life skills, promoted character strength and self esteem. Blending vocational achievements with fun, James and fellow teacher Dan Meehan, organized the Putnam Outdoor Adventure club. James was an active poster and communicator with fellow paddlers and was known as ‘obboats’ on the Northeast Paddlers (www.npmb.com). Yearly he ran safety on the river at the Westfield Festival. James also made time for a daily yoga practice.

James Patrick was born in Springfield, to Edward M. O’Brien Sr and the late Josephine (Bertelli) O’Brien of Springfield. He leaves a brother Edward M. O’Brien Jr of Montgomery and a sister Joan M. O’Brien of Ct

A memorial service inviting family, friends, paddlers, colleges, and students to share in the celebration of his life will be on Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 10:30 by the brook near the Aquatic Gardens at Springfield, Forest Park.

Donations may be made to the James P. O’Brien Teaching & Outdoor Achievement Scholarship Fund. c/o United Bank 95 Elm St West Spfld 01089.

Nomination and article content by:
Rob Larkham a.k.a. Rob Larkham
Tim Vogel a.k.a. Hilltownboater

NPMB encourages you to contribute your thoughts about this Paddler Spotlight by adding a comment below:


  1. I would like to add that Jim was a passionate agent for Bliss Stick Kayaks. He absolutely loved paddling and repping Bliss Stick boats. He is missed dearly by the Bliss Stick family. Mike and Grayson have done plenty to remember Jim and I thank them.


  2. Whenever I think about how I want to live my life, I think of Jim.

    He always was and always will be a guide on and off the water.

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