“It’s occurred to me lately that I love kayaking not only because it’s fun as hell, challenging, and let’s me go to amazing places, but because it feels like being a child. This is true in the obvious sense that the experience is so immediate and direct, and basically water sliding for adults, but also in a social sense. Making friends as an adult can be difficult and time consuming, full of calculations, dinner parties, and small talk. For kayakers and children it’s just “You like kayaking (sand castles, Legos)? Let’s be best friends forever!” And you are immediately responsible for another human being’s life.” -Nat Krancus
A friend posted this to Facebook awhile back. I immediately grabbed it, copied it down and held onto it. I never realized how it would be so completely enacted in my own life.
Two weeks ago I moved to Asheville, North Carolina from Washington State to work for Girls at Play. I came not knowing a soul out here. However, the kayak community is somehow genuinely founded on humanity and generosity and I have not been blessed in the transition.
I asked my new boss, Anna Levesque, to help me find people to boat with. She quickly invited me to a woman’s Birthday/Going away party. I was crashing this woman’s party in order to meet boaters. I made small talk with a lot of different folks, and got to chat briefly with one woman who boated. As the woman left, she told me to grab her number from Anna so we could go boating. Score!
I stayed a little later and ran into another woman I’d been told to be on the lookout for. Two lady boater connections in one night? Dreams do come true!
I’d heard there were going to be some fun dam releases that weekend. I’m from Washington. Rivers run off snowpack out west, so I wasn’t totally sure how this whole release thing worked. I texted my two new lady boater friends and one of them was able to make it! My luck was turning out great!
We met and did some low Cascades runs Friday. The West Fork of the Tuck was releasing Saturday, so we decided to meet up again. Now, being from out of state I had to look up directions for the West Fork Tuck. And, following American Whitewater directions, I ended up miles down a gravel residential road named “White rock”. When I dropped down to do a creek crossing, I started to think I was lost for good. Dang!
Turning around, I almost literally ran into another car with boats! Other boaters also lost! Yay!
They at least knew how to get to the put-in. From the put-in we were able to ask about how to get to the take-out. FINALLY, an hour late, we pulled in.
Our friends were waiting for us! Maria ran towards my car “I’ve been telling them just to wait a moment longer for you!” From someone I’d just met three days ago, it was really sweet to have someone who had my back!
And guess what we did? Water slides! All day! The West Fork of the Tuck is easily my favorite run so far for the amount of surf and play along the way, the variety of features: boofs, curvy gorges, slides; water clarity and epic falls at the put in. I was completely enchanted!
And at the end of the day, I got to exchange numbers with my whole crew. One guy who I had met briefly before made the comment: “I met you last week and now we’ve been boofing together!” Friends forever!
I have been lucky to encounter some of the most generous people in the boating community. Boaters have invited me in their homes, shared warm layers on unexpected overnights and offered food when you know all they have to eat is what they have rationed specifically for themselves. Back at my old home in Leavenworth, WA our couch and living room floor was a rotating room for boaters who always kept their things neat and tidy while out of the house.
How is this all possible? How can I instantly befriend people I’ve never met and suddenly know that they have my back?
It is an interesting tribe to be a part of.
Maybe it’s because initiation mandates flipping upside down underwater and having the clarity of mind to pull the release hatch (aka wet exit), typically in front of a group of your peers and friends. No matter how graceful you are, that first time coming up for air seems like you just held your breathe for ten minutes!
Or maybe it’s because paddling communities are inherently social. Since we can’t breathe underwater, we’re always traveling in packs looking out for one another, like a tribe of floating neon dolphins.
Or Maybe it’s because no one else can stand the constant stench of wet river gear. The smell permeates our cars and wherever we store our beloved boats.
Whatever it is, I know that there’s truth in the phrase “Families that play together, stay together.” Wherever I get to meet people that I can play well with, where we share the foundations of trust and encouragement and values of excitement and adventure, I know I’m at home!
What do you love most about your boating community?