Going with the Flow

NHS students and staff share their kayaking experiences


Braden Dennis

Junior Kelsey Cook kayaks on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. “In the summer I really like being in the water because it’s so hot around here and humid,” Cook said.

Madalyn Tuning, Editor-in-Chief

The rush of water downstream leads to rocks, logs and relaxation as kayaking peaks in popularity during the spring and summer seasons. Students and faculty spend their free time outdoors as the weather heats up, and kayaking has been a welcome activity for those who enjoy exercise or the serenity of nature.
Freshman Jenna Hefley has been on the water since she was 2-years-old but began kayaking at six. Her mother, Angela Hefley, is a biology teacher at NHS, so their family spends most of their time outdoors.
“Honestly, I was just born into it you can say,” Hefley said. “My family has always liked camping and stuff, so they got me kayaking as soon as they could.”
Nature is an important aspect of her life, so kayaking fit right in. As she became more experienced, she began to appreciate the beauty kayaking brings.
“One of the main things I love about kayaking is the scenery,” Hefley said. “You can literally just stop on the gravel bars and look around and swim — it’s great. I would definitely say it’s more of a relaxed activity.”
The versatility of kayaking drew the interest of Hefley.
“It could be for really active people, but it can also be for somebody who wants something more relaxed,” Hefley said. “If you’re wanting to get some exercise — regardless you will get exercise — but if you really want to get in a workout you can paddle faster, don’t stop as much. If you want it to be a more relaxed, leisurely type thing you can stop, eat snacks or swim.”
Junior Kelsey Cook has been kayaking since she was 9-years-old.
“I absolutely would [suggest kayaking to others] because I think it’s a really good skill to have about water safety and general safety and it helps you with quick thinking,” Cook said. “It’s just relaxing and fun.”
Cook takes part in a local stream team that allows her to kayak in the area.
“I’m a part of the stream team on the James River from about the M-Highway bridge — south of the high school a little ways—to about Hootentown,” Cook said. “We kayak that section a lot. My favorite river that we kayak pretty frequently is the Current River and we’ve done a lot of trips out there — extended kayaking trips. My longest kayaking trip was about 53 miles, but we did 30 in one day. We camped on gravel bars. We’ve done three or four of those trips.”
The team picks up litter scattered throughout the James and Current rivers in order to promote clean water and preserve nature. She has been a Girl Scout since she was 7 and a Boy Scout since she was 14.
Family and friends can help make kayaking trips even more enjoyable and add safety to the experience.
“I never go alone because there are some risks, but I really like going with my friends,” Hefley said. “Sometimes I’ll bring a friend and we’ll just have the best time together.”
There are many dangers that can be encountered when kayaking, just like for many other outdoor sports.
“The main thing is the water: You could easily get caught under a root or something,” Hefley said. “You just have to be careful, wear a life jacket if you can’t swim very well, be vigilant and absorb your surroundings.”
Spanish teacher Ashley Dense has been kayaking for a couple of years and started by using kayaking as a tool to spend more time with her mother. They both enjoy being outside.
“I’ve found something that my mom and I both have in common — which we don’t actually have that much in common,” Dense said. “It’s something that we really enjoy doing together. My husband is not really much of an outdoors person, so this gives me someone to do something like that with, which is nice. ”
She still considers herself as more of a beginner.
“You definitely need to do your research beforehand because you don’t want to go on a river that’s too advanced for you,” Dense said. “Most of the rivers in Missouri are pretty safe for most beginners, I would say. There are some parts that — especially upstream — tend to be more narrow, which also means there are more obstacles to steer yourself around. I wouldn’t recommend that for someone who is just starting out. Also, you should never do it right after a rainstorm unless you are very experienced.”
There are many beginner locations in the area for those who would like to try kayaking. Many websites online have beginner maps, training and instruction.
As the weather heats up, it’s important to find a way to stay cool. Kayakers have taken their boats out from winter storage to enjoy the warm weather.
“I’ve always enjoyed being on the water,” Dense said. “Even when I was a kid, I lived in the pool… it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. It’s a nice summer activity because it’s so hot outside — and I like being outside — but in Missouri it’s like death. It’s really hot. We have some really nice rivers in Missouri that are springfed so it’s really refreshing to get in the water.”
In the Missouri-Arkansas area, there are many places available for kayaking at any level. Cook stays local by visiting the James or Current rivers while Hefley tends to go a bit farther.
“We have a reserved campsite for us all summer and we stay there and kayak whenever we want,” Hefley said. “It’s great. It’s right on the Jacks Fork river. The water is crystal clear — even blue. It’s so pretty.”
With these places come strong memories.
“Here and there there’s always rocks and we always stop to jump off,” Hefley said. “I’m kind of scared of heights honestly, so I would say it was probably around 10 feet — not too high.”
Overnight kayaking trips can be unforgettable.
“On our most recent 50 miler —which was last June – we were kayaking on the Current River and we were with scouts,” Cook said. “We set up camp for the night and we pulled off our kayaks. We sat on the gravel bars and looked at the stars. You could just hear the river and — I’m pretty sure it was — an otter jumped out of the woods and started shrieking. We all sprinted over to our boats and started hiding.”
Nature is unpredictable and pulls curiosity and wonder from those who enjoy it.
“It’s my favorite thing,” Hefley said. “It relieves a lot of stress. High school is one of my bigger stressors you could say. Being outside definitely helps to decompress and lift weight off my shoulders.”