Living the H2O Dream

Published 10:00 pm Friday, August 18, 2017

When Chris Wing was a young man growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he was drawn to kayaking and to the infamous Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga became widely known in 1969, when it was so polluted that its surface actually caught fire.

By the time Wing learned how to paddle on it, the river was much cleaner, and offered a great outdoor experience. It has at least one Class II section.

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“As soon as I got on the water in a kayak, I was hooked.”

Now, with many years of whitewater kayaking experience, including at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, Wing, along with his wife Lydia, operate H2O Dreams, a paddling school, focusing some 70 percent of their efforts on teaching students in the Upper, Middle (part of the Narrows section) and Lower Green River, including much water in Polk County.

The Wings began their business in 2012, focusing on the actual experience of students learning self-sufficiency on the water.

Producing skilled and confident paddlers, Chris Wing noted, is about “creating adversity in a controlled environment,” where safety is always first.

“We work in the Southeast region,” Chris Wing explained. “Our home is the Green River.” Last year, Wing coached a 14-year-old who competed (safely and well) in the Green River Race, which is held the first Saturday of November, in part of the Narrows section.

“It was extremely stressful,” Chris Wing admitted, “but he was a remarkable paddler; that is a rare instance.”

“We’re trying to get them (students) over irrational fears,” which, according to Chris Wing, is about “perceived risk versus actual risk.”

So much do the Wings love the Green River that they moved to Saluda from Charlotte.

Chris noted that even when Saluda’s population temporarily swells during certain events, the river offers a greater sense of peace.

When the town fills up, “a lot of our own classes take us away from that stuff.”

“We wanted a higher-quality of lifestyle. The Green is why we’re based here.”

The Wings’ approach is, for students “less panic involved,” or “less panic, more clarity,” meaning that students learn to anticipate what is coming, and with guidance, learn how to best maneuver their kayaks through water that might otherwise cause them to, well, panic.

For their students, the power of observation comes with experience.

According to Chris, part of kayaking is the bump and grind of it. You take the mental hits with it. You have to have a clear internal motivation which can be achieved through perseverance.”

Students of H2O Dreams gain real experience, real skills, and a real sense of self-sufficiency, because they’ve not been babied to think they know more than they really do, or can do less than they think.

“We love giving ‘ownership’ to the student. We’re there as the safety bumpers. The idea is to create self-sufficient paddlers. Self-sufficiency is the goal,” said Wing.

“Teaching,” Chris continued, “is the art of language. It’s the art to communicate,” noting, “Making eye contact. That goes a long way.”

Chris describes paddling as a lifestyle sport, and one that can be enjoyed for many years, though, as with any other activity involving skill, a time investment is involved.

So popular has paddling become, that the Wings plan to develop a paddling club for students and other enthusiasts, for them to get out and re-affirm some of the skills they just learned. They would like to develop a community around the Green River and plans include the development of a five-day youth camp.

“Kayaking teaches a lot to young individuals . . . the big thing is to get kids outside where they develop a reverence,” Wing said.

This August 31 through September 3, the Wings will conduct what they call a “big water boot camp” on part of the Chattahoochee River in southwest Georgia, with bog whitewater and big waves, right in the town of Columbus, Ga.

Another big trip in the near future will take the Wings to China, to train other instructors. They’ve made other big whitewater trips, including to Chile.

Even after 17 years of instructing, and with every trip on a river, Chris Wing notes, “I learn something. Never stop learning,” he said.

To contact H2O Dreams, call 828-749 9369, or visit