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Remember your first year of paddling?

Everything was new, likely it all looked big and scary. You didn’t quite have the river experience you needed to make your way down the river stable in your boat, let alone have a dry hair day. It was all a completely new world.

Steve Gougeon

Then you came back to that one river- you know the one- a year later, maybe a few years later and you chuckle to yourself a little bit at how you ever could have been intimidated by it. You come back to the river with a different perspective, with new knowledge, and definitely more experience.

My first time on whitewater was also my very first time in a whitewater kayak. It was on the Nantahala, in March. I didn’t run the falls section obviously, but the entire trip was a magical experience, especially with the big waterfall at the end…

Later that year I went back to the Nanty for GAF, back in the days when it was close to Halloween. We drove along the river and stopped to see Nantahala Falls.
“But where is the waterfall?” I asked.
“What waterfall?”
“The big falls at the end of the run..” I said.
“There is no waterfall, this is it.”
“THAT’S the falls? But it’s not a waterfall. I remember a waterfall. What happened to it?”

Bennett George

Well as you know, nothing happened to it. Something had happened to me. You see, not only was it my first time on whitewater that March, it was also my first time ever SEEING whitewater. And by October I had seen much more of it because, just like you, I was hooked on whitewater from the first experience. I’d spent 6 months traveling nonstop across the Southeast getting my whitewater fix so that when I came back to the mighty Nantahala Falls, it wasn’t so mighty anymore.

Fast forward a hundred years (give or take a few years) and I’m still experiencing the size of rivers as relative to my new experiences that I’m so lucky to have.

Since last September, I’ve run more rivers at high to flood stage levels than ever in my life. Including Gauley at 5,000cfs, high water Russel Fork, and – oh yea- the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, the huge Rock Island play feature at 2gen isn’t as intimidating now, nor is hand paddling new boats through Grumpys or anywhere else on the Ocoee.

Trip of a lifetime

This relativity is one of my most favorite parts about kayaking. It’s the most significant way in which we experience our progress. We get to laugh at ourselves a little bit from when we were younger in the sport and less experienced.

It’s an experience in which we can all share at any age, as life experience and status doesn’t necessarily translate to river years. And, the best part, we get to be the ones to guide newer paddlers through the same “newnes” and “bigness” of the rivers we used to be intimidated by. To me, that’s like watching a kid wake up on Christmas to see if Santa came to visit.

What rivers used to be big to you that aren’t so much anymore?

– Samantha Brunner