Forget what you heard about the movie. It was a book that launched Payson Kennedy’s whitewater paddling trajectory.
Islandia laid out a vision of a backwoods Utopia, and helped inspire Payson and his wife Aurelia to create a paddling paradise of their own. In 1972, the Kennedys sold their house, cashed out their retirement and moved with four kids to the banks of the Nantahala River, in Western North Carolina.
Through hard work and perseverance and luck, they turned the old Tote-and-Tarry Motel into the nation’s biggest outdoor recreation company. The Nantahala Outdoor Center was more than that though. It became a place where everyone—river-rats and Olympians, bus-drivers and expedition paddlers—shared a piece of the company and its guiding vision: the idea that work and play don’t have to be two different things.
And yes, he was in the movie too, running big drops in aluminum camp canoes just as he’d done for years. This time, though, the cameras were rolling. Deliverance was nominated for three academy awards and sent hordes of thrill-seeking tourists to the rivers of southern Appalachia.
The people never stopped coming, and Payson never stopped guiding. Now 83, he still pushes rubber about once a week, and still races from time-to-time.
His legacy shows no sign of slowing down either. The people he trained at NOC are prominent in every realm of paddling, from outfitting and manufacturing to cutting-edge expeditions and the Olympic Games.
For his enduring contributions to the sport of paddling, we present the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award to Payson Kennedy.
— Read more about Payson Kennedy in his C&K Unfiltered profile.