Smooth sailing: Watauga Kayak Tours makes water sports easy

By Julie Fann
star staff

Many individuals don't envision kayaking as the best way to peacefully experience nature. Instead, thoughts of the sport conjure images of moving at the mercy of a thin, unstable boat racing down a river -- a boat that has the potential to turn upside down and carry a passenger to some terrible fate.
   "Most of the time, people think of kayaking only as white water kayaking. This is not white water kayaking; it's kayak touring on calm water, which is different," said Teresa Nidiffer, owner of Watauga Kayak Tours and Outfitters, 1409 Broad St., Elizabethton.
   Open since 1998, Watauga Kayak offers a variety of kayak experiences for all ages, as well as other services. Class One and Class Two guided tours, kayak lessons, tube rides, and fly fishing supplies are also available.
   "In kayak touring, the boats are longer and wider; they are very stable, more stable than a canoe. It's very easy for any age to paddle. It's very serene, leisurely, peaceful," Nidiffer said.
   Watauga Kayak customers have 14 different touring options available to them. Most of the tours involve viewing nature and wildlife from calm, still water while sitting comfortably. The business also shuttles customers to and from their starting and ending points.
   In addition to the Watauga River, Watauga Kayak transports customers to a variety of locations near Elizabethton, including Watauga Lake, Wilbur Lake, Boone Lake, Fort Patrick Henry and various places in Virginia such as Hidden Valley Lake and Laurel Bed Lake located atop Clinch Mountain.
   "Also, once or twice a year we have an annual trip that we put together. Last year we went to Okeefenokie Swamp and paddled with alligators for 10 days. We have 12 people paddle with us regularly, and every year that number increases," Nidiffer said.
   Okeefenokie Swamp is located near the Georgia and Florida state lines and is known not only for its alligator population, but also for other types of interesting wildlife, including a large bird known as the white Egret.
   Nidiffer spoke of the Okeefenokie experience with intense excitement and wonder.
   "Mainly, the alligators stay on the bank of the swamp, and you try to keep your distance from them. At one point, though, I wanted a friend of mine to take a picture of me near an alligator, and I got a little too close to it. It hissed at me," she said.
   Though in the alligator case, blending into nature isn't necessarily preferable, on the Watauga River it is a definite plus.
   "There are so many things to see that you take for granted like turtles, deer running on the river bank or grazing, and seeing beaver and otter. From a kayak you're not disturbing them, so they stay close," Nidiffer said.
   This year, Watauga Kayak is planning a dolphin viewing trip at a wildlife refuge on the coast of South Carolina. A group of kayakers will spend three days at Cape Romain, where a guide will lead them on the ocean.
   "What's amazing is, I have friends who don't know how to swim, but I taught them to kayak, and now they go everywhere and love it. I can see a definite difference in their self-esteem. They even go with me in white water," Nidiffer said.
   Watauga Kayak also hosts birthday parties for kids, tours for church groups and family reunion tours.
   Prices for tours start at $30, and out-of-state trips cost somewhere between $65 and $85. Nidiffer is first aid and CPR certified.
   Watauga Kayak Tours and Outfitters is open year round. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 542-6777.