Gretchen Roufs' portraitSteven Hughes, a senior territory manager for STOKO Skin Care, Greensboro, N.C., doesn’t have to travel far to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes: kayaking. He lives only 20 minutes away from his favorite place to kayak, the Green River, a notable location in North Carolina for “extreme kayakers.”

Steven is an extreme kayaker, noting that he kayaks once or twice a week on a year round-basis.

“I’ve been in paddle sports for the majority of my life,” Steven explained. “My father got me started in a whitewater canoe, and that evolved into a kayak.”

In a kayak — opposed to a raft or canoe — the rider is enclosed. The watercraft — which is between six and eight-and-a-half feet long — includes a spray skirt that kayakers use to cover the cockpit of the boat so they don’t take on water.

Steven wears the appropriate gear year-round: a life jacket and a helmet, and — in steep creeks — he wears elbow pads. During the winter, he also equips himself with gear that allows him to paddle safely.

“In the past, people used to wear wool sweaters and neoprene,” Steven said. “These days, we wear Gore-Tex®, which is the same kind of gear that people used to wear to fish in the Bering Strait.”

Before these materials were made available to kayakers, Steven said if someone capsized their watercraft, the other kayakers in the group would have to pull up to shore and build a fire to warm up the chilled person.

Steven owns seven kayaks, including three designed for use in steep creeks. “Most of the boating I do now is creek boating — usually steep creeks that are typically not navigable by any other boat except an encapsulated kayak.”

Steven says he’s been fortunate to have paddled his way through some “first ascent” experiences in North Carolina. Making a “first ascent” in kayaking is comparable to a mountain climber summiting a mountain that hasn’t been climbed before.

His love of kayaking has manifested itself in the form of the written word. Two years ago he worked with a friend and his father to update a book on kayaking.

“I added 20 new runs to the book that hadn’t been included or paddled before,” said Steven.

Kayaking, for Steven, is more than navigating down a challenging river.

“I used to just be into kayaking, but now I’m more into preserving and restoring rivers,” he said. “I’ve had wonderful mentors in the sport, so the least I can do is help write the books, work on river access, pick up trash, and raise money.”

Steven used to teach kayaking classes. Now, he lobbies for river access because access to some rivers is in jeopardy. “Fifty to 60 percent of the rivers we paddle is either on private land or power company land, and you have to tread lightly and respect the land,” he said.

Steven warned that it’s not a sport that you can teach yourself without getting hurt. The first thing you learn to do is a “wet exit,” that is, getting out of the boat when it flips over, and then you progress to something called an “Eskimo Roll” in which you upright yourself when you’ve flipped over.

Steven said novices should begin learning in a safe, comfortable environment, like a swimming pool or a lake. He also suggested that beginners find themselves an experienced mentor to help them through the initial learning stages.

Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at