We’d like to introduce you to some of the young guns of the Nantahala Gorge – our up-and-coming super stars Sam Ovett- age 20, Rowan Stuart, age 15, and Max Ovett, age 17. All three are part of Team ERA – and we are proud of what they are doing as boaters and as ambassadors on the river!
Okay, let’s start with what got you into paddling? How old were you?
Sam – I think I was about 12 years old. I started at a weeklong summer camp done by the Whitewater Learning Center of Georgia. But I actually owe it to my younger brother, Max, who had already done a week long camp the summer before.
Rowan – Primarily my Dad, he was a C1-er for about 15 years. I was about 11 or 12 when I was bought my first kayak.
Max – I started out paddling when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I went to a weeklong summer camp in Atlanta (the Whitewater Learning Center of Georgia). My brother and I had always been intrigued by kayaking after a raft trip on the Nantahala River. Then a few summers after participating in the week long paddling camp I went to Camp Mondamin for two summers.
What boat/s are the three of you paddling?
Sam – Wave Sport ProjectX 54 and Habitat 74
Rowan – Project X 48 and I just got my first creek boat – a Habitat 74
Max – Project X 54 and Habitat 74.
Have you set any goals for your paddling—besides having fun!?!
Max – My goals for paddling are to push myself–and others, to be the best paddler they can possibly be. This goal is really facilitated having my brother Sam, which really when you put us together creates this drive between use were we will compete to try and always out do each other. I also have the goal to have as much fun as humanly possible!!
Rowan – I hope to become a better play boater, and I would like to start running some bigger rivers. My two overall kayaking goals right now are being good enough for the 2013 Freestyle Worlds, and running the Green Narrows by the time I’m 17.
Sam – I usually tell people I am just out to have fun, but I definitely have a competitive side, which pushes me to be a better paddler. Since I nearly always paddle with Max I do my best to push myself to keep up–or be better, than him.
You three are on the water almost every day! What is a fun day of paddling for you?
Rowan – Every day paddling is a fun day, but I really like days when I get to go over to the Ocoee for most of the morning and afternoon, and then play at the Nantahala Freestyle Wave afterwards.
Max – A fun day paddling to me is very hard to describe…. It can be enjoying the company of others and helping them…to running creeks where I have to deal with that feeling of apprehension while pushing myself and my paddling abilities… to just sitting at a play spot never really getting out and stopping and going to there is no water or no more energy to paddle.
Sam- Creek boating in the AM and Play boating in the PM till the water has stopped releasing from the dam.
What is helping you the most at the Freestyle Wave?
Sam – I would say it is a combination of the people and the atmosphere surrounding the Nantahala Freestyle Wave that encourages me to try new moves that helps most, especially since everybody at the wave is fired up about kayaking. Being constantly surrounded by people who are better than me definitely helps me to excel.
Max– Every one who paddles there. There is always a feeling of excited energy and it is great to watch better paddlers throw moves and then following after them and trying to throw the same move. Also my competiveness between my brother and I–that really drives me to try and always be a step ahead of him.
Rowan – I think that the most help to me at the wave comes from the people that I paddle with. They offer a lot of encouragement, and are great at critiquing my tricks.
What is currently your favorite move at the Freestyle wave?
Max – My favorite move to throw is a loop because I love the feeling of weightlessness you get from throwing one huge!
Rowan – My favorite move at the wave is definitely a flat spin. I could just sit in that wave and spin all day long.
Sam- I just recently learned how to do a McNasty so I am pretty psyched about that and I am working on dialing it in, but looping at the wave has to be my favorite move it is just so much fun to do and you can get huge air for the feature it is.
Okay, how about the most challenging move at the Freestyle wave?
Rowan – I’m having some trouble with aerial tricks, like cartwheels and loops, but I’ve been practicing.
Max– The hardest moves for me at the moment are Phoenix Monkeys and McNastys. This is due to how complex the tricks are and how much commitment is needed to fully complete the move.
Sam- To me one of the most challenging moves is the Phoenix Monkey. I am working on it; however, it definitely is going to take some flopping around in the hole as I practice it before I am able to consistently do it clean.
This is such a great community of boaters for you to be a part of, anyone in particular who is helping you the most at the wave?
Max –There is not a single person or persons who are helping me at the wave. There are tons of people who I enjoy watching and are able to help me perfect tricks such as Tommy Yon, Joe Barkley, Matt Anger, Casey Jones, and especially my brother Sam. Also every body that comes down there you can learn something from them.
Sam – My Brother, his passion for kayaking gets me fired up to paddle every time I am in a boat.
Rowan -Recently, some of my friends have been a lot of help, Sam and Max Ovett especially. Other people include Daniel Dutton, Tommy Yon, and Craig Parks.
Boating takes up a lot of your time–when not paddling, what are you doing?
Sam – When I am not paddling I am generally thinking about paddling or guiding rafts in the summer time for Endless River Adventures, and I am in college for a degree in Environmental Science and Pre-Med. So I stay fairly busy
Rowan – When I’m not paddling, I can be found catching up on schoolwork, reading, or hanging out with friends
Max – During the summer when I am not paddling I can be found working at the Endless River Adventures in the store-where I get to work with all different types of paddling gear. During fall-winter-spring you can find me at school and then with all the weekends and such you can find me paddling or just hanging out with friends and my brother Sam.
School must definitely cut into your boating time!! What is your hardest subject in school?
Sam –Anything related to chemistry. Hands Down.
Max– The hardest subject I have taken in school so far is AP Physics, which was very confusing, but I am going to work on understanding it due to how much of it is involved with kayaking.
Rowan -Overall, math is the most difficult subject for me. This is a difficult question though, because when I understand math, I love it, but when I don’t understand a concept, I hate it.
How about favorite subject?
Rowan – My favorite high school core subject is probably writing or English, but I recently took a college anthropology class that I absolutely loved.
Max– My favorite subjects would have to be math and the sciences. I find them super enjoyable because when you figure out a super complex problem or idea you get an awesome feeling of accomplishment. Sort of similar to the feeling you get after you style a hard rapid.
Sam-I really enjoy physics since so much of kayaking is understanding the physics of a situation and being able to mentally solve the problem and then execute it. I feel like it has a real connection to everyday life.
Back to the river!! What is your favorite part about working on the river?
Max – My favorite part would have to be the close-knit community and how friendly everybody is towards each other.
Sam – The amazing people that tend to gravitate to working on the river. I haven’t really kayaked or guided outside of the southeast, but as far as I can tell the folks that call the rivers home seem to be the nicest people in the world.
Rowan – All that I’ve done as of yet on the river is some shadowing along with instructions and kids clinics, but I’m looking forward to when I can instruct some myself. Teaching clinics is some of the most challenging jobs I’ve helped do, but it’s definitely something that I’m excited to do in the future
As ambassadors for ERA—and for kayaking, what advice would you share with paddlers your age wanting to excel?
Max-Just push yourself and get out there as much as you possibly can at every opportunity that presents itself. Also make sure its enjoyable and you are really having fun because truly when you are having fun is when you are at your best!
Rowan – Practice! Find a good paddling buddy, preferably someone a bit better than you who can give a critique, and then get out there on the water every day. Just keep trying new moves, or new tricks, and keep perfecting them.
Sam- Paddle, Paddle, Paddle, and do it because your having fun! As far as I can tell the best kayakers that I know spend a lot of time in their boats.