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Omaha Magazine

Sorority Row: Eppley Shores Kayak Chics Boat the Canals of Carter Lake

Apr 29, 2021 03:42PM ● By Jenna Gabrial Gallagher
overhead of 27 kayaks on dark lake

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

It all began as an “If you row it, they will come,” type of venture.

“I bought a kayak, and needed someone to kayak with,” recalled Jackie Wahl of the thriving Carter Lake kayaking club she launched with neighbor, Joni Piper, and another friend a few years ago. “The three of us started going out on the canals, and people would watch us from their back porches and want to join.”

“We were just going out on the water to have fun and get a little exercise,” Piper said. “On the lake, most of us have motorboats where we meet and tie up in large groups. With kayaking, I found myself being able to have a more intimate exchange every week. Even when I just kayak on my own, I really appreciate the serenity.”

By July 4, 2017, with an ever-growing fleet on the water each week and a real bond forming between rowers, the ad hoc group decided to make it official by naming themselves the Eppley Shores Kayak Chics and creating a Facebook page to share information. They even have their own swag, including insulated mugs, visors, and hats, all graced with a logo designed by Piper.

But official doesn’t mean formal. The group requires no prior kayaking experience (first-timers are welcome and encouraged), no club dues, and members don’t have to live on Carter Lake. They don’t even have to own a kayak. “If someone doesn’t have one, we just try to pair them up with someone who does,” Wahl, who often loans out some of her own gear, said.

“The only barrier to entry is that, well, we are called the Kayak Chics,” added Piper, noting that the number of kayaks on the lake can range from between five or six to 27 (and counting). “It’s a great release for all ages. Some mothers bring their daughters.”

She said the group has celebrated birthdays and new grandchildren together, as well as  supported each other through more difficult life events. “I know some older gals who are retired and taking care of a parent or a spouse. This gives them the chance to get out and share in some camaraderie.”

As a group, they decide how far they will row on any given night. “We start in different canals and meet in the middle. If it’s too windy, maybe we’ll just stay in the canals. If we’re going to go a little longer than usual, we will try to let everyone know ahead of time,” Wahl said. “But the goal really isn’t to go as far as we can, it’s more of a social group.”

Weather permitting, the Kayak Chics meet on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. from April through September. This year, in particular, opening night couldn’t come soon enough. “Between working from home and everything else, this year is going to be nuts! I’m ready to grab my kayak and go flying across the ice right now,” said member Lisa Bockman, reflecting on the frigid temperature on the winter day she was interviewed.

During the off-season, and often before and after kayaking, members try to get together at local (non-lake) watering holes—Jonesys Taco House in Carter Lake is a perennial favorite—or gather around a member’s dock or firepit. It’s generally BYOB, but someone can almost always be counted on to bring the Jell-O shots.

The women also enjoy mobilizing their loyal membership to do good in the community. “We’re always looking for ways to get more involved,” Wahl, who is on the Carter Lake City Council, said. Since the city had to cancel their planned Independence Day festivities last summer (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the Eppley Shores Kayak Chics participated in socially distanced activities such as golf cart and yard decorating competitions to mark the occasion. They annually take part in holiday gift-wrapping and distribution for local children in need (this past year was a drive-up event). 

The pandemic may have necessitated a few tweaks to the way the group goes about their community outreach, but when it comes to being on the water, COVID-19 hasn’t slowed their row. In fact, for many of the women, the weekly ritual has offered some welcome normalcy during a chaotic time. “You just look forward to that Tuesday night,” Bockman said, pointing out that being outdoors in a kayak creates its own social distance. “We are careful.”

Bockman, who had never kayaked before moving to Carter Lake about a year ago, said she is pleasantly surprised at how much the group has come to mean to her. “I never expected to love kayaking as much as I do,” she said. “This group of women is so beautiful, genuine, and loving. I’ve never felt part of anything like it in my entire life.” 

The group can be found on Facebook by searching Eppley Shores Kayak Chics.

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.