2010 was a banner year for 27-year-old Haley Mills. The Kentucky-born freestyle kayaker, who spends her winters training in Chattanooga, scored a third-place finish at the Teva Mountain Games, claimed the USACK National Freestyle Championship title, and earned a spot on the U.S. National Freestyle Team. Mills shared the ups and downs of pro kayaking while she prepares for the World Freestyle Championships to be held in Germany this June.
Is being a pro kayaker as carefree as it sounds? It’s amazing. I live in an old RV and travel around the country for a couple of months every year. We bounce between apartments, houses, and the RV. I spend part of the year in Colorado and part of the year in Chattanooga. I like seeing new places. I like the unexpected.
Is it tough to make ends meet as a boater? There’s very little support, even for the national team, so I’m basically all on my own. I’ve sold Christmas trees out of the R.V. I sell smoothies for 10 days every summer in Iowa for the Bike Ride Across Iowa. Right now, I’m a waitress at a fine dining restaurant. It’s surreal to think about kayaking while popping open a $200 bottle of wine for someone’s dinner.
How do you like to train? I love to stand up paddleboard. Here in Chattanooga, I’ll paddle upstream on the Tennessee. It’s really good for your core, upper body, and balance. I like to find different ways to train. I can hit the gym and run a little, but I get bored. Last night, I tried Aerial Yoga, which is like Cirque de Soleil kind of stuff. You’re hanging from the ceiling, wrapped in fabric. It was amazing.
What’s the secret to freestyle kayaking? Patience. Making a fool of yourself is a big part of freestyle. You’re not going to get a trick the first time. It’s going to take hundreds of attempts. And you’re always trying something new, different, harder. It definitely takes patience. But it’s worth it. I know that if I can do a McNasty in the last 10 seconds of my heat, it can change the competition for everyone.