Fun Things To DoTravel

Photos Of Freestyle Kayaking, Playboating, And Whitewater Rafting At Hell’s Hole On The Ocoee River

A kayak parked in a No Parking zone. One of the “off-the-beaten-path” roads that we took through East Tennessee last weekend was Highway 64. The road runs parallel to the Ocoee River, and when we noticed how close we were to this whitewater playground, we set out to find a spot to watch some of the whitewater rafters (in huge 8-person rubber rafts) and boaters (in individual plastic kayaks) maneuver the rapids.

The Ocoee River is known as “the birthplace of freestyle kayaking”, and from what we witnessed on this day, I can see why!

Jim and I have both been whitewater rafting before (he more than I). The rivers we’ve experienced firsthand are: the Nantahala (North Carolina), the Youghiogheny (Pennsylvania), and the Gauley (West Virginia).

Lynnette and Jim on the Nantahala River near Bryson City, NC.


Hell’s Hole On The Lower Ocoee

The following photos were all taken at the second-to-last rapid on the Lower Ocoee called Hell’s Hole. It’s a surfing wave with a 9- to 11-foot hole immediately behind it.

Here’s a great video that will give you an idea of what we witnessed at Hell’s Hole.

Now, here are more photos from Hell’s Hole and some fun facts about the Ocoee River…

A freestyle whitewater kayaker at Hell Hole on the Ocoee River. Spots like this are referred to as “play holes” by skilled freestyle kayakers, who themselves are often referred to as “play boaters”.

They continuously dive into the undertow of the whitewater while simultaneously performing freestyle stunts, tricks and flips. (Those who spend most of their time maneuvering in rougher waters are called “whitewater boaters”.)

As you can tell from the photos, in addition to the steady stream of whitewater rafters passing through this particular spot, there are also dozens of kayakers waiting to get their turn at Hell’s Hole.

A whitewater kayaker using hand paddles at Hell's Hole on the Lower Ocoee. A whitewater freestyle kayaker using his hands as paddles at Hell's Hole on the lower Ocoee River.


About Freestyle Kayaking/Playboating

Playboaters resting on the rocks at Hell's Hole. A few of the things I learned from one of the kayakers (who’s been freestyling since he was 8 on the Ocoee) and from some research on the ‘Net:

The water is about 6 feet deep here at Hell’s Hole, but you don’t even come close to scraping rocks or touching anything underwater while performing these moves.

Playboaters waiting for their turn at Hell Hole on the Lower Ocoee. Your “turn” consists of anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes where you “do your thing” before you paddle out and another freestyler paddles into the play hole to show their stuff.

Those who don’t play nicely (or share the water, giving equal time to all rafters & kayakers) are considered “hole hogs”, and there is some river etiquette that comes into play.

Here's a boatload of whitewater rafters plowing toward a freestyle kayaker who has scooted out of the way at the last minute. The rule of thumb is: The downriver playboater must ALWAYS give way to the person upstream, because the person paddling downstream may not have the ability to maneuver their boat out of the way, while the downstream playboater always does.


Some Of The Freestyle Moves We Saw Performed At Hell’s Hole:

  • blunt
  • ender
  • cartwheeling
  • airflip
  • throwing ends
  • air loop
  • surfing

Freestyle kayaker at Hell's Hole on the Lower Ocoee River Freestyle kayaker at Hell's Hole on the Lower Ocoee River Freestyle kayaker at Hell's Hole on the Lower Ocoee River.


More About The Ocoee River

The Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympics whitewater events. The Ocoee is a fast-moving, challenging river that requires a good deal of technical maneuvering while yielding a lot of whitewater thrills. It is a river that demands great respect from the whitewater rafter, kayaker, or playboater in general.

The Upper Ocoee hosted the canoe, kayak and slalom events during the 1996 Olympics.

The Lower Ocoee has hosted a number of freestyle championships.A boatload of whitewater rafters at Hell's Hole rapid on the lower Ocoee River. Each year, more than 300,000 paddlers make their way to the Ocoee River between March and October to try their hand at one of the most challenging whitewater rivers in the country. Despite the fact that it’s one of the most challenging whitewater rivers in America, the Ocoee River attracts beginner and experienced rafters alike. According to Paddler Magazine, local outfitters and American Whitewater successfully resolved a 7-year effort to secure 54 releases each year on the Upper Ocoee in 2003 which will last for at least the next 15 years.


Other Rapids On The Ocoee

  • Names of the Ocoee River rapids.Hell’s Hole is just one small part of the Ocoee.
  • Altogether, there are more than 20 Class III and IV rapids on the Ocoee River!
  • The Upper Ocoee consists of 5 miles of man-made Class IV and V rapids that were engineered to defy those who dared to compete in the 1996 Summer Olympic Whitewater Competition.
  • The Lower Ocoee is made up of 5 miles of Class III and IV whitewater rapids.
  • The final rapid on the Lower Ocoee past Hell’s Hole is the Powerhouse rapid. It’s a deep hole between 2 huge waves on the right side of the river, and it loves to swallow boats for breakfast. Perhaps we’ll check out that one next!

A playboater at Hell's Hole on the lower Ocoee River. A playboater at Hell's Hole on the lower Ocoee River.