In 1969 John and Beverly Hiscox founded the Chota Canoe Club was as a whitewater club in Knoxville, Tennessee. The couple would crank out a monthly newsletter in their home on a mimeograph machine and often fed their fellow members breakfast before setting out on paddling journeys.
Despite the name, there are many whitewater decked, and touring kayak boaters in the Chota club. While the city of Knoxville is located in the relatively flat Tennessee Valley, it’s surrounded by plenty of whitewater rivers and lakes. Even the Ocoee River, site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater slalom, is less than 2 hours’ drive from Knoxville. With the Smokey Mountains to the East and South and the Cumberland Plateau to the North and West, there is a a tremendous variety of whitewater and flatwater, along with touring paddlesport activities.
John is now affectionately called Johnny Canoeseed, as he has also founded clubs in Jackson, Tennessee and Macon, Georgia. There may have only been about 12 charter members, but club membership has risen steadily over the years and we are now more than 240 paddlers strong!
The club name, Chota, comes from the ceremonial capital of the Cherokee nation along the banks of the Little Tennessee River, just downstream of the Citico Creek confluence. We chose the name in support of efforts to prevent flooding of the site by the proposed construction of the Tellico Dam downstream. Unfortunately the controversial dam was completed in 1979 and the site now lies under Tellico Lake. Chota was also the Cherokee word for “peace”.
In the beginning, people paddled whitewater in aluminum canoes, then fiberglass became popular since it slid over rocks more easily and could be patched at home. The first ABS canoe was introduced to the club in 1973, a Blue Hole OCA, #13.
Whitewater canoeing education was a learn-as-you-go process for several years. Our annual Chota Canoe School weekend began in the mid-1970’s, when we also had decked boat rolling sessions in the Westside Y pool. Finding good river segments within day trip distance of Knoxville was also learn-as-you-go, as was finding feasible routes through those rivers, and we were all beginners.
Results were not surprising: lots of cold swims. People survived wearing only wool clothing and ponchos or K-Mart style rain suits for one or several seasons before crashing through and purchasing a diver’s wetsuit, which they then sometimes altered to create more room for shoulder movement and circulation behind the knees. Drysuits and fleece are very recent improvements.
Past Club Presidents
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