Take Me to the River: Omaha Kayak Polo Club hits the whitewater with Girls at Play


Take Me To The River

by Marijo Bosiljevac and Cara Stirts of The Omaha Nebraska Kayak Polo Club, taken from their blog “Real Chick Hiking

I am so proud of the Real Chicks who went on the whitewater kayaking trip to Asheville, NC! I get excited anytime I can get a woman to set foot in a boat, but these chicks blew me away with their willingness to try something new.

This trip began last fall when Carla and I were dreaming of adventure. Summer was winding down and we were coming to the realization that if we wanted to improve our paddling skills on moving water, we were going to have to be proactive about it. We came across Anna Levesque and her company, Girls at Play, in our initial research and quickly determined we wanted to paddle with her. Her mission to get women on the water seemed to be the perfect fit for the Real Chicks.

Several months of planning later, a group of 9 women and our mascot Daisy were set to meet up in Asheville, NC for a long weekend of whitewater kayaking.

It would have been hard to find a group more diverse in experience than ours. At one end we have April, who can run rapids backward with her eyes closed, and on the other hand we have Beth, who had only ever been in a kayak four times. In between are the kayak polo players with varying degrees of experience on moving water. The great thing about this trip was – it was totally okay to not have previous experience. Anna was able to customize the trip so everyone had a chance to paddle something that was comfortable, yet challenging.

Our cozy cabin at the Blue Ridge YMCA

Day 1 on the River:
April, Carla and I went with Anna to run the Upper Green while Beth, Elizabeth, Cara, and Susie went with our other guide, Mary Frances, to run the Lower Green. The Upper Green proved to be an excellent warm up for the weekend. We had time to practice our eddy turns, peel outs, forward strokes and ferries before dropping in to Bayless Boof, Wanda’s Hole and Pinball rapids. It was only day one and I had already run bigger rapids than I had previously seen!

April running Bayless Boof
The Lower Green proved to test the patience of the second group as the Green river is dam released and they had to wait for over 3 hours for the water to make it to them.

Cara here. Marijo is right—while the first group was tearing it up on the Upper Green, my group was waiting for the water on the Lower Green. The water is released just upstream of the Upper Green put-in and can take about 4 hours to reach the Lower Green put-in. While we waited for the water to rise, we paddled around in calm water, practiced rolling, and got a skills lesson from Mary Frances. Our wait for the water was longer than we had anticipated, but we had a great time hanging with Mary Frances, hiking up-river to get a look at the narrows, and just enjoying our time together outside.

When the water finally did arrive, it was quick and swift and very obvious! Mary Frances took the lead, all the while asking us what we saw and how we thought we should tackle what was up ahead. In that short amount of time we were on the water, we started to learn how to read the river and choose a line. We learned to love rocks, to trust ourselves and each other, to take chances. We learned that, as in life, Plan A does not always fly, and that often we’ll have to rely on Plan B or Plan C.

Day 2:
Yoga is amazing. After a hard day on the river the day before we started off with an amazing, and very restorative, yoga practice.  The plan for the second day was for April and me to go with Anna to Erwin, TN to run the Nolichucky and for Kim, Susie, Elizabeth, and Carla to go with Mary Frances on the Upper Green. Cara and Beth took a day off from paddling and explored Asheville and took care of our mascot.

Even the drive to Erwin was beautiful; the Blue Ridge Mountains are gorgeous. The Nolichucky was the most fun time I’ve ever had on the water. We had some excellent surfing waves to try out, a great lunch spot overlooking Jaws, and I upped my paddling resume to include class IV rapids. This was the river where I started to push the limit of what I was confident I could handle. Each new rapid (all boat-scouted) came with a sense of uncertainty- would I get sucked into a hole? Would I flip? Would I swim? By the end of each stretch I was filled with relief and excitement, knowing I made it through, and next time I run it I’ll do it with more confidence and calm. I am grateful to everyone who ever pushed me over in a kayak polo game. I flipped at the start of two gnarly rapids and I rolled up immediately without any doubt in my ability thanks to all y’all.

Marijo and April on the Nolichucky

The Upper Green proved to be a good challenge for the second group. Swimming, bruises, a little too up close and personal with a few rocks perhaps. It was still a fun time, everyone enjoyed the experience.

Our evening ended with supper at the cabin and hanging out with Anna.

Day 3:
Yoga. 🙂
The group geared up and ready to go. L to R Cara, Elizabeth, Marijo, Anna, Mary Frances, Kim, April, Carla

Daisy checks out the scene
The weekend went extremely fast but we were able to squeeze in a group paddle on the French Broad River in Asheville. It was great to all paddle in the same spot. April and I went with Mary Frances for a change, and surfed our way to the take out. Everyone else went with Anna and eddy-hopped their way to the bottom where they tried their hand at catching a wave.
Anna says “Follow me”

And with that, it was time to face the reality of heading back home. I trust our guides enjoyed being with us all weekend because instead of parting ways at the river, they opted to join us for a coffee stop on our way to the airport. How great!
Cara sums up the experience nicely:
Our Girls At Play excursion affected me more than I thought possible, and I didn’t even realize to what extent until after I got home. There was such a positive energy surrounding us all weekend! Since then, I’ve felt a shift in myself, both on and off the water. I am truly inspired by Anna and Mary Frances, our awesome and fearless leaders, and am so grateful that they gave us such an amazing opportunity. It left me feeling thankful and compassionate, confident, and braver than before. Paddling and practicing yoga with an incredible group of women, challenging ourselves, learning and rolling and swimming and laughing…it really doesn’t get much better than that.
I want to take a minute to give props to our guides. Anna was awesome. She has every reason to brag about her paddling accomplishments but she never did. She filled our heads with knowledge of the river, gentle pushes to be compassionate, and dares to commit to following our dreams. She went above and beyond to get to know our group and encouraged us to be our best individually and collectively.

Mary Frances was a perfect fit for our group. We have her to thanks for expanding our Midwestern vocabulary to include the phrase “all y’all.” She frequently showed calm in the face of some crazy circumstances. The group liked her so much that the name Mary Frances is now top of the baby name list for the next Real Chick to come along.