Best of NRS, 2020


2020. It’s been (un)real. But within the turbulence and tragedy, we found reasons for hope and joy. While cities and towns closed up, millions sought health and healing outside, and we found a new appreciation for the adventures to be had in our backyards. Our staff fielded more calls, emails and chats than ever before in our history. Thousands of you joined us for films and discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors during (and after) our Just Add Water campaign. We saw new faces on the water and welcomed fresh voices to the conversation. There’s no telling what 2021 may bring, but we greet it with open arms and faith in a brighter future.


River of Return | “River of Return” is a love story with many facets. Like the river, it’s an evolving love story for Jessica and Sammy Matsaw, Shoshone-Bannock and co-founders of River Newe. It’s about the love between tribal leaders and their youth. And it’s about the love they all share for the Salmon River. Follow Jessica and Sammy as they share their story about the power of hope and perseverance, resilience and resurgence, and the vitality of sharing these lands and waters with today’s tribal youth and the generations to come.

The Mystery | There’s a subculture of kayaking known by few and understood by fewer. The paddlers don diving goggles and neoprene and slide into thin, uncomfortable boats not meant to float but designed to sink. Below the waterline, their goal is to stay underwater as long as they can. This is squirt boating. After squirt boating’s heyday in the early 1990s, the scene has all but disappeared. But when it comes to the history of squirt boating, the legend starts with Jim Synder. The Mystery offers a rare glimpse into this obscure sport and the dedicated few who continue to keep the tradition alive.

A Resilient Paradise: Bahamas | Crooked Island: a little paradise in the Atlantic Ocean where anglers’ dreams of catching Bonefish come alive.  Each season, hurricanes threaten to destroy this Bahamian island and the livelihoods fishing guides, like Bonefish Shakey, have built that depend on tourism. But despite the recurring destruction, the resilient locals continue to rebuild and share their island with adventure anglers like NRS Fishing team member Brooks Beatty and his crew.

ZAMORA | Eddied out in a remote Ecuadorian village, politics and local beliefs force a group of kayakers to desert their hopes of a first descent on the Rio Mulatos and Rio Coangos. Unwilling to simply go home, Team NRS paddlers Todd Wells and Galen Volckhausen set their sights on the Rio Zamora instead. ZAMORA is a story about cultural barriers, personality barriers and physical barriers between paddlers and kayaking expeditions. And it offers a rare look into the gritty aspects of a first descent and what happens when plans fall through.

Great Barrier Island | A group of buddies with a simple plan: ditch the city lights of Auckland, load sea kayaks with a ton of food and beer, and cross the Hauraki Gulf to explore the coastline of Aotea. Also known as Great Barrier Island, Aotea is New Zealand’s fourth-largest landmass. And with only 1,000 year-round residents, this 245 square-kilometer island was the perfect choice for an off-grid adventure.


A River Runner’s Pandemic RX | “… on Friday the 13th my wife called, ‘The Governor closed all the schools for a week. Maybe longer. Please go get groceries!’ By the time I reached the grocery store, the parking lot was full, but shelves were starting to get empty. I’d heard jokes about toilet paper for a couple days. But—no joke—there was no toilet paper. I’m not being flippant when I say my brain went into multi-day rafting mode. Time-wise this was Deso plus a Rogue. With a mental list taking shape in my brain, I pushed my cart down the aisle…” COVID-19 put us all in uncharted waters. To cope, one boater embraces river trip mentality: live on river time, lend a hand and conserve the TP.

My Roll Broke | While it doesn’t happen to everyone, a ‘broken roll’ happens more than you would think, and it feels completely demoralizing, frustrating, stifling, confusing, and really embarrassing. Kira looked more into the “my roll broke” phenomenon, asking kayakers about their experiences. Turns out, the ‘problem’ resonated with a lot of paddlers of various ages, genders and skill levels. Of course, there were also a few paddlers fortunate enough to have never experienced it. Who knows why? After her not-really-extensive-but-definitely-curious research, here are the most common causes of a Broken Roll and some remedies for fixing it.

