The Nantahala River, or, “the river” as my good friend in Asheville calls it, is a training ground for all levels of whitewater enthusiasts and the NOC is the epicenter of activity while not on the river. As part of the staff, I don’t feel out of place as everyone here is enthusiastic and supportive, no matter what level you claim to be. On the water, you run into many levels of paddlers; beginners, intermediates, and likely a lot of people who are in the videos you see playing around the NOC. Like most people, I am drawn to the water and working for the NOC is a perfect balance of nature, hard work and great rewards. Simply walking over the Appalachian Trail footbridge to the outfitter’s store, makes you want to detour and grab a boat.
I find myself at the crossroads of once being very active in the outdoors, to now trying to get active again in my early thirties. I typically prefer safer sports such as hiking, mountain biking and sometimes climbing. So for me, to venture onto fast moving water with rocks in the way is something foreign. Prior to moving to the Southeast, my experience on whitewater has been on guided raft trips in the Northeast; notably the Black River in Watertown, NY, the Deerfield River in the Berkshire Mountains, and my most memorable trip, a spring thaw on the Moose River in the Adirondacks.
In comparison to rafting, kayaking is a wholly different animal. Rafting, you are mostly safe from the rapids, and you can roll over anything in your way on a moderate river. Moving to a kayak gets you closer to the water, and closer to the rapids. On a moderate river like the Nantahala, this is similar to going from a snow tube to downhill skiing. My first trip to the NOC to go “kayaking” was mixed with nervousness, pride and ultimately swimming. I started out in a sit on top kayak, which is basically an open boat with slings over your knees so you can bail if you need to. My friend steered me away from the safer “ducky” option and we headed off down the river. The sit on tops are a good training tool for people who are apprehensive like me. The sit on top is very stable, and easy to control. Over my first trips I practiced catching eddies, ferrying and other fun skills, and even got dumped a couple of times into the very cold Nantahala. This is something to remember for beginners on this river. Sit on tops and duckies are self bailing, and your butt is in the water all day, so stretch and warm up often. I had so much fun on that first trip that I returned roughly ten times last year to “learn” on a sit on top.
On each of these trips my friends and I camped nearby the NOC and hanging out after these trips is what led me to want to work for the company. To me, the atmosphere and the camaraderie is what drives people to sit all day in hard plastic and cold water and to continue to do these sports. I loved my experiences so much, that instead of giving up last year, I am back for more. This year, I have made one trip down the Nantahala, I sheepishly admit, in a ducky. For me it is still early in the season and I should be able to get out more before the end of the season. I see kayaking as a challenge, much the same as doing my own taxes; it should be left to professionals, but oh is it gratifying when you do it the right way!
Keep your eyes open here for more updates on my impending adventures in whitewater skills.
For more on whitewater instruction, check out http://www.noc.com/index.php/paddling-school.html