“Wait!” I shout as my head smacks below the surface of the pool. I flail around for a few minutes, trying to remember where to have my hands on the paddle and when to snap my hips. I eventually forget and the lady teaching me uses her body weight and arms to roll the kayak I’m in back up right.
“Let’s try again!”
I’m at a public indoor pool in Jackson Mississippi. I’m a freshman in college, I have a terrible pixie cut, and I’m studying art history. I just moved to an incredibly urban city from a very rural area, and in my search for outdoors activities and people stumbled across a clinic called “Learn How to Roll a Kayak!” I grew up kayaking on the lake by my house, so I jumped at the chance to get into one. I never expected the boats I saw. They didn’t resemble the lake kayaks I grew up using so much as they were like giant pickles. Round, short, and stubby, you secured yourself in them using a neoprene spray skirt.
It took me almost a year to learn how to actually roll the boats. Rolling a kayak refers to the move you make when you flip and are upside down to get back upright. It’s a combination of hip snap and paddle placement, and trying to get it all right while upside down in water can be confusing.
By the time I learned how to roll, my hair was growing out and I was back in North Carolina going to cooking school to become a baker. My friends from the Mississippi outdoors club convinced me to meet them at the Nantahala River one weekend, despite my arguments that I didn’t like whitewater kayaking.
They convinced me to get into a boat and then sent me off in a calm section of river to practice my roll and try a few more advanced maneuvers. Everything they told me to try I got right almost right away. Despite all the instructions that relied heavily on things like angles, speed, etc, I was figuring out all the right moves based on feeling the water’s current interact with my boat and not by thinking about the angle my boat had.
Despite all the arguments I had made about not wanting to kayak because it was so fast and hectic, I wasn’t prepared for it to feel so… natural. Interacting with the water in such an intimate way felt right. I was immediately hooked.
The next few years turned into a blur. After that day on the water, I found every chance the rest of the summer to return and borrow a boat and gear and follow my friends down the river. I swam a lot and flailed a lot, but I also felt so perfectly at home and knew I had found whatever it was that had been missing in my life.
I bought a boat, spent the next summer working at the Ocoee River in Tennessee, and then graduated cooking school. I got a job as a baker working nights, and went back to school during the day studying Parks and Recreation Management. I had to find a way to make kayaking my living. For two years I got up at 5 am and kayaked, went to class, then worked at night baking.
It was exhausting, but the feeling I had on the river of being so connected to the flowing water was addicting. I couldn’t stop craving more. Along with that craving I had a burning desire to help other people find and experience the same magic.
After graduating college, I took a course in instructing kayaking and began working as an instructor, teaching mostly kids. I spent a summer driving around in vans with trailers loaded down with boats, teaching kids all day and falling into my bed at night. That winter I spent in Ecuador and on the Grand Canyon, finding my center in the moving water.
On the water, everything makes sense. Kayaking requires you to be so focused in the moment and the move you are making that the rest of the world fades away. I want everyone to have that experience at least once.
Now I am an Operations Manager at a small outfitter in North Carolina. Nestled into the Green River Gorge, everyday I facilitate this experience for people. Some days, as I’m launching guests in their inflatable kayaks onto the Green River, I remember the Annabell who was flailing in the public pool in Mississippi, oblivious to the fact that the boat she was strapped into was going to change her life.
Annabell Plush is the Operations Manager at Green River Adventures in Saluda, NC, the mother of an amazing dog named Pigeon, and an aspiring writer. She loves to garden, ride her mountain bike, kayak, and have dance parties. You can follow along for the ride at her blog.