Ryan Roth is a self-confessed adrenaline junkie.
He’s bungee jumped 440 feet off the Nevis Bridge near Queenstown, New Zealand. But it was whitewater kayaking that truly fed his spirit of adventure.
He just returned from a two-and-a-half week adventure, leading a group through Costa Rica’s whitewater rivers and streams.
The Covington native, who is a full-time firefighter and paramedic in Clayton County, opened Roth Wild Adventures on line, offering guided tours as well as lessons in still and whitewater kayaking and rafting. Earlier this month, Roth Wild Adventures opened a physical location at 2210 Main Street in Porterdale.
When he started looking for a physical location, he was drawn to Porterdale. He had taught a couple of kayaking clinics in June and said, “when I came back here to the hometown, to the [Yellow River] where it all began, it felt right. It felt like it was time to move back here.
“There is something special about this river,” he said. “All the beautiful places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had started here. I wanted to come back here and share it with others.”
When a vacancy in the Cotton Warehouse Studio store fronts came up, Roth took advantage of the opening. “I had to move quickly,” he said. It was a mad dash to get everything in here because we had a kayaking expedition for Costa Rica the next week. We disappeared for over two weeks. Then when I came back it was time to focus on getting the company opened.”
The grand opening was Oct. 8. Roth Wild Adventures does everything from kayaking on the Yellow River, to kayaking lessons all over the Southeast, to guided kayaking or white water trips. “You can come and rent a kayak for the day on the Yellow River; try white water; and once you fall in love with it like we did, you can purchase your kayak here.”
He said he’s dreamt of opening an outdoor company all his life.
“We do the kayak, shuttles and paddleboards on the Yellow River,” he said. “We hold classes on roll clinics [learning to flip over in a kayak]. We do half, full and multi day kayaking courses, anywhere from introduction to advanced.”
While the Yellow River is considered flat water, Roth said he wants to share the joy he’s found on the water.
“I want to not only show people this river, but to equip them and help them with the skills they need to see and experience this adventurous lifestyle we strive for here ... to see all the beautiful whitewater scenic runs in North Georgia with waterfalls flowing down from the mountains; The ability to go kayaking internationally, the excitement of the journey.
“We want to build a community here, provide a place for people to come is place to explore,” he said. “The most common thing you hear is that there’s nothing to do in Covington, but you do have a playground – not just the flat river area, but the white water section below the dam [near the Porterdale Lofts]. Our goal is to show people you’re not confined to any box in life. We want to help people break out of the box.”
A desire of adventure
Roth said he was introduced to adventures as a child growing up so that later, “I wouldn’t be afraid to get out of my comfort zones and experience new things.”
“I was really involved in extreme sports, backpacking, rock-climbing and hiking. But one I tried white water kayaking, that was it.”
A Class Five or Level Five white water paddler is a designation given by the American Canoe Association to a person who has trained to paddle through extremely long, obstructed or violent rapids, with drops that can contain unavoidable waves or hole or steep, congested chutes.
It demands a high level of fitness and is not for the faint of heart. It’s a long way from Roth’s first experiences kayaking on the still waters of the Yellow River as a child. While at college in West Georgia, he when on a trip with friends on the Nantahala River in North Carolina. “The white water kayakers looked like they were having more fun than anyone else.”
He was hooked even before he tried white water paddling. He went out, bought a kayak and tagged along with his friends for a while. “I’ve always been a bit of a ‘jump in first’ type of person,” he said. “I always everything I need and I’m already committed to it, so there’s no backing out.”
He started white water kayaking about nine years ago, he said. Because of his sense of adventure, he started going out in search of new rivers, new rapids and new places to discover and explore. He’s paddled wild rivers in Tennessee, North Carolina, North Georgia, Alabama and Costa Rico.
He even paddled solo south down the Gulf of Mexico in a 14-foot sea kayak, launching from the Everglades on the mainland and crossing the gulf and bay. “I knew there was a chain of islands where I could camp. I found my first island about 14 miles off the coast [of Florida],” he said. “I averaged about 10 hours of paddling a day to my next destination and end up in Key West. It took weeks.”
Called by God
Deeply religious, Roth said he believed God was leading him to serve others. “I felt God had gifted me with the ability to high stress situations — running into burning buildings to running Class Five white water,” he said. “To take those gifts and talents and use them for God and the Kingdom.”
He switched majors in college and transferred to Atlanta Technical College and later Southern Crescent, to complete the three years of training he needed to become a firefighter, paramedic and EMT.
When he was first in college, he was involved with a ministry outreach program called the Beach Project. “We take about 200 college students from West Georgia and Alabama and live there [on the beach in Florida].”
The program requires participants to have a full-tie job in the community for the summer. Roth worked at Taco Bell. When not working he would help with seminars at church and with the different outreach projects throughout the community, getting to know the people and inviting them to church.
The following summer, he went to New Zealand to establish a scaled-down version of Beach Project at the University of Otaga in Dunedin.
And while New Zealand has amazing white water rivers, Roth said, “I was there for ministry, so I didn’t do any whitewater kayaking.”
He did, however, take time to play on a local rugby team, “where I got to bond with a lot of guys,” and fulfilled his taste for adventure in Queenstown by finding the most adrenaline-fueled adventure he could — the dive from Nevis Bridge tethered only by a bungee cord.
A natural kayaker
Whether it’s in Georgia, Alabama or Costa Rica, Roth said, each river or extreme sport offers their own adventure.
They all offer their own adventure and Roth has enjoyed them all.
“A lot of friends said I was a natural right out of the gate,” Roth said. “I just took all the rapids head on. Once I got into it, I made a commitment to be on the water at least once a month.
“I wanted to be on the water and couldn’t stay off it,” he said. “I wanted to share [that excitement] with others.”
Roth is a Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor, certified by the ACA. The class isn’t for beginners, he said. “It’s for people who have already developed the skills to be a Level 4 or 5 paddler. I learned how to take what I already loved and my desire to teach others how to paddle [to teach others],” he said. The classes made the participants vulnerable in a kayak, again, he said, so they could see what the students felt and learned the first time on a white water river. One of the exercises, he said, was paddling rapids with eyes closed.
Roth, who graduated from Newton High School, is the sole owner of Roth Wild Adventures. A core group of Roth’s friends, most of whom he taught to white water kayak, help out in the business. For example, because Roth was leading a tour in Costa Rica during the Yellow River Jam on Oct. 1, his friends manned a booth with information about the business and its grand opening on Oct. 8.
“I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get more people out on the river so my group was [at Yellow River Jam],” he said. “We had a booth and ran our rentals. A lot of people came out and rented boats. A lot of people were pleased with our company, the people there and our knowledge. We had a good response.
“It just confirmed this was where I needed to be, that this was the community that was right for me,” he said.
Roth Wild Adventures is the only outfitter east of Atlanta in the metro area within a two hour drive. “We’re here to make it more convenient for others,” he said. “I want to help show people the world that’s out there and what they can do, to share a passion for the great outdoors, paddling and adventure.”
Porterdale and its connection with the Yellow River is an amazing location for Roth Wild Adventures, he said. “You can already see the potential that lies here. It’s already grown up, but I’ll predict it will grow and will blossom into something more beautiful.”