Welcome to Hendersonville; the City by the Lake. This flourishing community is located on the southern tip of Sumner County just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Here, the rolling green landscape and densely wooded forests that adorn the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake create some of the most prestigious real estate in the United States. Hendersonville has not only become a great place to live and do business but is also attracting an increasing number of fun-seeking vacationers.

Created in the mid-1950’s by damming the Cumberland River, Old Hickory Lake has long been a favorite for house boaters, luxury cruisers and prize-winning fishermen. With its hotels, restaurants and public recreation areas, Hendersonville offers it all including, according to the Best Places climate table, great weather with an above average rating for sunny days.

Renowned for its national fishing tournaments and organized motorsport activities, the lake has an abundance of wildlife, both above and beneath the surface. Carefully managed shorelines and seasonal hunting protect and preserve its diversity. From the Rockland Recreation Area adjacent to the dam to historic Castalian Springs, there are more than forty miles of shoreline to explore in Sumner County with fabulous campgrounds, several boat ramps, and cookout or picnic pavilions.

In more recent years, the lake has earned a new accolade as a utopian destination for paddlers. Kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddle boards and even the trendsetting Hammocraft are often found swanning around at a leisurely pace amid the tranquility of the lake.

Just after dawn when the orange and blue glow of sunrise backlights the distant horizon, the black glassy lake flickers with the light of a brand new day as the chattering and chirrups of early birds ruffle the tree-lined shore.

You climb into a kayak loaded up with home comforts like the ones you would stow in a backpack. You buckle up your life vest and fasten down your spray skirt as a cool summer breeze dusts your cheeks: inhaling the scents of the fresh water lake relaxes and soothes to the core.

Suddenly, everyday trivia and perpetual “to-do lists” are far, far away…not even in the back of your mind. All you have to do is push off from the shore and paddle your way into a dream. A gentle wave streams out from the bow as the kayak glides over the surface, and with every stroke of the paddle, the glistening freshwater flies off the blades in an arc of silvery droplets.

Sitting low on the water, kayaking promotes a unique perspective that is often overlooked when traveling at speed across the surface. And while Skidoos and powerboats are enormously fun, quiet water paddling the inlets and coves connects you to nature in a way that nothing else can.

Blue herons and snowy white egrets fish in the shallows as cormorants dive for their prey. Ospreys and hawks soar majestically above as they hunt from their lofty nests atop the maple and poplar trees. A family of raccoons, a dozing beaver, snapping turtles and snakes, all of these creatures can be observed as you stealthily pass by their habitats.

You may wonder how anything this good could ever be safe enough to enjoy. For example, what if you were capsized? And how do you avoid getting run over by one of those sleek and luxurious cruisers? These are all valid questions because a day on the lake is meant to be fun, relaxing and life enhancing. Well, rest assured, me hearties! Paddling a kayak is safe and it has never been easier for you to learn how to keep it that way!

But first, let’s talk about gear. The rush of attraction to the sport of kayaking has triggered a call to action. Major department stores such as Wal-Mart, Academy Sports and Dick’s Sporting Goods offer boats in a range of vibrant colors at a price to match any budget. There are stand-ups, sit-ins, sit-ons with pedals and some with electric motors.

The friendly staff at Hook1 Outfitters, on Sander’s Ferry Road just south of Gallatin Pike, is eager to help you get started so I paid them a visit. As an avid kayaker who loves to accessorize, the Hook1 store delighted me. The spacious, hard-wooded showroom floor seemed more like Aladdin’s Cave. Kayaks, paddles and trendy attire are stacked neatly from floor to ceiling with quality brand names like Wilderness, Yeti, NRS, Heybo, Bending Branches, and Go Pro. They even offer boat rentals. And since choosing the right kayak is crucially important, Hook1 Outfitters will offer advice and allow you to go for a trial run.

The sport of kayaking takes many forms such as challenging whitewater, touring and fishing for championship bass. The kayak’s design is engineered to suit the intended activity and to perform well in its environment. Of course, there are YouTube videos that hilariously demonstrate the possible consequence of buying a boat on a whim, or without some expert advice. In short, if you want to hit the rapids at Bledsoe Creek the next time the water is up, you don’t need a pedalo bass boat.

