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Let me start off by saying I’m from California and recently moved to Knoxville, TN. I had always heard that the Southeast had more kayakers and bigger events, but I never really believed what a huge difference it would be!

We have our fair share of events and festivals in California. We have several races a year, spread throughout the state, and they all have parties after. Some of them even have booths set up as fundraisers or sales for paddling companies and organizations. However, that didn’t come close to preparing me for what I found in the Southeast.

The first festival I went to this fall was Gauley Fest. I didn’t realize there could be so many paddlers in the same place! The river was completely filled with kayaks, canoes, rafts, and spectators. We had to wait in a line of cars just to get to the river. I have definitely never experienced traffic driving down to put-in before. And the festival itself was even bigger! There were people everywhere. Tons of booths with all of the best companies were there. It was great to be able to talk to people about their products and was a great source of information.

Jackson Kayaks had their RV set up right in the center of everything. They had all their different boats out front so people could compare sizes, sit in them for fit, and talk to the pros about which boat would be the best choice for them. But the best part was the raffle. The Jackson team members climbed onto the RV and threw sponges and visors with numbers on them out to people. At the end of the night, there was a raffle for a free Jackson Kayak of choice! What an awesome prize! I’d heard of Jackson doing this at festivals before, but had never experienced it for myself!

The next festival I went to was GAF. This was at NOC and included an all day release of the Upper Nantahala and the Cascades. NOC has an awesome shuttle system set with buses that take the paddlers up to the top and then you paddle back down to your car. There were so many paddlers at this event that I had to wait for several busloads before I was able to get a shuttle. There were kayakers on the river, kayakers scouting from shore, and kayakers walking back up for more laps. I am definitely not used to the shear numbers of people out here. After we wore ourselves out with multiple Cascades laps, we went to NOC to check out the rest of the festival. Similar to Gauley Fest, I thought it was huge. There were booths set up for major companies, of course including the Jackson crew, answering questions about their products, as well as people selling their used gear.

Well, so far I’ve had a great time in the Southeast and really enjoyed the festivals! I can’t wait for some of the other big races and festivals to come! I’ll see everyone out there! ~Diane Gaydos