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Jen Watson, your badass style will live on forever.

This post comes with great sadness in writing but I feel as though when an event happens that changes so many lives, it needs to be discussed. The paddling community is one that is small and with the sport, comes a time for horrible news. Saturday was a day I didn’t think twice about, as I was on my way to the Ocoee River in Tennessee for a fun weekend with friends. What I didn’t know at the time was this is a date that will never leave my memory. As many of you all know, Jennifer Watson lost her life on the Little White Salmon in Oregon. Jen resided in Oregon after leaving the Asheville area a couple years back. Still, Jen couldn’t get enough of the Southeast and we saw her smiling face frequently on these rivers.

I’m writing about this event because while Jen lived in the Asheville area, I grew to know her on and off the water. Let me give you a bit of background information. I was a California girl that moved to Asheville chasing whitewater and didn’t know a damn person. I had heard and read about the boating community, yet after a month of paddling with nothing but boys, I decided to make a rare post on good ‘ol boatertalk and ask where in the hell all the women were. Guess who responded? That right, Jennifer Watson. That post changed my life and I had no idea at the time. Funny how those things happen. At that point, I had barely been in a creek boat and just a couple of years in a playboat. Jen didn’t care. We hit it off instantly. Jen showed me just how great the Asheville boating community is.

Jen had an ambition to life that I rarely saw in people and I was attracted to it. She didn’t care what others thought of her on the river. If she wasn’t feeling up to it, she had no problem walking a rapid that we all knew she could run with her badass style. And of course, if she wanted to run it, she ran it with her badass style. Anyone that knows Jen, knew she loved to throw a boof stroke and man did she do it well.

Jen pushed me into believing in myself on the river. She also gave me a glimpse into her life off the river. To any woman, she truly was an inspiration. She was self-employed and knew how to make her dreams come true. She worked hard, yet played even harder. I was envious of this. Largely due to her, I have the same mentality.

I could really go on for hours telling you so many great stories of her but I want to only recount this one time on the river; It was my first time on the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia and of course Jen was part of the crew showing me down (as I had so many firsts on the river with her). You come upon Oceana pretty quickly and we got out to scout on river left. I got out, looked down, and instantly  looked at Jen and said “Fuck no!” and honestly thought everyone was crazy that ran that. Jen didn’t hesitate and signaled to all of us that she was running it. I of course turned my camera on and thought, “hell yah.” To this day I have not seen a smoother line run. Due entirely of Jen styling the shit out of this rapid, I gave it a go. It certainly didn’t work out for me like it did her, but I never regretted running that. I have SO many memories like this that truly inspired me to live my dreams and do what I want to do because I want to do it, not because society tells me they have a plan for me.

When one of your own is taken from you doing the very same passion that you so desire, it makes you question, and look at what you do from a different angle. I know I am not the only person to do this. What I hope everyone takes away from such a tragic event is that Jen lived a life many dream of. Jen lived more in her 38 years than most 99 year olds do. Jen sought joy by traveling the world via whitewater rivers. Jen has left an imprint on many of our hearts and her giggle will never be forgotten.

Wherever you are Jennifer, I know you have climbed to the highest point and boofed the shit out of it! I know you are singing big hair 80’s music at the top of your lungs and I know you are smiling down on all of us. I will never forget you and I will pay it forward to another Asheville rookie that is wondering where in the hell all the female boaters are hanging out.

It is with great honor that I can share some of my personal video and photos to you all. I of course need to show the story I told earlier and therefore, please be inspired by Jen running Oceana that gave me the confidence to run this myself.