Those are the words visitors to the U.S. National Whitewater Center hear staff say just before they begin a graceful but quick descent on Mega Zip, a 1,123-foot zip line that provides panoramic views of the world's largest, man-made whitewater river.
Built in 2006 as a nonprofit facility nestled among more than 400 acres of woodlands, the USNWC offers guests of all experience levels opportunities to raft, kayak, mountain bike, rock climb and fly across multiple zip lines, all this along the banks of the Catawba River just south of Mountain Island Lake and minutes away from the Lake Norman area.
According to USNWC spokesperson Stephen Youngblade, founder Jeff Wise envisioned a place where people could come and enjoy nature, be active and stay healthy. Many have been attracted to this concept if the 540,000 visitors who passed through the center's gates last year serve as any indication.
Two of USNWC's most popular activities, whitewater rafting and kayaking, attract amateurs and experts daily to accept the challenge of the more than 13 million gallons of water channeled through seven large pumps. To limit the risk of injury, the man-made river's water is waist deep, and the rapids range from grades two to four. Before anyone sets out for a waterlogged adrenaline rush, though, they must first attend "Trip Talk," a safety lesson given by a professional guide in a cool, cave-like alcove.
The USNWC takes its teaching seriously, offering multiple courses including kayak instruction, wilderness exploration and survival, first aid, CPR and AED courses to anyone interested. And these aren't ordinary amusement park employees providing the instruction. Kayak instructor Casey Eichfeld, for example, recently qualified for the Summer Olympic Games in London.
Eichfeld, a 23 year-old native of Drums, Pa., has worked and trained at the USNWC since 2008. And Davidson College student Caroline Queen, who has spent many hours this spring in the rapids of USNWC, will be Team USA's sole female kayaker in this summer's Olympics.
To enjoy a day at the center, though, one need not be an elite athlete. "What I like most about the center is the juxtaposition of small kids, moms and outdoor enthusiasts you see all enjoying the atmosphere together," says Youngblade.
Business groups and other organizations seeking to build camaraderie and trust can benefit from an afternoon spent up in the trees of the Team Development Center ropes course. There, they will hear bird calls and group encouragement as they journey from one wooden plank to the next across a rope bridge high above the earthen floor.