by Margaret Branson, Jackson Mississippi
by Olivia McGinnis
I often go kayaking in Bryson City, North Carolina. There is a kayaking store called Endless River Adventures in Bryson City. Endless River Adventures offers kayaking instruction, guided raft trips, unguided raft trips, and fly fishing instruction. They sell Wave Sport kayaks and kayaking gear. ERA is mostly run by a lady by the name of Juliet and also a guy named Ken.
This past summer, Juliet asked me to be a Junior Instructor for Endless River Adventures’ Beginner Kid’s Camp. I was so excited, but I also didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous. Kid’s Camp is three days and, depending on the day, around seven hours long.
We met at ERA in the morning with Pelle and Ellie, the two ERA instructors who were helping with the camp. When all of the kids got there, they all got in one of the ERA vans and we loaded their kayaks in the trailer behind the van. We drove to the Finger Lake to teach everyone basic strokes and to get them used to their kayaks. When kayaking, you have your paddle and kayak, the gear that you usually wear is a helmet, a PFD, and a spray skirt. A spray skirt is something that you put around your waste and then put around the hole that you sit in in your kayak so water doesn’t pour in. What is good to know how to do in kayaking is how to roll. A roll is when you flip over in your kayak (intentionally or unintentionally) and you use your paddle to flip yourself back up so you do not have to swim, also known as the wet exit. What we were teaching/working on with the kids at the lake was how to swim. There is a loop on the front of your spray skirt that you need to pull if you flip and can’t roll up. Once you pull the loop, your spray skirt should pop off of your kayak and you need to push yourself out of your kayak.
One girl forgot how to pull her spray skirt when we were practicing the wet exit. I wasn’t in my kayak because the instructors were out of their kayaks helping the kids (who were in their kayaks) with the wet exit. The girl was struggling under water and I was the one keeping an eye on her and helping her at the moment. The other instructors were about fifteen feet away and didn’t notice what was going on. I swam over to her and she put her hands on my shoulder and got her head out of the water so she could breathe. I pulled her spray skirt for her and she swam out of her kayak.
Later that day we went on a small portion of a fairly simple river called the Town Tuck (Tuckaseegee). We ran only one rapid that day because the kids were mostly new to kayaking and were pretty tired from being at the lake for most of the day. I sat in an eddy (calm water behind a rock) in my kayak above the rapid so if anyone had trouble and flipped I could paddle down and help them. The instructors all went down and the last little boy to go down the rapid in his kayak got scared and paddled into the eddy next to me. “I don’t think I can do this.” He told me, his voice shaking with nervousness.
“You’ll be fine, I promise. You’re one hundred percent skilled enough for this rapid. Once you run it you’ll be so proud of yourself and you’ll realize how much fun it was. I swear, you’ll have an amazing time running it.” I told him.
I talked to him for a long time about what we were going to do in order to go down the rapid successfully. After a while of encouraging him, he finally followed me down the rapid and, like I had promised him, he did brilliantly. It felt really good to see him paddle into the eddy at the bottom of the rapid with a huge grin on his face. “I told you that you’d do really well! Aren’t you glad that you ran it?” I asked him.
“Yeah!” He replied, stilling smiling like crazy.
That day I learned so much about teaching and how good it felt after you helped somebody learn something. I made lots of friends and a couple of them I became really good friends with and I will most likely see them next year at the Kid’s Camp.
Throughout the next two days of the camp, I helped kids learn the technique of strokes, balance, rolling, and just having fun kayaking. It felt really good helping people learn. Not only did I teach them something, they taught me something: how to be a good instructor.
One of the favorite canoe & kayak downriver races is coming up! The ACA Collegiate Race Series National Championships. Colleges & Universities from across the country will show up on March 30th at the Tuckasegee River to compete in canoe and kayak downriver racing. What makes the event fun is that it is in both individual and team races–in kayaks, solo and tandem canoes.
Local southern favorites like Warren Wilson College, Georgia Tech and Georgia State are always enthusiastic participants at the event. Last year a surprise showing of force arrived from Virginia: the combo team of Sweet Briar and Hollins College. Returning again this year, the womens’ college team is fired up for another great event!
Tasha Gillum, outdoor director for Sweet Briar College (SBC) and Jon Guy Owens, Hollins’ outdoor director (HOP), are the support team behind this great group of ladies. Coming up on the weekend, we pulled the two aside to reflect on what brought the schools to the competition and what their strategy is for this year.
A Sweet Briar/Hollins team showing up for the race series. When did this come about?
Tasha (along with Kate, SBC’s team leader): We have gone to regionals/state three times now. This will be our 2nd time at Nationals. We started going because Jon Guy got Laura Staman (former SBC director) jazzed about it. Then we, the students, got excited because we got to meet other boaters (we were a little reclusive at that point) and get out on new rivers!
Jon Guy: This is the 4th year that Hollins has traveled to the National Championships, and the 3rd time on the Tuck. The first National Championships was in Fredericksburg over Fall break. We decided to go up and try it out for fun. Getting to hang out with other schools, with other boaters sold the deal. The big motivator was realizing that with some with work we could actually do well. Maybe not win, but we knew we could get people’s attention.
