HAPpy People - Eli Nicholson

April 29, 2019

By Christina Malango


How did you connect with Willie and the River Huggers?

I was working for eNRG Kayaking at the time and looking for whatever additional work I could find when Willie reached out to the owner of the company, Sam Drevo. Sam proceeded to offer the safety kayaking gig to his staff and I jumped at the opportunity.

How long have you been kayaking? What about guiding? 

I've been kayaking for a little over 15 years now with guiding experience in SUP, raft, whitewater, and sea kayaking. I started out learning to kayak from a raft, sea kayak, adventure company and by the time I was 14 or so would spend most of the summer at the raft outfit as an extra hand.


What’s your real job?

I was a warranty claims specialist for a local Portland startup, Indow window inserts until a week ago. I actually started full-time at learning to code at Alchemy Code Lab.

What do you think about when you’re on the water?

Depends on the context but more often than not I think about a lot less of anything. When I'm on the water, it tends to relax me.

What is the scariest thing that's happened to you in a kayak?

That's a tough question, there have been a number of incidents. When you paddle sometimes difficult whitewater every weekend for years it all sort of blurs together. Generally though the scariest stuff I've seen are dislocated shoulders, at least one case where they had to continue paddling the rest of the run. I've also, dealt with a raft that has popped a section, seen kayaks bend/wrap around rocks. Don't let any of this worry you, though. I and every one I paddle with take rescue and first aid training courses. We are as prepared as we can be for the worst possible scenarios that occur far less than most people expect.


How many kayaks do you own?

Currently three, although I always want the next new toy!

Do you, uh, swim?

No, I don't swim. My Dad actually signed me up for kayak lessons in a pool hoping I'd become a better swimmer. News flash Dad, I just learned how to avoid swimming! Not entirely true, I can swim, better with my paddling gear on than off though.

Where is your favorite place to kayak?

Too many choices to choose from! Portland is a mecca of whitewater paddling. There's whitewater within an hour and a half in every direction every day of the year.


Cats or dogs?

BOTH! My girlfriend and I have 2 dogs and 2 cats together.

What are your hopes for this next summer river hugger season?

The more swimmers the merrier!

If you had one instruction you really wished people followed, what would it be?

Wait for your safety kayaker to give you the A-ok to start swimming. It really stinks when we have to sprint after someone just to tell them to stop for 30 extra seconds while we wait for that last swimmer to hop in.

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