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. The NOC River Leader is someone that has given back to the paddling world whether 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.
Today I met with friend and fellow paddler Wes Bradley, World Kayak Ambassador and NOC’s River Leader of the month. I first met Wes five years ago as he was becoming involved in the rapidly growing paddlesports industry. Wes was on a mission to provide novice paddlers the knowledge, skills and networking needed to become involved in the paddling community. Wes spends countless hours volunteering time, boats, transportation and direct funding to help others learn to paddle, become involved in the paddlesports community and have “big boomin’ fun” paddling together. Wes has always shown a deep passion and love of the sport. Thanks to his willingness to share his knowledge; Wes Bradley is April’s NOC River Leader.
Wayner: What was the first thing you thought when I mentioned you were going to be our featured River Leader this month?
Wes: I was excited about it after reading the article about Chuck Spornick last month.
Wayner: How and when did you begin paddling?
Wes: When I was 12 years old, I attended Buffalo Mountain Camp near Erwin, TN. They had a great kayaking program led by Randy and Jo Anne Pasqua. I vividly recall seeing Nantahala Falls after the second year of kayaking at summer camp. Niagara Falls didn’t seem much bigger nor any more runnable.
Wayner: Did you have any struggles early on? How did you overcome these?
Wes: I attended summer camps as a teenager where all of the gear was supplied. I was a kayaker at heart, but had no gear outside of summer camp. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I got my first kayak. I found something cheap and scrounged around to come up with the essentials so I could get out there on my own. I heard about local open roll sessions and started to go. This is where I really began to refine my skills. I was now ready to hit the water! Another problem though was that none of my friends paddled, and they didn’t have the gear to get started either. I was determined to turn my friends into fellow paddlers so I started taking them to the pool too and taught them as much as I could. Those sessions had such a big influence on my entrance to the paddling world that I have hosted and run similar sessions for the past six years.
Wayner: If you could offer any new boater a suggestion it would be?
Wes: Just a few things! Attend local open pool sessions. These offer a great way to network with other paddlers and learn of local paddling trips. Youth camps are also great opportunities for kids and youth to get involved with the sport. Find a good a group of people to paddle with that are at a similar skill and comfort level. Look at the local World Kayak web site; it has various paddling opportunities in most local areas. I also suggest that you check out paddling blogs and forums for more localized information. Technology has definitely made paddling more accessible for everyone.
Wayner: What is your favorite river memory?
Wes: That’s an easy one for me. May 2, 2009; the day I married the love of my life, Jennifer Southerland, on the Nolichucky River. Wayner’s note: this Dynamic Duo paddled one of the first Jackson Dynamic Duos off the assembly line, down the river together after their wedding ceremony. For the full story, check out the Jan-Feb issue of the American Whitewater Journal.
Wayner: What is your favorite river and why?
Wes: The Watauga Gorge is hands down my favorite run, and it’s close to home! It’s hard to beat with the combination of fun, challenge and beauty. If I had to choose a backup, it would be the Green River which is a lot of fun when the Watauga isn’t running.
Wayner: How did you first start helping others get into the sport?
Wes: After talking with EJ [Eric Jackson of Jackson Kayak] at the NOC Guest Appreciation Festival one fall, I shared with him my desire to put together the gear needed for a traveling kayak “road show.” The goal was to get new people interested and started in the sport while offering experienced paddlers the opportunity to try out new boats. After putting our heads together, the Jackson Action Wagon (JAW) was born! I put together a fleet of boats that I could haul to rolling sessions and various events in our area. It has really made a difference for the local paddling community and boosted interest in Hometown Throwdowns.
Wayner: What is your favorite thing about paddling now and how did you get involved with the Hometown Throwdowns?
Wes: I still enjoy getting beginning paddlers started and seeing the smiles on their faces as they experience how much fun kayaking is. I also enjoy using my organizational skills to put on these kayaking events. Now I spend a lot of time setting up and running the Hometown Throwdowns across the Southeast. After meeting Colin Kemp, who has been the “point man” for World Kayak, he got me interested in hosting these Hometown Throwdown events. The first year, I ran five of them at the Charlotte Whitewater Center. They were a huge success and the last event had 40 people participating! In 2009 some friends in Charlotte offered to host the Charlotte based Hometown Throwdowns and I was able to stay closer to home hosting events on the Nolichucky. This year I will host several Hometown Throwdowns on the Nolichucky and also at the Nantahala, the site of the 2013 World Championships. My goal is to have 100 people participating in the NOC Guest Appreciation Festival Hometown Throwdown event and I know we can do it!
Wayner: What do you think the future holds for Wes Bradley River Leader?
Wes: It’s funny that I have been so involved with the Hometown Throwdowns. Everyone thinks of me as a playboater, but I’m really a creeker at heart. My personal paddling goal is to develop the confidence needed to participate in the Green Race one day. There are also a couple of rivers on my paddling “bucket list” such as the South Silver in California and the Little White Salmon in Oregon. In addition to my personal paddling goals, I hope to continue to find new and fun ways to get people in the sport and help them have fun for many years to come.
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@noc.com with details and contact information.