Nolifest to host World Kayak competition, boat demos, entertainment
Published 9:49 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016
A festival that began three years ago with more dogs in attendance than boaters has developed extensively and now unites nationally-renown whitewater pros and hundreds of regional paddlers. Nolifest is the annual convergence of paddling, hiking and climbing enthusiasts as well as those who enjoy relaxing riverside with friends and family.
Hosted by USA Raft on the Nolichucky River in Erwin, the festival begins Friday, April 1 and offers activities and entertainment through Sunday afternoon. For $5, festival-goers can have weekend passes to boat demos, a gear swap, 26 vendors and a Saturday night of with live bluegrass and funk.
The demos will give boaters the opportunity to test out top-of-the-line stand up paddle (SUP) boards, Bellyaks, kayaks and inflatables from the nations’ top designers. Just a few of the companies represented will be Hala, Star Inflatables, Jackson, Southern Raft Supply, Rocky Mountain Rafts, Liquid Logic and Boardworks.
“They can check these out with the designers, builders and professionals — they’ll all be here,” said USA Raft CEO Matt Moses.
Not only will visitors have the opportunity to learn about various watercrafts from the minds that made them, but they will be able to register for a an instructional session with professional kayaker Pat Keller. Preregistration for this session is available through the Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts website riverapes.org.
Whether guests are putting a paddle in the water for the first time or are seasoned paddlers with a detailed mental map of every river and creek in the Southeast, Moses said everyone will be able try something new. He said he is especially excited to offer a Onewheel pump track — a track on which people ride a new style of skateboard. Remember that game where you balance on a board atop a 2 liter bottle? Imagine that on a BMX track — that’s Onewheel.
The festival has characterized itself by providing the region with new means of accessing adventure, whether it is on a Onewheel board or hand paddling down class IV rapids on a Bellyak.
“I think it’s going to be way, way bigger than it has been in the past,” said Moses. “We’re going to have SUP instructors here and are really going to cater towards beginners and people interested in SUP.”
After all, the festival began as a meetup on the Nolichucky River with whitewater SUP boarders from East Tennessee and Bristol, along with two dozen kayakers.
Featuring four times as many boat vendors than ever before, it has quickly become the one weekend for boaters of all backgrounds to find a new adventure.
Nolifest is also home to the 8th annual World Kayak Hometown Throwdown race. The event is free and designed for friendly competition; winners are chosen from a hat based on participation. The race will begin at 10 a.m. down 1.5 miles on the lower Nolichucky River through Class I and II rapids. Registration is available on the day of the race or in advance via a linked page on nolifest.com to World Kayak.
On Sunday at 10 a.m., after they have gained a wealth of knowledge from the pros, SUP boarders will be able to test their skills in a SUP Race. Registration begins at 9 a.m.
Boaters wishing to run the Nolichucky Gorge may register for a noon shuttle at 9 a.m. For 4 p.m. shuttle pickup on a Nolichucky lower section trip, registration opens at noon. Shuttle fees are $10 per person and may be purchased in place of a weekend armband.
Beginner boaters and families that want to see the gorge may also register in advance to go on a commercial gorge trip with lunch provided. The trip, which is normally priced at $87 per person will be offered for $50 with a hot lunch and vegetarian options available.
Visitors may also participate in SUP yoga classes on Saturday and Sunday for $5. Additionally, they may climb the face of a rock known locally as Cherokee Dam with Thrifty Adventures, and hike along the Appalachian Trail to a scenic overlook right from USA Raft.
The gear swap gives everyone the opportunity to change the old for new. All types of gear are welcome — boats, bikes, boots, personal flotation devices, carabiners and more. Gear may be left at the swap and managed by USA staff while owners explore the festival. Ten percent of proceeds will go to USA Raft for managing the swap.
Three bands will perform Saturday, beginning with an acoustic set at 4 p.m., bluegrass at 6 p.m. and the house band from Asheville’s Funkatorium at 8 p.m. All events are B.Y.O.B., but guests are reminded that the festival maintains a family environment. Dogs on leash are welcome.
Meals will be available for purchase from the USA Raft Cafe from Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast. Camping is available at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground next to USA Raft, or guests may reserve a bed or room in the Crockett Cabin at USA Raft. Additionally, the Mountain Inn and Suites in Erwin is within two miles in Erwin.
For more information, visit nolifest.com.