RVing for the Competitive Lifestyle
How one freestyle kayaker combines WinnebagoLife with life on the water.
By: Abby Holcombe

Lot full of RVs with kayaks on ground

I’ve been eagerly sitting in the hot sun for the last five hours on the bank of the Ottawa River, surrounded by hundreds of other spectators – cheering and anxiously awaiting the results of the women’s final at the 2015 Freestyle Kayaking World Championships. 

The river is roaring, music is blasting out of the numerous speakers at a deafening volume, the announcer is building suspense as he calls out each trick, and the athletes are fighting for the gold. 

Crowd cheering on freestyle kayakers

After three intense rounds of competition, the winner is declared and the top three women hop out onto the bank dancing, jumping up and down, and celebrating their accomplishments. 

Two photos of Abby freestyle kayaking in 2015 World Championship

Left: Emily Jackson on her winning ride. Right: Sage Donnelly celebrating her win as the 2015 Junior Women’s Freestyle Kayak World Champion with friends Darby McAdams (2nd) and Sophie McPeak (3rd).

This was my first experience at a Freestyle Kayaking World Championships and this was when I decided that I also wanted to be a World Champion one day.

What is Freestyle Kayaking & Why Do I Love It?

When a whitewater kayaker surfs standing waves in a river and performs acrobatic tricks consisting of spins, cartwheels, flips, and many other technical and aerial maneuvers, they would be considered a freestyle kayaker. Freestyle kayaking is an unusually weird sport, but it is my passion and, frankly, my life. Not only do I spend every second possible in the river training for my next competition, but I also use that time as a mental reset.

Abby in kayak flipping upside down in air

Training at the Holme Pierrepont Park in Nottingham, England - which will be the site of the 2021 Freestyle Kayaking World Championships this summer.

There is this connection within me that relates so strongly to the water. My kayak gives me the time to reflect and recognize all the little bits of advice and growth that the water provides. The river also allows me to vividly see my weaknesses. Almost daily, I get the opportunity to push past these mental barriers that I would never know I had until I see them so obviously in the river. I love how every time I’m in the water, I learn a little something about myself and it always tends to flawlessly translate to whatever is going on in my life off the water.

How Our Winnebago Makes My Water-Focused Life Possible

Right now, I am 16 years old and I have lived full time in a Winnebago RV for seven years with my parents, our yellow lab Tucker, and too many kayaks to count … as to be expected. (Check out this fun recap video of our first three years). 

Abby and Kathy kayaking

Before we had our nomadic life of adventure and river chasing, I never had the opportunity to travel and participate in the entire freestyle kayaking competition circuit. But with the RV, all of that changed. We met other nomadic kayakers and families and the competition tour was always the highlight of my year. 

Winnebago View pulling trailer with kayaking gear

Kayakers are drawn to the RV lifestyle because of the ability to travel around the country (and world) comfortably! Traveling from river to river is hard, but when you travel with your house on wheels, you can still have the much-needed comforts and stability of a home - including a kitchen to maintain a normal diet. And, not to mention, the secure amplitude of gear storage!  

Winnebago Revel loaded with kayaking gear on top

My entire life has revolved around kayaks; from our travel plans to our community. And our Winnebago always gave me the opportunity to travel to the best seasonal kayak destinations where all the other top paddlers trained. With all of this amazing time training with the best of the best, I have achieved two national titles and am currently ranked 4th in the world for junior women (girls between 15-18 years old).

Abby with other kayakers standing at podium for 2018 freestyle kayaking

2018 Freestyle Kayaking Podium at the GoPro Mountain Games From right to left: Abby Holcombe (5th place), Sage Donnelly (2nd place), Emily Jackson (champion), Katie Fankhouser (3rd place), and Adriene Levknecht (4th place).

However, when the pandemic hit, everything changed! Instead of training for the upcoming competition season at the beginning of spring, I was hunkered down in Arkansas – far away from my normal community of nomadic paddlers, with very little access to the quality freestyle features I needed to continue training. Not only was I out of my boat for an unusually long amount of time, but I got to watch my entire competition season – including over two months traveling around Europe to compete in the World Cup series – cancel one by one. It was devastating, to say the least, but life moved on. 

From the beginning of the pandemic to now, I haven’t had nearly enough paddling to satisfy my heart or to progress as much as I’d hoped, but I’m back and ready to charge for whatever the 2021 competition season has to offer. 

Abby in kayak flipping in air for 2018 Live Lake Maria Freestyle Classic

Competing in the 2018 Live Like Maria Freestyle Classic hosted by the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina.

Paddling on in 2021

Right now, we are in our Winnebago Hike in a parking lot coined “The Wintering Grounds” in Columbus, GA, that is open for the nomadic kayakers to reside and train. Our neighbors include a Piggly Wiggly, Fried Catfish Restaurant, Dollar General, and more than five World Champion Kayakers with their RVs. 

Lot full of RVs in Georgia

Our backyard is the Chattahoochee River: a kayaker’s playground. Columbus has always been a part of our winter travel routine ever since our first year on the road in 2014. We have come back every year since for the warm water and surplus of world-class kayak features that come in anywhere from 8,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 50,000 cfs! 

The water levels of the Chattahoochee are so unpredictable, but in the best way imaginable. Almost every day there are new waves to train in that keep all the paddlers well rounded and ready for the diversity of features they will encounter throughout the Freestyle Kayak Competition Tour. 

Abby carrying kayak away from Winnebago HIKE

And just like the ever-changing water levels, I have no idea what the 2021 competition season will bring, but rather than getting caught up in the what-ifs, I grab my boat, and get in the river! There is so much uncertainty and my sights are still set on taking the gold and winning a World Championships, whether that is this year or in the years to come, and the only way to achieve that is to spend as much time in the river as possible.


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