Local kayak racer wins at national event
South Point resident Hollie Hall was watching her husband race last July at the Ohio State Canoe and Kayak Championships when she asked herself a simple question.
Why didn’t she bring a boat?
Hall, who regularly kayaks with her husband, George, is pretty glad she asked herself that question, and got off the shore and into the exhilarating wake-churning world of kayak racing.
Hall has, at the age of 34, found her sport.
Only in her first year of kayak racing, Hall has so far this season been in 16 races and won eight.
And while that sounds impressive, because it is, note that three of those races were at the USCA Canoe and Kayak National Championships (@cnynationals) held in Syracuse, New York. There, she took two silver medals, and brought home a gold medal and national title for winning the K1 women’s sea kayak division against the most elite paddlers in the United States.
“I was actually amazed,” Hall said of doing so well at the national championships. “You never know what you can do. It has really been crazy. Like at the nationals the people that I was out on the water with have been in the Olympics and they have paddled all over the world. It was pretty amazing to be out there with that caliber of athletes. I learned a year’s worth of training lessons in three days there.”
Like many area paddlers, Hall’s introduction to the sport came first through recreational paddling.
The mother of two boys, 16 year old Elijah, and 12 year old Nathan, said her entry into the paddling world began as a recreational kayaker back in 2011 when she met and then married fellow local adventurer George Hall.
Together they explored dozens of regional waterways such as the now almost-famous paddle destination Grayson Lake.
To help share the joy of their kayaking, the couple, who have been married seven years, started the Facebook group Tri-State Kayakers to promote paddling in flat water lakes, rivers, creeks and streams in southern Ohio, eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia. That group started out sponsoring weekly paddles among its members but now has grown to 3,766 members who go to the site to post about their trips, while also promoting kayaking in the region.
Hall said it has been incredible to see recreational paddling grow in the Tri-State as kayaks have become more affordable and as local and state groups have been more actively promoting the tourism impact and healthy lifestyle of exploring local waterways.
“It’s been exciting to see the growth in kayaking as it really gets families out together,” Hall said. “Parents and little children up to teenagers and beyond, it’s great families can get out and do things together. We have used our site as a way to help people get off the ground, and we used to do group paddles, and then it exploded after that. It’s nice to see that people utilize Tri-State Kayakers for safety tips and places to go to paddle. Then people can get on there and they don’t have to kayak solo they can meet up with someone, which makes it safer.”
With George starting to get into racing kayaks last year, Hollie said after that Ohio State race he went out and bought an Epic V-5, a 14-foot plastic racing boat, sort of like a sit-on-top kayak, and she hopped in her first race on Fontana Lake in Bryson City, North Carolina.
She won the recreation division.
“I hopped into a couple other races to see if I liked it. I decided I did and George went out and got us some better racing boats,” Hall said.
This year, she won her first race, the Powell River Run in Powell, Tennessee. She was the first woman across the finish line and the third person overall. She also won a race on the Grand River off of Lake Erie in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. That race made her the Ohio women’s state champion 2018.
This season, she and George (and a couple other local paddlers) have been competing in the newly formed EKI Kentucky Waterman Series. Founded in 2017, the series is the commonwealth’s first paddlesports racing league. The 2018 season features 11 paddlesports races events that take place from Kentucky’s Appalachian region, central Kentucky and western Kentucky.
“It is great exercise and that was another reason I transitioned from a Wilderness Systems Tsunami and followed George and got those introduction Surfskis for racing,” Hall said. “Where they are narrower you really work on stability and strength and you really realize total body engagement. It’s not just for racers but for people looking to expand their fitness in the paddling world, racing kind of takes it up a notch or two or three. I am sitting in my car with my racing boat heading to Beech Fork to paddle and train.”
A 2002 Chesapeake High School graduate who went on to graduate from St. Mary’s Nursing School and become an R.N., Hall said that her new foray into racing has helped kick-start the competitive spirit she had in school.
“I’ve always been competitive. I ran track in middle school and played basketball all through high school and was a cheerleader up through middle school,” Hall said. “In college I didn’t engage in sports, I just did school, so it is nice as an adult to get back into something that feeds that drive.”
Hall said the idea she could actually compete at nationals came from a friend and fellow racer Fred Tuttle, who felt like she was ready.
“After all of these races, Fred, who we had become friends, asked George if he was going to take me to nationals. I was hesitant at first and then thought I may as well go and try it and went up there and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had athletically.”
The race each day was a 13-mile course consisting of two 6.5-mile laps with three buoy turns on the Seneca River off Onondaga Lake in Syracuse.
When she began marathon day one, she raced in the women’s K1 Unlimited Open in her Epic V10L Ultra and placed second to Savanna Herbert, whose father, Mike, is a three-time Olympic canoe racer.
On marathon day two she was invited by Hansel Lucas to race with his wife, Kim Lucas, in the women’s K2 unlimited race in a Stellar S2EL, where they took second place to Eileen Visser and Mary Kelly.
On marathon day three, she raced George’s Stellar S18S in the K1 women’s sea kayak division, earning her first ever national title and beating the three-time reigning champion.
Hall, whose church, First Baptist Church of Chesapeake, put up a banner welcoming her home, posted recently about how that competition made her think about facing her fears - of new water, of racing, of fierce competition, of believing in herself, of leaving her comfort zone and the fear of pain, breathlessness and the unknown.
“This would be marathon race No. 3 for me, making it day three of racing 13 miles in a row. I was prepared to take action anyway with God’s Word hidden in my heart Psalm 27:1 ‘The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’” Hall wrote as her inspiration.
With her faith beaming and newfound success, Hall, who is part of Team Paddlesports, is cross-training for her next big challenge. Set for Sept. 15, the 2018 Great Ohio River Odyssey has a 22-mile race from The Westport to downtown Louisville. It will be the second longest paddle race she has donem next to the 30-mile race on the Kentucky River through the Palisades.
To train, Hall has been clocking some miles on the Ohio River, and just turned in a 20-mile training paddle down to Greenup, Kentucky.
“Training varies during this summer. It has been hard with all of the thunderstorms but I try to get out three times a week, if I get out more than that, it’s a blessing,” Hall said. “I have two boys who are active in sports and marching band. I help take care of my mother-in-law, so on days I can’t get outside I have a trainer at home I can paddle on. I’m essentially training most days.”
Hall, who has been a yoga teacher at Ashland’s Eternal Yoga and Pilates for the past 3 1/2 years, also utilizes her yoga training, and practice to give her an edge on the water. Hall teaches yoga hip classes as well as Body Blast, where she mixes yoga and some high-intensity interval training.
“I do believe that yoga has definitely influenced my ability to paddle the surfski,” Hall said. “I was speaking with Chris Hipgrave, a former Olympian and he said that a lot of elite paddlers do practice yoga. It helps with your stability and your breathing out on the water while you are racing, and it conditions the whole body.”