What brought the Nantahala to the attention of the international community was a combination of things. One: progressive thinkers like Horace Holden, Sr. who saw the call for communities to apply for consideration on the Jackson website and brought it to the attention of the NOC. Two: big thinkers like NOC’s president, Sutton Bacon, putting together an application that summed up all the reasons the Nantahala should be considered for the event. Three: the entire Nantahala Community coming together to offer the perfect venue for an international event. And finally: the fact that the Wave was already a great feature! Some of the best freestyle boaters in the southeast have logged hundreds and hundreds of days paddling at the Wave over the past few years. So the question arises, if the Wave was that great to start with, why change what was already a good thing?
Permanency. The Wave was great. But all it would take was a few rocks shifting for the feature to change: a high water day, an exuberant rock engineer, an errant off-course raft. If the Nantahala was to create a legacy for the community, there needed to be some permanence. Andrew Holcombe, Nantahala community child and kayaker extraordinaire was one of the first to help “sell” the project to the extended community. “The construction of a permanent play spot on the Nantahala River has the potential to turn the area into a great freestyle destination. The combination of a river that has consistent flows, the number of kayakers that frequent the river, and a great feature is the best recipe for success that I can think of. I’m super excited for what this holds for the future and can’t wait to see the finished product.”
Seeing the construction going on right now at the site will make many a purist cringe. Back hoes in the water, wing dams, sand bags, diverted river channels.it is like watching a plastic surgery procedure being performed. It looks violent, obtrusive, and not very eco-friendly. But just like with plastic surgery, once the band-aids are removed and the bruising fades, if the job is done well there will be improvement. And fortunately for the river community, the two key figures behind the scene are Lee Leibfarth and Bill Baxter- both devoted whitewater enthusiasts.
Bill Baxter, the contractor for the project, came to the Nantahala community in the late 1970s. A member of the early Section IV Chattooga raft guide tribe, Bill is an avid kayaker to this day. When asked about his thoughts on the project, he took time out from a hectic schedule (he has less than a month to complete his work) to share some thoughts:
“We are full speed and things are going well. I am enjoying the wave project despite the stress of the ticking clock of the return of the water in less than 30 days. I have reflected a bit on the pure fun of white water boating and the Nantahala and how they combined to being a huge reason I live here today. Being an old kayaker myself–and a builder who respects nature, I can understand why there has been some negative feedback on messing with the river. This is natural, but my job is to see that the end product will look like it’s always been there and be a huge boost to freestyle kayaking. I might even try surfing it.”
The goal of the wave is be the focal point of everything good about the Nantahala and the extended Nantahala Community. It will be a world-class wave that on any given day will see world-class athletes playing on it; while kayakers from all over and of all levels from beginners working on their skills to long-term boaters who keep sharp on the river, call the eight miles upstream of the wave their playground; while children too young to raft the river skip stones in the eddy and dream of the day they might be playing on the wave; to Olympic-bound slalom racers who train daily at the gates below the wave; as train loads of visitors pass by and enjoy the whole experience. That is why this feature is called “The Nantahala Wave”.