Another great way to find the right kayak and equipment for your adventure is to meet with a qualified kayaking instructor. Some will offer an informative presentation as an important part of their class with no other strings attached. In the long run, an expert’s advice can save you money and multiple trips to the store.

In fact, once armed with this expert knowledge, a suitable boat in excellent condition can often be found for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Most importantly, a certified instructor can teach you how to stay safe or perhaps even to save a life.

Here in Sumner County, we are fortunate to have some of the best instructors in America. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Leslie Dunn who is certified to teach by the American Canoe Association (A.C.A.). Leslie is also an author. In her book, “Quiet Water Kayaking,” she sets out in plain English many of the aspects of paddling by sharing her many years of experience. Not only is the book a compelling read for the enthusiastic novice, but it also compliments and sharpens the skills of an old hand like myself who has enjoyed kayaking Old Hickory Lake for several happy years.

Leslie has helped more than one thousand people of varying age and ability. Her website “Nashville Kayak Lessons” on Meetup has more than twenty-seven hundred members and a long list of testimonials. Teaching one-on-one lessons or to smaller groups of no more than five that can be comprised of beginners and experienced paddlers, her three-hour class includes good advice on transportation, equipment, paddling techniques along with a supervised capsize experience. She also encourages camaraderie among the participants; a trait she believes should be practiced when paddling out in a group. In some way, she suggested, the fellowship extends beyond class and out into the students’ communities – a quality many would like to see more of.

During our meeting, I shared a brief story about my last adventure, a twenty mile solo up the river. While Leslie acknowledged my epic achievement, she quickly informed that it was never a good idea to go paddling alone.

“You should always at least have a partner,” she said. Somehow, I felt reprimanded.

Leslie’s promise to her kayaking students could not be more up-front and personal as she states, “By the end of the lesson, you will navigate a kayak like you’ve been doing it for years.” And now, having met her in person, I know that she means every word of it.

So what about much-needed exercise? Does paddling the serenity of Old Hickory Lake count towards calories burned? Well, you can bet your life on it. According to Livestrong.com, a man of my stature, about 190 pounds, burns more than four hundred calories per hour. In fact, the heavier the paddler, the greater the number of calories burned while paddling. Having said that, consider your current level of cardiovascular fitness. If necessary, chat with a healthcare professional as you would before any exercise program. If you already workout at your local gym then talk to your personal trainer. They’ll help you to modify your current regime to get you prepared for paddling.

Finally, the benefits of kayaking Old Hickory Lake go beyond one’s personal fitness. Finding new ways to get outdoors breaks up a monotonous routine and enriches family relationships. Kids will discover that paddling the lake is not only exciting but adventurous and full of natural wonder. Summer camps like “Gym and Swim” at Hendersonville’s Sea Star Swim School create lifelong happy memories that encourage the young to become natural custodians of the future.

The lakeshore of the Hendersonville community also connects several public access areas such as Sander’s Ferry Park. This venue totes picnic and cookout pavilions, a play-park, a model plane airfield, and even an eighteen-hole Frisbee golf course. From there you could paddle historic Drake’s Creek all the way through downtown Hendersonville, stopping for lunch at one of the waterside sports bars or quaint little bistro gardens like Moby Dicky’s or The Cove. You could even plan a boat-lovers wedding at the Lighthouse Wedding and Event Centre, pushing off from the shore in a pea green boat to join your honeymoon cruiser.

The city by the lake is booming. And what better way could newcomers meet new friends or long-established residents than by learning to kayak Old Hickory Lake or if you prefer, bait up a hook, cast out a line and then reel in a banquet of catfish? Connect with the popular online group, “Paddling Adventures Unlimited,” also on Meetup. There are more than five thousand members, or paddlers, to date who are eager to meet up with you!

So, whether you are out on a photo-shoot, capturing images of wildlife to flesh out your weekly blog, or like me, just playing a mad game of Battleship where you pound your opponent and their vessel of choice with water-logged, mini sponge footballs, Old Hickory Lake is perfect for every adventurer.

So, there it is folks. Hendersonville, Tennessee: a growing metropolis with a world of outstanding beauty. And remember, whenever you do go-a-paddling; make it fun, make it safe, and make it home.

Visit the Paddleville TN picture gallery here.

Martin J. Laight