Ode to The Shirt

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The river professional’s uniform comes in many shapes and colors, but usually it boils down to a few common features: breathability, reliability, durability and, if we’re lucky, multi-functionality. Because we all know, whether you’re a guide or an instructor, trying to balance the work-life-paddle lifestyle is tricky. And sometimes you just don’t have the time to change out of your river clothes before needing to be in your bartending, cross training, [enter second job or hobby here] clothes.

Last year, I pulled my own double duty by teaching kayaking full time, while deciding to train for both my first half and full marathons. This meant looking for ways to squeeze in runs whenever I could, without sacrificing my efficacy as an instructor on the water. With time and energy at a premium, I had to find a way to keep myself focused and ready for work, be it on the river or the road, at a moment’s notice.

Enter: The Shirt—as I like to call it, because there really is only one.

We had a relatively hot, record-breaking dry summer in the southeast. Many of my river days were spent on the Green, which, though dam released, can still be a pretty comfortable temperature if we go without rain for long enough during the hottest months. The key factors to my work get-up were sun protection, moisture wicking, and mobility. One day, I found myself rummaging through my layers before a lesson—everything either dirty or unsuitable—until I remembered I had a short-sleeve, NRS H2Core Silkweight shirt I hadn’t broken out yet.

I’ve been a longtime fan of NRS’s H2Core line in its varying weights—Silkweight, Lightweight, and Expedition weight—but the Silkweight inception didn’t find its way into my uniform rotation until I needed something both breathable and UPF protective all day long. It was one particularly hot day on the Ocoee River where I found myself physically running my shuttle back upstream (not recommended on this stretch of Route 74) in The Shirt and my board shorts, realizing that my H2Core duds could serve both of my favorite activities at the same time: running and paddling.

The sun beats down the same on the water and the road, and the loose and flexible fabric of the Silkweight t-shirt manages to keep me cool, focused, and in the moment. Often struggling with the cut of short sleeves, I usually forgo sun protection for mobility or temperature comfort for sun protection. The Shirt has a loose enough, active cut that I could move without restriction, and the friction-free zones under the arms are an appreciated feature—no chaffing, even after paddling all day or putting in 15 miles on the pavement. In those 15 miles, though, I did find myself wishing for a slightly snugger fit in the torso, as I pulled the shirt down for the umpteenth time once it inched its way up. But it’s a minor issue that’s fixed by my PFD on the water. The bright colors lighten my mood, let me know I’m about to enjoy the work I will put in—both on the road and on the water—and make me a little more visible when the light starts to wane.

If you’ve ever been to North Carolina in the summer, the first thing that comes to mind is the humidity. My favorite part about The Shirt? I can run for a couple hours in the morning, sweat a couple more liters of liquid than I managed to drink the night before, and by the time my first kayak lesson rolls around, The Shirt is dry, wrinkle-free and covering my bathing suit as if I just pulled it off the hanger. That’s the ultimate win for an active dirtbag: to play, train, and work all day long and never have to change your clothes.

My home stretch of river runs beside my home stretch of road for miles. Many days, I find myself training on the road alongside the river I’d be working on later that day, running in the same shirt I’d be paddling in later that day too. It really doesn’t get much better than that.