Mountain Mama: SUP’ing with Aloha

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Friday started on such a high note that I skipped instead of walked from one dreaded meeting to the next. I found myself smiling during challenging discussions. Want to know the secret to my blissed out state?

Hint: three letters beginning with the letter “S,” but probably not the word that comes to mind.

SUP, shorthand for standup paddleboard, was responsible for my good mood. Friday morning I saw my hometown river from a whole new perspective on a SUP tour with Kyle Ellison who recently launched Wai Mauna in Asheville. “Wai Mauna” translates as “mountain water,” a fitting name for this Hawaiian native who moved from the beaches of Maui to the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Kyle tells me about the history of Hominy Creek as I get comfortable negotiating my board around rocks and on barely moving current. At the confluence of Hominy Creek and the French Broad, Kyle cautions me that the stronger current of the river will grab my broadside if I paddle perpendicular with the current. I take a decisive turning stroke and am paddling downstream with the current.

With each paddle stroke, the sun appeared to hula-hoop across the river, golden orbs of light looping outward, fading away at the edges to a yellow glow that permeates the morning. Kyle uses a wide, stable board for his tours, which allows me to feel comfortable looking around.

Standing up offers me a new perspective of the familiar – I see the just-below-the-surface rocks to avoid earlier and the light reflects off the waves creating stained-glass-like rays of greens. Kyle points to something floating on the water. It looks like a leaf, the palest possible pink without being mistaken for white.

I spend a lot of time on the river in a kayak. Like most paddlers I know, the river has become a sacred place for me. Spending time on or near rivers is the closest I know to encountering the divine.

I look closer and realize it’s a floating flower. The more I start looking for other pink blooms, I realize they surround us. Beyond the river, mountain laurel bushes still hold a few light pink budding beauties. Gratitude wells up inside of me for being there in that moment, paddling as the sun rises among the floating flowers.

I thank the bushes for their willingness to let go of their beauty so that I can experience it like this, floating in the current beside me.

I look up at Kyle and he smiles at me. “I knew you’d love the morning tour, it’s a special time to be on the river.”

To make the tour even more appealing, Kyle gives $5 of every tour and $2 of every SUP rental to RiverLink , a non-profit that engages the community with the French Broad River.

He says, “It’s simply the right thing to do. The river provides me with my livelihood as well as my entertainment, so it only makes sense to give back to the river in whatever capacity that I can. In Hawaii, where I was raised and moved from, the concept of ‘Mālama ‘Āina’ is a central to sustainable growth. Literally, ‘Mālama ‘Āina’ means to care for the land and it’s our duty to give back.”

As Kyle finishes telling me about his connection with RiverLink, we see the RiverLink property where we will take and paddle toward the wooden steps built into the river bank. I carry my board up to Kyle’s van and trailer before parting ways.

Perhaps it’s being on the water at dawn. Or the freedom of being a beginner again, exploring familiar terrain on a new craft. Or maybe it’s the ability to look at the river from a new angle. Whatever it is, being on a paddleboard leaves me with a sense of serenity, completely at peace with the day ahead. I soak up a lingering glance of the river and promise to come back soon.

To book a sunrise tour with Kyle, visit his website.

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