Hollins and Sweet Briar have always had some good rivalries in sports. How did you two bond for racing together?
Laura/Kate: There is nothing like a little innocent rivalry to get students psyched! SBC and Hollins have had a great time paddling together, competing and supporting each other. SBC boaters look forward to meeting up with the ladies they’ve formed friendships at races and other events like swift water rescue classes. It has been fun to have two women’s paddling groups coming together to do what they love – and encourage each other through competition and support of each other.
Jon Guy: I would say the bond has come together in the sense of sisterhood. Hollins wanted to Sweet Briar to do well because they were so similar. It was less about school pride and more about women getting the chance to compete on par with men. They love making men squirm at the thought of losing to a women. I am not sure if they would say that, but I know its true.
What is the students’ favorite part of the event?
Laura/Kate: The opportunity to get out and paddle with a community – meet other boaters and have a fun day on the river.
JonGuy: I think that the women at Hollins really enjoy that they have done so well. It is not lost on them that they really know that the time could come when they get crushed again, so they are enjoying it. In many ways it reinforces their choice to come to Hollins, be successful in a male dominated arena.
Okay, without spoiling your strategy, what is the goal for this years competition?
Laura: Our ladies aim to do their personal best in the kayaking races. We don’t have a well rounded program so we focus on the kayak portion – we know it won’t bring us an overall win but the ladies have fun getting out on a different river, trying to their best and meeting other boaters.
Kate: We don’t go to win, we go to have fun. ACA is cool because you can be as competitive as you want to be. At nationals last year we wanted to get on new rivers, work on our paddling skills, meet new people and have a good time. We go to become better paddlers.
JonGuy: Our goal is to really have strong representation in all of the events. OC1, OC2, & K1. This is the best way for us to come out on towards the top of the pile in the end. It is hard to win a single event, there are some great teams out there. Consistency is our best bet at getting in the top 3 again.
We’d love to hear any final thoughts leading into next weekend?
Kate: ACA’s offer a time for new boaters and old boaters alike to get out and meet more boaters. States is better for new boaters and we have had more beginners come with us on those trips than to nationals. It has been cool to meet other boating schools, particularly Hollins, and I hope that more schools start coming to these events!
JonGuy: My biggest thoughts towards the women that have been racing is the fact that it has really pulled whitewater paddling into the forefront at HOP and Hollins. The spirit of completion has motivated them to strive to be better paddlers. They check out boats more often, they work out more often, and they are starting a club with the full intent of helping to support the competitors. It has created a sense of identity for many of them, which is incredibly important to many of them. They are accused of being too much of a clique. Imagine that, a HOP clique!!!
Tasha: The ACA’s races have given the SBC boaters an opportunity to rally as a team and work toward goals – individual and team goals. The veteran paddlers encourage new ladies to join the team and compete each fall. It’s something to rally around and a way to build community. I’d second Jon Guy- even within the SBC Outdoor Program there is a paddling crew. They’re hooked and they encourage each other in pool sessions and on the river. Having a culminating race is a great way to celebrate all their work and be a part of a larger boating community.
Well, obviously the Endless River crew will be cheering for both Sweet Briar and Hollins. We love sharing time on the river with you. And sure enjoy your enthusiasm. The best best of luck!
that’s how we say it here in the south…
the vision behind our I Ain’t Skerd program is differentiating between “fear” and “anxiety.”
Fear is what keeps us from doing something that is way out of our ability, or just really stupid.
Anxiety is what keeps us from doing something that we can do, but just have not worked up the grit to do. Anxiety is the butterflies in the stomach, the “accidently” missing that last stroke that would have sent us into the hole, the not giving a move 100% and scurrying back to the line we feel super comfortable with.
We celebrated another awesome “I Ain’t Skerd” Ocoee day this week. Moves were tried, different eddies caught, limits pushed, confidence built, and lessons learned. We all came away better boaters from the day.
All of the above is at the heart of good instruction, but sometimes it is valuable–and fun, to just have a good ol’ southern I Aint Skerd day and put it all out on the table.
There are more I Ain’t Skerds coming up this summer for the Ocoee and for transitioning from a flat water roll to whitewater. Check the dates out, or make a date for your own day….
We would like to introduce you to Rowan Stuart: junior member of the ERA team!
In reality, Rowan is a junior junior team member as we already have several juniors on our team. We look to the junior junior position as a way to help encourage a young paddler who fits the following criteria:
1. Extremely enthusiastic about paddling
2. Makes a good ambassador for Endless River Adventures both on and off the water
3. Is too young to be a full staff member but is willing to be a team player in order to pursue this crazy passion of whitewater kayaking
4. Has some specific–and ambitious goals for paddling
5. Fits in with our crew!
We are proud to include Rowan as part of our line-up of 2011 staff.
Rowan will be another junior journalist for us this summer. We add her blog to our list of junior paddlers who are sharing their dreams; joining the likes of Haley Popp – who is headed to Europe this month for Wildwater Nationals.