Bob Brueckner: The Importance of Community and Giving Back

Bob Brueckner is the best definition of unassuming: no flashy gear, no boasting.

If you met him, you’d probably not guess he’s a sought-after kayak and canoe instructor. Well, unless you see him near Saxapahaw Lake, in which case he would be the guy in a dripping spray skirt, patiently explaining kayaking strokes to a beginner.

Like many paddlers, Bob tried canoeing in Boy Scouts. These were the days when paddling gear meant blue jeans and plaid shirts. To earn his merit badge, he had to jump out of the canoe and swim to shore…wearing tennis shoes!

That experience marked him.

In Search of Paddling Community

In 1983, he bought a Perception Mirage kayak and took a one-day kayak course. He could control the boat, but since he lacked a roll, he found it difficult to break into paddling groups.

Boating alone is not only dangerous, but dull. Luckily, Bob never gave up. After he took a course at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, he joined the Carolina Canoe Club (CCC) in 1987, and from there, his paddling life bloomed.

Bob first attended the CCCs Week of Rivers, a program in which participants paddle a different river each day. While he loved the paddling, it’s the idea of community that he returns to in conversation. Paddling’s unseen magic is friendship. Friends make even embarrassing experiences fun, like the time Bob swam five times on the Nantahala, and the President of the CCC suggested he try the Tuckaseegee because the water is warmer.

A far more welcoming response than refusing someone’s company because they’ve yet to learn to roll.

Commitment to Conservation

The CCC offers community to a diverse group of paddlers, and they have an active Facebook group for those seeking like-minds. They also organize instructional workshops and are involved in conservation efforts, donating mainly to river groups (like the Haw River Assembly).

For Bob, what started in 1987 continues to this day. Still a member of the CCC, Bob has been both President and Conservation Chairman, and he continues to work on conservation issues through the group. Locally, he worked with the HRA Riverkeeper, Emily Sutton, to find a good location for their trash trout (See image below).

Currently, Bob has been helping with a project involving the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee, NC. While the project was the result of a sediment spill (thankfully cleaned up now), Bob hopes the CCC’s involvement can help open up a new section of river for paddlers.

A Teacher Through and Through

After being laid off from the Raleigh’s The News & Observer, Bob started guiding and teaching for The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. His favorite moments are the small marks of progress and the way a surprised enthusiasm can light up a student. Bob finds it “rewarding when you can see someone who finally figures out how to do a forward stroke.” Such a simple thing to an experienced paddler can delight beginners; it’s a first taste of confidence that hints at later gains.

Bob recalls helping a quiet, unsmiling guest surf a little rapid on the Neuse River and how a “grin started creeping across his face.” This example is indicative of the value Bob finds in teaching: seeing people reach goals that previously seemed unattainable.

What to some is just surfing, to others is a hint at a new lifestyle.

You may think you can’t do it, but a good teacher—and Bob is, if anything, that—helps you realize you can.

A Lover of Rivers

For his own adventures, Bob prefers smaller rivers like the Tellico and the Little River in the Smokies. He may be ever-modest, but if you press him, he’ll admit he’s done a week-long trip on the St. Paul in Canada, various rivers in Quebec, the Grand Canyon, and the North Fork of the Flathead River in Montana.

He’s no river-snob though. Bob is appreciative of local paddling spots as well. At the right water levels, he recommends the North Carolina Piedmont’s Rocky River, the Eno River, and the lower Haw River (from US 64 down to Jordan Lake).

For a guy who considers himself “a paddler, not a real athlete,” Bob has seen a lot of action on the river, and from the way he talks, expect him to see a lot more.

Paddle with Bob

If you’d like to learn from Bob, book an instructional clinic with The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. He teaches both kayak and canoe classes and welcomes those new to the sport.