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Inner City Kids Kayaking Camp 2014

A blog by Dr Jessie Stone, Aquapac Outdoor Champion 2014

Teaching people to kayak is something I love to do, and exposing kids to kayaking who would never otherwise have the opportunity is a very special and unique experience that has been the highlight of my teaching career over the years. Add to that that these students may or may not have any idea what kayaking is and some cannot swim, and you have all the ingredients for a great adventure and a successful kids’ kayaking camp. This year was our 10th year of doing these camps, and every year it is more and more fun to do. Hopefully, we will be able to do these camps long into the future.

For the past two years, we have been working with the Graham Windham School in Yonkers, New York (prior to that we were working with the Boys and Girls Harbor Upward Bound Program in NYC). Again this year, we had two Graham Windham teachers joining our group, Danielle and Ms Borbone. Both of whom did very well and really enjoyed the experience. It’s always wonderful to have teachers alongside their students learning to kayak and sharing that experience with them. The kids this year ranged in age from 13 to 17 and included Tanisha, Chantal, Laysha, Sharon, Catherine, TJ, Hassan, and Daniel. These kids went from not knowing what whitewater or whitewater kayaking was to being able to paddle their kayaks successfully downstream through rapids, catching eddies along the way. Two of them even learned successful rolls! Everyone learned good paddling strokes and bracing skills. They were introduced to a whole new world out there that started in the swimming pool at Graham Windham.

One of the best things about this camp is that the participants get to be challenged, pushed out of their comfort zones to learn a new skill in a safe and fun environment. In order to progress to the next day’s activities they have to master what we teach them on that day, so they are repeatedly challenged and pushed to do something that seems scary, succeed at it, and then move on to the next step. They experience success hand in hand with fun and exhilaration, but none of it is possible unless they are willing to trust and take a risk. No one is helping them paddle their kayaks – they do that themselves. Kayaking is an individual activity but always done as part of a group. In order for the whole thing to work everyone needs to participate, so each member of the camp is a member of a larger kayaking team.

Apart from learning new skills and a new sport, kayaking opens up a whole new world for these kids and teachers – the world of the outdoors and rivers – something that they would never otherwise see and experience. Fear of dirt, plants, and wild creatures at the beginning of the week turns to curiosity and interest in the natural world. All of this happens alongside learning to kayak. For some, it really sparks an interest to become lifelong kayakers. For others, just the experience of trying something new and potentially scary gives them a positive boost that they will hopefully carry forward in their lives. And for all, fear of what’s in the out of doors turns to a new appreciation of things previously scary or unknown.

What makes this all possible is the group’s willingness to participate 100% even if they are not sure what the outcome will be. Instead of fear of what bad might happen, we focus on what good and what fun can be had. No one sets the tone better for this than EJ – we are always super lucky to have his joy and passion for teaching and sharing his love of paddling with all the students and for that matter with every person he comes in contact with. It’s just the way he is and it rubs off on everyone around him. His enthusiasm is contagious! Courtney and Dane, two of our other instructors, were great additions to the camp this year. Everyone loved to see what each could do in their boats as well as having them as instructors! Certainly we could not have completed the camp without the help of numerous volunteers – Kristine Jackson, Dave and Paula Saaf, Andy Khulberg, Rob Piaggoli, and Caitlyn Green. And a huge thank you to Jackson Kayak and Aquapac who provided necessary support to make the camp happen as well as fantastic graduation gifts!! We look forward to more kids and teachers learning to kayak next year!! Thank you to everyone who made this possible!!!

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