Paddling New Waters

By Alyce Wellons


Paddle School 2016 was another stellar weekend for paddlers all around the southeast. We camped, ate, listened to great music, had a live auction with tons of cool gear, hung out with friends…and paddled! And of course it rained…it was paddle school, after all!!


It was also the culmination of a significant developmental phase in this paddler’s life. This was the year my friends and I went from students to instructors and support boaters.

Heather Curry, Kristen Evans, and I met at Paddle School 2014. We happened to camp in the same general area. Over the past 2 years we have become friends and paddle buddies. We have cheered each other on as we got our first roll, first combat roll. progressed from Class II to the horrifying Class III. We have been on weekend instruction trips, learned how we like to travel and paddle together, and who brings the best and worst beer (details available upon request). We know each other’s’ strengths, quirks, needs, and how to be on the water together safely and have fun. We have also stood beside each other when things went badly on the river, when one of us forgot gear, hit a plateau, or got down on the whole process of paddling in general. I have cheered on Heather and Kristen as they have added thrill and skill by signing up for Creek Week and Costa Rica trips, boating bigger water getting their PFDs on the Upper O and Cheoah, and having lots of fun together.


Heather and I cheered Kristen on a few weeks ago as she was awarded her L4 Instructor training certification, allowing her to instruct on up to Class III whitewater! GO, KRISTEN!!


As anyone who has been on the river awhile begins to realize, we learn many life lessons about ourselves from the river and the people with whom we paddle. Even though we progress at different levels and have different goals, we support each other. I am always envious that Heather and Kristen paddle much more than I, and that they have seen the thrill of the Upper O, Cheoah, and the rivers of South America. But that makes them better paddlers, and allows our group to grow stronger all around. And my being so excited for them, wanting to see pictures and hear stories, makes us all better friends as well. And that is what it is all about, right?!?! A feeling of connection and safety within a community.


So, a few weeks ago at Paddle School, our journey continued. Kristen was our group instructor and Heather and I were support boaters. We had 4 students, 2 days on the Ocoee ending with a run from Slice and Dice to the take out. Lots of smiles, no major mishaps, and new memories for everyone. We progressed from scared students to instructors and supporters who had some things to share–including skills and the demonstration of friendships on the river. While each of us have gone our own directions on and off the river, we remain paddle buddies and good friends. I know that Heather, Kristen, and I have lots of adventures in our future and I can’t wait to experience every one of them!!


“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” ~ John O’ Donohue