Every month Olympian and NOC Ambassador Wayne Dickert (aka Wayner) will bring you an interview with extraordinary paddlers and enthusiasts that have given unselfishly to make this sport one that all can enjoy and participate in. We’ve dubbed these generous souls NOC River Leaders. Each River Leader is someone that has given back to the paddling world whether it be in the form of community involvement, educational outreach and/or support. Each month NOC will honor a different leader for their efforts to give the recognition they deserve.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview a dear friend and fellow paddler Chuck Spornick, President of the Atlanta Whitewater Club, about being recognized as the first of NOC’s River Leader.
Wayner: What was the first thing you thought when I mentioned you were going to be our featured and first recognized River Leader?
Chuck: I was honored but really wondering what you were up to by bestowing the honor on me!
Wayner: How and when did you begin paddling?
Chuck: A friend of mine, Greg Fender, and I used to go whitewater rafting together and did several trips with NOC. We got hooked on the fun and thrill of it. Then another friend, Scott Hauser, who had been teaching Boy Scouts to paddle, talked me into trying a kayak on an easy section of the Broad River. I can tell you one thing, those rapids sure look a lot bigger in a kayak than they do in a raft, but I was hooked on kayaking! Scott took me to several other sections that were great for beginning paddlers and finally ended up taking a trip down the Nantahala by the end of the summer. It was great fun even though I didn’t paddle the Falls. After working on the kayak roll for about a year and a half, I took a class with Wayner and developed a bomber roll. Well, at least it was 98% bomber.
Wayner: Did you have any struggles early on? How did you overcome those?
Chuck: During my developing years I paddled with some trip leaders that weren’t very supportive and I almost left the sport rather than being criticized. After talking with some friends and deciding that the focus should be on having fun on rivers that I felt most comfortable on, I decided to stick with the sport and make it fun and tried to always paddle with a positive attitude. Probably the best thing that I did to help make paddling fun and build my confidence was to take padding instruction courses. Each significant step of progression in my paddling skills was because I had taken a paddling class.
Wayner: If you could offer any new boater a suggestion what would it be?
Chuck: Enjoy “paddling where you are” in your paddling skills and confidence. The key is that you don’t have to be “climbing the ladder” of tougher and tougher rivers to have a good time. But a friend once told me that if you have a scary situation on the river, that’s not a good time to stop paddling…because you now have the best campfire story!
Wayner: What is your favorite river and why?
Chuck: Now you’re asking the tough questions! There are so many good rivers it’s hard to choose. If I could only pick one it would have to be Chattooga Section III because it offers a nice balance of scenery and paddling challenge. But if I could pick another, it would be the Little River in the Smokies or Wilson Creek. That gives paddlers a chance to paddle a “California” river and still have grits for breakfast.
Wayner: What is your favorite thing about paddling now?
Chuck: I really enjoy being able to paddle several new rivers each year but my favorite thing is to be able to help beginners on their path to a successful paddling career. More than anything I want them to have a positive paddling experience.
Wayner: As the president of the Atlanta Whitewater Club, what would you like to see happen for the members?
Chuck: Make the club a good place for new paddlers to have a supportive network of paddling friends. One of our club goals is also to help our club members develop safe paddling practices in a fun atmosphere.
Wayner: What do you think the future holds for Chuck Spornick, River Leader?
Chuck: Big Boomin’ Fun! However, after recent surgery (not paddling related), I look forward to being able to get out on the lake and easy rivers and enjoy being on the river again. Then build my skills through a good progression that will help me enjoy paddling my favorite rivers again.
Join Wayner again next month to learn more about another honorable NOC River Leader. If you know of someone that is deserving of this recognition, please email Melissa Pennscott at Melissa.Pennscott@noc.com with details and contact information.