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Ten and Two

“In the slanting sun of late afternoon, the shadows of great branches reached from across the river, and the trees took the river in their arms. The shadows continued up the bank, until they included us.”
Ten and Two

― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

“When I was 18, I got married to this river.” The “I” speaking, is Dan DeHaven. And the river is the Metolius – a tributary of the Deschutes River in Central Oregon.

“This is my favorite river on the planet,” says Dan. “It flows the same temperature within 4 degrees through all four seasons. Almost like it lives and flows outside of time.”

Mr. DeHaven stands pensively on the edge of the bank as the water rushes by. Whether he’s eyeing the location of his next cast or reveling in the serenity of the timeless river, one cannot tell. Probably a bit of both.

And it’s no wonder – the methodical four-count rhythm of the fisherman’s cast is just as hypnotizing as the dance of afternoon sunlight reflecting off the rushing current below. Like music written over the water, penned between the lines of the river.

“It’s almost like a golf swing”, says Dan as his fly glides forward and back across the surface of the water. “There’s certainly technique – but mostly, you have to clear your mind and feel it.” He casts forward and the line projects 40 feet out over the water. “You can’t overthink it. It has to become an extension of your mind and your body.”

Ten and Two

If you’ve ever been fly fishing before, you understand the connection between line and rod and body and earth. The river has fluid hydraulics, which load the line in its current, tugging gently from the line to the rod to your arm. You feel the weight on it. You feel the water move over your boots. You feel the cold swirl of melted mountain around your legs.

“Beyond the art of the cast, it’s like hunting”, says Dan. “You have to know how the fish move – where they like to hang out and where to look. And then you’ve got to change it up. Change location. Change your direction. Change your perspective.”

Change. While fishing has been a constant for him since childhood, change has been a recurring theme for Mr. DeHaven, both of his creative ethos and his professional career. Since accepting a graphic design job shortly after college, Dan has held 13 unique positions over 27 years at Nike, from art design to product development to marketing. The main difference, in Dan’s case, is that he has generally been responsible in driving each change.

“When it comes down to it – you’re just one man out on the river. You’re just fishin’.”

“I might be a little A.D.D,” Dan says with a grin. “But honestly, I get to a point where it’s simply time for a change. And if you do that enough, you remove the fear. And if you can remove that fear of being a rookie again – you get all the benefits and none of the drawbacks. You get a chip on your shoulder and it sort of rekindles that fire.”

From developing product lines and managing innovation in tennis and running to helping develop the highly coveted Air Jordan 11 of 1995, Dan has rekindled that creative fire on a multitude of occasions. “Sometimes the transition was right there and obvious. Sometimes it had to be forced a little bit. Other times it was across departments or out of necessity for a strategic or tactical need.”

Needs like those of NBA superstar Lebron James. “So Lebron was negotiating his second contract with Nike,” says Dan, “and he made a comment along the lines of ‘my shoes don’t fit that well’. When Lebron says that to the president of the company, you’ve got a problem. You need to get that fixed.”

And so, Nike created the position of Athlete Craftsman, to which Dan was appointed. “My job was basically to manage the millimeters of fit and feel and performance of super athletes.” For the next four and a half years, Dan worked on developing the perfect fitting shoe (down to literal millimeters) to enhance the performance of athletes including Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Steph Curry, Tony Parker, and Kevin Durant, to name a few.

“Kobe said I was the navy seal of footwear,” says Dan with a laugh. “I would show up, do my thing, and then leave. My job wasn’t to hang out with them, it was to get them 1% better on the floor. I had a maniacal focus on figuring out what that was and then doing it quickly and effectively.”

But, after several years, like many positions before, Dan was ready for another change. “Sometimes, you have a throw a monkey wrench into the moving engine. I was ready for another wrench.”

The monkey wrench this time was shifting from the highest performance basketball product on the planet to Chuck Taylors (made by Nike-owned Converse). “Everything with Chucks is just canvas and rubber. I had to become the rookie again. To re-stoke the fire.”

Ten and Two

“Sometimes, you have a throw a monkey wrench into the moving engine. I was ready for another wrench.”

Central to his major role shifts, as well as longer stretches in one position, is the river. And today, standing on the bank of the river, clad in Patagonia waders and suede fedora, the scene is a wild and wonderful contrast to the precision and control of what Dan executes behind the closed doors of Nike’s Innovation Lab. And that contrast is, in many ways, the entire point.

“I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, but this really became my thing, over time. I don’t bring a watch. My phone doesn’t have service. I can spend hours here. You kind of get in touch with the sound of the river over you boots. And when you start thinking about work or something back home – it just doesn’t matter as much. It’s not an escape, per se, but a reset. In the winter, I’ll drive three and a half hours to this river just for the day. It’s so cold, you have to dip your rod in the water to melt the ice off of it. But man, it’s worth it.”

While a particularly strenuous week drives most to dream of white sand and dark rum, Dan is dreaming of white water and brown trout.

“And then, after a week off for fishing, it’s time to get back to work,” explains Dan. “Then I’ll go 2 months and may not fish once – and then all of the sudden, it just starts creeping up and I know I need to go back. It’s like a centrifugal force. You lean into it, slow down, check out, and recharge. And that sort of winds up and throws you back the other direction with a speed and power you didn’t have going in.”

The balance between the two sounds akin to an analog metronome. Or perhaps, more fittingly, like the rhythmic swing of a fly rod between ten and two o’clock – dancing back and forth between true north, building power and balance out of tension.

“I think that deep within all of us, there’s a desire to create beautiful things,” says Dan. “I think that’s innate.”

“I think that deep within all of us, there’s a desire to create beautiful things,” says Dan. “I think that’s innate. Ultimately, what I make with my hands helps me slow down into a space where I can think. Whether it’s working on a shoe for Lebron or tying a fly. Your heart and your head can talk. I’ve always said the biggest 18 inches on the planet is from your head to your heart. Resolving that issue – that’s the creative journey.”

As the sun continues to set, the water cools as lengthy shadows of ponderosa pines extend across the river. Dan’s effortless casts whisp against the sound of rushing of water and fleeting sunlight.

“Let’s be honest though. As much as I’m talking about the recharge, when you’re out here on the river, you’re not thinking about that. You’re not thinking about the energy you’re going to get to jump back in,” says Dan.

Ten and Two

“When it comes down to it – you’re just one man out on the river. You’re just fishin’.”