The mighty Chattahoochee rushes in the background. A Great Blue Heron spreads its wings and soars across the water. A bald eagle waits patiently for its next catch. There is something special about this place.
RiverWalk Island, also known as Waveshaper Island, has become a landmark in Columbus; a venue that people flock to daily.
Some come for a dose of relaxation or exercise, but others come for a different reason. Some park, unload their cars, and with boat in hand, walk down the steps to the water. They come to take part in one of the fastest growing sports in the world: whitewater kayaking.
Visiting the island on a regular basis, spectators will notice one group of boaters who seem to stand out.
Looking closer, they seem to all sport the same ape-faced sticker.
Meet your local paddling crew, The Paddle Monkeys.
Before the Columbus, GA Whitewater course was completed, kayakers began to catch word of the Chattahoochee River and its new makeover. When kayakers hear of dams being demolished, their imagination flows to the idea of new rapids to paddle.
One of the first paddlers was an instructor by the name of Joey Robinson. Robinson would draw a crowd to the river by throwing tricks in the waves, but many say it was something else that caught onlookers’ attention.
“Joey Robinson would make the loudest grunting sounds as he paddled,” says Dan Allison, Paddle Monkey, and Manager/Kayak Instructor at The Outside World. “He would get everyone’s attention. We started to say he sounded a lot like an ape, and I guess this is where our name originated.”
Funny name, but most kayaking groups coin names like this one.
“We are just a bunch of paddlers enjoying the ‘Hooch, and monkeying around,” says Allison.
Totaling about 15 guys, the homegrown paddle group is a unique insight into the future of Columbus and its whitewater course.
Columbus, GA Whitewater has some of the warmest, year-round water to paddle in the U.S., with low and high flows occurring daily. It’s one of the best stationary surf waves on the East Coast!
Hunter Katich is a local kayaker and Paddle Monkey member. He is also the reigning ICF Junior Freestyle World Champion. No biggie.
“This is one of the best freestyle surf waves I have paddled in,” said Katich. “I’m paddling pretty much every weekend to train for the World Championships coming up in the fall. I hope to spread the word about Columbus and our amazing whitewater park.”
Columbus, GA Whitewater has opened the door for locals to begin a new sport. The Paddle Monkey’s are eager to see their group grow, and are ready to see more locals paddling.
“Kayaking is a sport that is recognized for its thrill and extreme progression,” says David Stivarius, Paddle monkey crew member. “The kayaking community is a large family of its own.”
“Our main goal is to spread the word, not only nationally and regionally, but more importantly, locally; about kayaking, the river, and all of its benefits,” says Allison. “Everyone should be taking advantage of this unique and amazing sport right in our backyard.”
Written by Katie Bishop
Pictures by Jacy Jenkins, Columbus GA Whitewater, paddleeducation.com