From the River to the Canvas, an Interview with Marlo Wright, Paddler & Painter


I was fortunate enough to go to Mexico with Girls at Play as a client in February 2010 with Marlo Wright from Crossville, TN. She is a bright and magnetic woman gifted not only in kayaking but also painting. Marlo and I were chatting about our amazing trip and agreed that it was a life changing experience for many of us. Prior to the trip she had put her paints away, along with her dream of painting, thinking that it was a thing of the past. She now captures that indescribable feeling of being on the river in her paintings with vibrant colors and a unique style. I interviewed her about her experience so that she could share her inspiring story how kayaking in Mexico helped her reconnect with her passion and purpose. Enjoy!

When did you start painting? I began painting as a sophomore in high school and went on to major in studio art in college.

When did you start kayaking? I began kayaking in 2002 but didn’t really start putting time into it until 2008.

How does kayaking inspire your paintings? I always come away from a river experience inspired in some way. The places we go and experience while boating are very inspirational, but the main element is the feeling you get while running a rapid and being on a river. It can be so euphoric and I love trying to capture the feeling and moment in my paintings. I love being on the water almost more than anything else in the world and when I can’t be on a river I love to paint them.

What river inspires you most? That’s a really tough question because they all do in some way. I try to live in the moment as much as possible and generally the river I’m on at the time is the most inspirational. That being said I really love and am inspired by remote runs. I live on the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee and am surrounded by beautiful whitewater and there is something pretty special about being on a secluded river or creek.

What is your favorite kayaking memory? In March I went with some friends and we were going to run Section III of the Chattooga. We ended up getting skunked on the shuttle but one of our buddies suggested finding some slides and waterfalls. We ended up going and running the bottom slide of Toxoway Falls a couple times and then going to Hooker Falls and running it. It was just a really fun day!

How did the Mexico trip inspire you to start painting again? The trip made me start thinking of living with purpose and passion again and upon returning painting seemed like a natural transition for that. It was the first time I had wanted to paint in several years but I think it was the first time I had been truly inspired in the same amount of time.

What is your favorite Mexico memory? Every day was different in Mexico. I loved so many aspects of that trip and it’s really tough narrowing it down to a single memory.  Salsa night was a really fun and always brings a smile, but my favorite memory is going over the lip of the big waterfall we ran on the Alseseca. That day seemed to be the climax of the trip. Our heads were clear and our confidence was up. We had experienced the sweat lodge the night before and mentally I felt really good about this river. I remember Anna pointing out lines and giving some instruction about boat placement, after that I couldn’t wait to get in the boat and just go! The drop was maybe 18 feet and is the same waterfall featured in the Mexico painting.  I recall the feeling of mid air suspension, the soft landing, and surfacing with wide eyes and a huge grin. What an amazing feeling. That entire day is definitely one for the books.

If you could describe the Mexico trip in three words, what would they be? Adventurous, inspiring and FUN!

How has painting changed your life? How has kayaking changed your life? Painting has changed my life because it is rewarding and gives me a feeling of purpose. I love feeling like I’m leaving a mark no matter how small. As for kayaking, I have made some of my best friendships through boating. It has taught me a lot about conquering fear, trusting myself and going for something with everything you’ve got. The river makes the troubles in life subside for a while. When you’re on the river, it’s you, the sound of the water, the challenge of the rapids, the peacefulness of the calm spots and the fellowship with friends.

Is there anything you would like to say to women about following their passion? I can’t say enough about following your heart. I was at a conference recently and the speaker of the evening made an excellent point. He said we spend over 60% of our life in our jobs. Make sure the 60% is spent dong something you love and are passionate about. If you can ask yourself if you love what you are doing and answer yes then that’s wonderful. If your answer is no, start doing something about it because we get one shot.

When I was younger I would spend summers in different places and I loved to paint and explore and I dreamed all the time about what was next. Everything and anything was possible. After graduating college I decided to take a corporate job because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. I soon found myself sitting in traffic jams and heading to meetings in suits. Slowly I stopped dreaming and life consisted of a workweek and the weekends ….I paddled when our schedule permitted, maybe 10-15 times a year. Life was getting pretty dull.

It took the Girls at Play Mexico trip in February for me to get away from it all, clear my head and realize that I was floating through life too much and heading for a mundane existence. I had actually put away all my paints a few months before and had resigned myself to the idea that my old passionate self was just a thing of the past.  I had quit dreaming about possibilities. It may sound cliché but the trip opened my eyes and mind to what was going on in my life. I didn’t know how to resolve everything but knew the process needed to begin. I came back from the trip with renewed passion and all I wanted to do was kayak and paint. I didn’t intend for a painting business to come of it. I just wanted to paint rivers because I found inspiration from them and it allowed my mind to drift. Since coming back from the trip we have been on the water close to 100 days and I paint at least one painting a week. My passion is back for the first time in years and I’m definitely dreaming about possibilities again.

Marlo paints with acrylic paints, focusing on kayaking and river inspired imagery. She works closely with her clients to create the perfect image for them. She is sponsoring the Green Race this year with a painting she recently finished of the famous rapid called Gorilla. Please visit her website to see her portfolio Please email Marlo if you are interested in finding out more about her painting, or more about her experience on the Girls at Play Mexico trip.

If you want to be inspired like Marlo, join us in Mexico this winter for an amazing experience. Book before November 30 and be entered to win a Kokatat Shortie, Girls at Play Helmet and Whitewater for Kayaking with Anna Levesque DVD. The possibilities are endless!!