Shaggy McLaughlin On Becoming an IRF Judge

Jon, “Shaggy” McLaughlin had a strong history of paddling whitewater.   Over time, though, a shift had caused him to fear one of his greatest loves: the river.  His friends would call him to go paddling and he would turn them down.  

He said, “My confidence was low, like ‘in the basement’ low. I didn’t know where this fear was coming from…to be afraid of something I loved so much. The river. …It was upsetting…”

 One fateful day, Andy Baxter, a member of the US men’s Masters team, contacted Shaggy about filling a spot on the team. That phone call was pivotal.  

Shaggy said, “When I got this phone call and listened to Andy’s questions, it was as if the universe was saying ‘it’s time for you to get back on the river…oh, and by the way, you’ll be paddling class V again!’” 

 That life altering phone call didn’t just lead him back to the river.   Shaggy went on to compete in Japan as a member of the US Masters team, to become certified as an IRF judge and joined the United States Rafting Association’s board of directors as sponsorship director. 

Jon “Shaggy” McLaughlin sat back left for the USA Men’s Masters Team in Japan in 2017

Shaggy became hooked on all things raft racing after the competition in Japan.  As a licensed Massage Therapist operating his own business as well as a Kinesiology instructor for Southern Oregon University, Shaggy’s everyday life’s work makes him uniquely valuable to athletes.  Shaggy opted to join the US teams in Australia to offer his services. His business, Therapeutics In Motion Massage, based in Ashland Oregon, specializes in Sports and Orthopedic bodywork techniques. Treatment involves movement and mobility assessment, treating sports injuries, pre and post sporting event bodywork. These offerings provide a unique and necessary asset to the USA Teams.  

“I’m a true believer in the positive effects that Sports Massage can have on an athlete’s performance. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve had Pro Mountain Bikers tell me that the best race season that they’ve had was when they were getting regular massages.”  Athletes that receive regular massage and bodywork tend to experience less cases of overuse and athletic soft tissue injury.”

Jon McLaughlin

Shaggy began reaching out to the captains of the US teams informing them what he was prepared to offer. One of his conversations was with USRA board president and US Open Men’s team member John Anicito.  

Anicito proposed the idea of becoming a judge. Anicito says, “having a certified judge really helps our event organizers know and uphold the higher standards set up by the International Rafting Federation. Over the past decade we have been hosting better events and this is another step in the right direction .  It also helps the sport at the world level because the IRF is always looking for good judges at major events. When they have a large pool of judges to choose from they can often be more selective to get the best out there.” 

After explaining that the US hadn’t had an active IRF certified judge in a while, the wheels of change began to turn.  

Since Shaggy was already going to be out there for the event, Anicito asked him if he was interested in attending the judge’s workshop. Shaggy accepted the call to action and completed the process of becoming an IRF certified Judge in Australia this past May.

Attending the Judge’s clinic in Australia in May, 2019

As a certified General Judge, Shaggy is allowed to judge at any level of event but cannot be a Head Judge at a World Rafting Championships or European Rafting Championships.  Other responsibilities include: running or managing the start line, monitors for false starts at the start line, determining when teams have finished and in what order, issuing penalties/scoring at gates and buoys during slalom and H2H races, performs safety checks with the teams, and watching for misconduct or unsportsmanlike behavior.

Although entering his first event as an IRF certified judge for the US Nationals with some apprehension this past fall, Shaggy fell into a rhythm and felt confident that the event was run as smoothly as possible. Qualifying 8 teams to go to China for 2020, it’s the first time the USA will have all categories represented.

Shaggy explains that there are different types of judges that  have restrictions and guidelines that they must adhere to depending on what certification they obtain:  Assistant, General, Chief and Assessor. 

 “The Head Judge is the leading judge for the event.  The Head Judge is also part of the Jury, a 3 member panel of judges that ensures that the entire competition is run correctly in accordance with the race rules, and is responsible for overseeing all judging and judges. The Jury also oversees the timing, leads the protest procedure concerning penalties non-observance of race rules, runs the Captains meetings, leads the Judges’ meetings and organizes and posts the scores.”

Shaggy has a passion for river and this sport and it shows. 

“I would like to see whitewater raft racing become more popular, more well known in the United States. With that we would see more teams in the US competing at the US National Championships leading to even stronger Team USA representations at World Championships and other rafting competitions around the world. …and we’re moving in that direction! We have, maybe for the first time in USRA history, 8 teams that will be racing and representing the United States at the 2020 World Rafting Championships in Ziyuan, China in August!”

One way you can get involved is by becoming an IRF judge and judging not only at international events but also at our home events. 

“There is very little United States representation in the IRF and very little representation within the US. If we want to grow the sport of raft racing in the United States (which we do), it will help greatly to have more judges at races in the future.”

Find out more about becoming an IRF judge here.