Staff Spotlight: Ben Clarke

Meet our new Bynum Outpost Coordinator!

Ben Clarke is one of the few kayakers who will admit to being “totally unabashed” about tubing.

You read that right: tubing.

Most kayakers would look down on trading their plastic boat for a tube, but not Ben, who tubes not only the Haw River but has braved Class III Nantahala Falls with a 50% success rate.

Kayak, tube, canoe. If it gets him on the water, then he’s a fan, which should tell you a lot about his enthusiasm. Combine that love of paddling with a life spent on the Haw River and you have a pretty good idea of what Ben brings to any river trip.

Since spring of 2022, Ben has shared his characteristic enthusiasm with us at The Haw River Canoe and Kayak Co., where he will serve this year as the new Bynum Outpost Coordinator.

Like many paddlers, Ben was introduced to river sports by his father, a surfer who transitioned to whitewater paddling once he moved to inland North Carolina. Since their family owned a house near the Haw River, Ben grew up swimming and tubing as well as canoe-camping with his dad.

No surprise that he became a kayaker in college.

Appreciating All Types of Recreation

In the world of outdoor recreation, trip leaders often discuss how our guests are changed by interaction with nature. Yet we rarely ask how working in this industry changes our staff.

Frequently, whitewater enthusiasts gravitate towards rivers with rapids, and many avoid flatwater paddling. Ben readily acknowledges that he held a similar bias and that he “used to think of flatwater as that horrible thing you had to get through to get to your rapids.” Exercise, as he put it.

But as he began to lead HRCK trips at Saxapahaw Lake, Ben learned to appreciate the beauty, the peace and meditative nature of flatwater paddling. He’s seen how guests react to a relaxing day on the water and has realized that adrenaline rushes are not the only reason to paddle.

Working in the outdoors industry has had other unforeseen benefits. Ben’s early paddling life either revolved around paddling with his dad (with whom he still paddles) or paddling alone, but working for HRCK has “pulled [him] into the paddling community.” He has met new people and seen the breadth of the local community, which has helped him expand his own network and realize how far paddle sports can reach.

A Vision for the Haw River

Ben’s history of growing up along the Haw River gives him a nuanced perspective on the possibilities for local river recreation. When asked how he envisions future paddling opportunities on the Haw, he grows especially animated: “It’s crazy that it’s not already bigger than it is!”

Ben notes the location of the Haw, its locality to both the NC Triad and Triangle, and describes it as an incredible river in the middle of the Piedmont. Whitewater enthusiasts gravitate towards western North Carolina, which has developed a paddling culture around its rivers and natural resources, but they typically overlook Central NC as a paddling destination, even though the Haw is near the population center of the state.

Now that Pittsboro is growing so quickly, Ben sees there “being a big future for paddlesports on the [Haw] river,” and he hopes to play a role in that growth as he develops trips for our new Bynum Outpost.

Still Loving the Water

After he graduated from UNC where he majored in Political Science and Economics, Ben moved back to live near the Haw, where he can walk from his house to put in on the river—kayak or tube, whichever he feels like carrying that day.

Whatever craft he is paddling, Ben is always on the lookout for new ways to experience the river. If you are on a trip with him, you’re sure to feel that enthusiasm.