River Ravioli on the Chattooga | The Dutch oven is a classic camp cooking device comprised of a heavy metal pot for containing and cooking the food and a lid that can maintain an even heat for baking. It’s a link to the days when explorers lacked rubber boats, synthetic underwear, waterproof layers, and bottled fuel like us modern adventurers. Most camp chefs have a favorite Dutch oven meal. Taking it slow down the Wild & Scenic Chattooga meant Andy had plenty of time at camp to whip up a favorite Dutch oven meal: River Ravioli.

Stand-up Paddling a Royale Isle in the Rough | An adventure not for the faint of heart, four stand-up paddlers set out to explore Isle Royale. Located in northern Lake Superior, Isle Royale features a breathtaking blend of over 200 square miles of lush forest, pristine lakes and majestic shoreline. Known for being a backpackers’ paradise with over 165 miles of hiking trails, the island also features more than 450 smaller islands, making it an underrated destination for paddlers. So when Aaron Black-Schmidt, an outdoor photographer and avid standup paddler, proposed taking inflatable standup paddleboards to Isle Royale, it seemed like a no-brainer. Exploring a remote archipelago in the middle of the world’s largest lake, what could go wrong?

A Creative Guide to Paddling Closer to Home | This spring, the pandemic caused canceled trips, the closing of popular access points, and gateway communities grew concerned about incoming visitors. Many paddlers began searching for options closer to home. Some are lucky to live in a paddling hub with plenty of world-class options, like Asheville, North Carolina, Salida, Colorado or White Salmon, Washington. Others, like Mike, have never been so lucky. Living far from your favorite paddling trips can require creativity to get some afternoon strokes. Never one to stop looking for places to paddle, here are a few tricks he’s learned to find, or rather see the potential for, new paddling spots.


Helium Splash Jacket | Perfect for beginner paddlers looking to charge harder, the NRS men’s and women’s Helium Jacket takes entry-level splashwear up a notch, combining waterproof-breathable fabric construction with an overskirt that mates with a sprayskirt tunnel. Features HyproTex™ 2.5 fabric, factory-taped seams, adjustable urethane neck and wrist closures, and a small, splashproof shoulder pocket, designed for easy access under a PFD.

Titanium Neko Knife | Perfect for paddlers and anglers of the salt-water variety, the NRS Titanium Neko Blunt Knife is constructed with corrosion-resistant titanium and features smooth and serrated edges, a blunt safety tip, and an integrated bottle opener. The hybrid blade includes a serrated section for quickly cutting rope and webbing, plus a razor-sharp smooth section for finer cutting. Features a low-profile, friction-release sheath holds the knife securely while allowing for fast one-hand deployment.

STAR Paragon Tandem Inflatable Kayak | Because paddling with a buddy is always more fun, the STAR Paragon Tandem features rigid inserts to create a traditional keel-shaped hull, a removable skeg for efficient tracking and a high-pressure drop-stitch floor insert gives the boat the rigidity of a hardshell kayak. Designed for two paddlers, it includes two high-back kayak seats and two sets of foot braces, which can all be adjusted to accommodate the paddlers’ needs. Also comes with carry bag, pump, one All-Water fin, and repair kit.

Boundary Boots | Purpose-built for mucky put-ins and soggy portages, the NRS Boundary Boots deliver knee-high waterproofness with a super grippy, rugged sole to handle the harsh terrain favored by adventure canoeists and anglers. Each shoe is factory tested to ensure waterproof performance.

Ninja PFD | Designed for athletic performance, the NRS Ninja PFD is the ultimate low-profile jacket for paddlers of all persuasions. We’ve concentrated all the flotation into a smaller surface area for an unbeatable range of motion, so the Ninja stays out of your way and off your mind. Features a redesigned front clamshell pocket with internal organization for essentials and the dual-entry zippers create a frosty-beverage-compatible pocket. Type III; Low-profile; 16.5 pounds of flotation.