Until that moment there had always been a vital piece of my life missing, but years of searching still left a cavernous hole in my existence for something I just couldn’t put my finger on.  So that day, when I was sucked out of the raft and plunged into the icy cold spin cycle of the ledge hole on the first rapid of the Lower New River, the electrifying jolt of fear and exhilaration activated a dormant part of me, filling the void that had left me longing until that point.  As I was being rolled like a tumbleweed in the rapid, unable to decipher up from down and beginning to feel desperate for a breath of air, I felt like I was going to die- but, I’d NEVER been more alive.  At that moment my unquenchable passion for adventure was unleashed and I embarked on an endless quest for action sports in the outdoors.

The story of NRG began while I was in college, coinciding with a somewhat turbulent break up a with a boyfriend at the time, a fraternity boy I’d dated for a couple of years who unfortunately turned into a stalker of sorts after I broke up with him.  Stressed out and needing a change of pace, I was introduced to a group of people from the infamous Kent State Kayak Club by my new friend from work, Dawn. There were weekly Thursday night meet ups at the university natatorium for kayak roll sessions, and even though I had no idea what a ‘roll’ was or why you would want to perform one on purpose, I still went every week and learned how to paddle and roll a kayak in a pool. Confusing as the idea of whitewater and kayaking all was, I found this group of people intriguing and fun and I loved hanging out with them. Instantly I felt at home with these guys, like they were my long lost family. From their endless shenanigans, wild and untamed nature, to their unique and intense passion for life, I found myself attracted to it all. Complete opposites of my sorority sisters at college, I felt like I could finally be myself and let loose. I felt like I belonged here and it wasn’t long before I embarked on one of the first of many weekend whitewater trips.

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Spring had arrived and our group made the five hour pilgrimage from Kent, Ohio, to the New River Gorge, West Virginia, a couple of months before the annual summer rafting season kicked off. Once we got to the river and put the raft in the water, everyone was bundled up in drysuits and neoprene while I was handed nothing but a pair of board shorts and a smelly capilene shirt for my insulating layers as there was nothing else available for me to wear.  I had no idea what I was doing, what to expect or how to paddle. In addition, nobody had given me the memo that the plan was to flip the raft at every rapid on the Lower New River.  This was not a commercial raft trip, instead a posse of rowdy kayakers out for some high jinks.  Despite the fact that it was early spring and quite cold, one of my friends thought it would be hilarious to push my uninsulated body into the river at the put-in, so I was already thoroughly soaked and freezing before even getting into the raft.  Without any briefing or instruction except overhearing someone mumble “hold onto your paddle”, we jumped into the boat. As soon I sat down I looked across and saw the look of fear on my friend Dawn’s face, she knew what we were in for. The Lower New at a higher level meant the rapids were faster moving, bigger and the environment was potentially more dangerous than lower summertime flows.

The day consisted of paddling the raft into the biggest holes on the river, generally sideways so that the raft would stop, surf and hopefully flip against the violent hydraulic.  If there was a sketchy line down a rapid, we were paddling it.  If there was a spot where we could get a severe beat down, the raft was pointed in that direction at full speed. Basically, there was complete disregard for the first timer on board and as you can imagine it was not a typical experience for a rookie rafter.  I felt confident that these guys had plenty of skill and experience, but they also liked to test the limits.  At the end of the trip after literally being thrown into the world of whitewater my senses were short circuiting.  I was hypothermic and terrified, but the feeling that consumed me most was that of complete and unadulterated STOKE!  The moment I was immersed into the flow of the raging river I had discovered the missing piece of my life.  After that day I would never be the same person.  Newly entrenched in the outdoor lifestyle, I took every single chance I could to visit the New River Gorge.  Whether I was jumping into a raft, climbing, mountain biking, going for a hike or camping out under the stars.  At 22 years of age I was finally ‘home’ at last.

“As far as I’m concerned there is only one church for me and I consider myself a devout and faithful disciple of nature.”

It was only a matter of time before I packed up and found a way to make the pilgrimage out west to Colorado where I dedicated my life to outdoor pursuits in Steamboat Springs, CO.  I jumped into every sport I possibly could; snowboarding, kayaking, hiking, wake boarding, climbing – you name it, I did it. Eventually I moved on to Tahoe, Hawaii, Oregon and have explored as much of the world as possible in pursuit of my zealous devotion for the outdoors and to try and experience new things. As far as I’m concerned there is only one church for me and I consider myself a devout and faithful disciple of nature. When I’m completely in what is called the ‘Satori’ moment, the moment when I’m completely focused while either dropping into a wave or running a rapid, there is not a problem in the world that can touch me. Now, over 20 years later after traveling the world exploring and challenging myself in endless outdoor adventures, I found myself back in NRG a couple of weeks ago on a drive from Ohio to Florida.

“The New River Gorge is part of my core, the irony being that my initials are also NRG and the name of my brand.”

Being back where it all started in Fayetteville, WV, I realized I had been absent since the late 90s. As all the memories started flooding my mind, I remembered how indebted I am to my best friend of 20+ years, Dawn, and to my Kent State kayak club friends who introduced me to the outdoors and probably never knew that they changed my life that day. I wouldn’t be where I was today without them.  The New River Gorge is part of my core, the irony being that my initials are also NRG and the name of my brand. I became ‘NRG’ in NRG!  Thanks to all my friends who helped guide my way, you saved me and I dedicate this to the late Dave Knox, one of our most loyal and hilarious kayak club friends that died too soon and we all miss him dearly.  If you’re interested in checking out the New River Gorge yourself, maybe during the annual SUP races at Gauley Fest each September, check out: Adventures in the Gorge

This one’s for you, Dave!

-Love, Nikki  #theNRGlife

Below: Dawn and I then (1996) and now (2015)

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Below: What we probably looked like my first time on the river

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