Knoxville offers some of the most diverse paddling in the region. From the glassy waters of Mead’s Quarry, to the flowing blueways of the Tennessee River, to the meandering lake at Fort Loudoun and the technical, high-octane whitewater in the Smokies, East Tennessee can provide a paddler of any skill level with a great day on the water.
First things first. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to learn some basic kayak maneuvers, and the most obvious of these is learning how to roll. A well-executed roll looks easy but the maneuver can take hours of dedicated practice. The East Tennessee Whitewater Club and Nantahala Outdoor Center offer clinics at a pretty fair price in the summer, but you'll need to make reservations beforehand and their availability is either spotty or nonexistent during the colder months. The University of Tennessee offers freelessons) in basic maneuvers for students, and River Warrior Whitewater has a great program that’s free for veterans.
It'd be wise to fight the urge to teach yourself the rolling maneuvers, unless you have someone with you that is experienced. While well-meaning friends may save you a few dollars, a qualified instructor can improve your skills with accepted best practices. At the very least, they’ll be able to save you wasted hours of practicing the wrong technique.
If you don’t yet have a kayak of your own, there are several options in Knoxville. A few places around town offer rentals, but typically you’ll be paying fifty bucks or more for a day on the water. The University of Tennessee has the best rates for rentals with all the necessary accessories included, but they’re available exclusively to students and faculty. If you’re ready and willing to invest in your own boat, River Sports Outfitters has a good selection of recreational and whitewater kayaks and they can help you select the right model for your interests and skills.
Alright, you've got your boat, paddles, skirt, helmet, PFD, and hopefully enough skill to roll when you tip over. To be clear: if this is your first time, it's not 'if' you will flip, but 'when.'
Next is to find a put in. Knoxville has some beautiful waterways with access at Riverside Landing Park and Holston River Park. These are easy, convenient, flat water paddles with the added novelty of access to several cool downtown spots via boat. If you're looking for some other beginner-friendly paddles around Knoxville, slide your boat across the smooth water at Mead’s Quarry or set off down the warm, mellow waters of the Clinch. A few hours on the water will deliver a great aerobic and core workout, not to mention that with every paddle, you’ll become more and more comfortable with how your body and your boat work on the water.