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This past week was our 15th annual inner city kids kayaking camp! When I say the number 15, it’s hard to believe that the camp has been going on that long as every year we do the camp, it feels like a new, very fun, and exciting experience. This is true for me at least. Very luckily again this year, I had EJ helping with the camp, and we work with the Graham Windham School which is a residential school for kids who are placed there by the state of New York. We had three returning students and 7 new students. As is the case every year, a number of students cannot swim. EJ does a fantastic job of teaching people to swim in addition to teaching them to kayak. Overall, this makes the students feel much more comfortable in the water and in their kayaks.

We start in the swimming pool at Graham Windham where they learn to wet exit and hold their breath longer than they think possible upside down under water in their boats, and they learn the roll and bracing. Once they have mastered the pool environment, we bring them to the Hudson River. Luckily, there is free public access to the Hudson near the school. The Hudson still has a bad reputation for all kinds of undeserved things but once we get people out and paddling – they really enjoy it and forget that it’s “The Scary Hudson”. It’s the opposite of the pool – big wide open space of the river with wind, tides, birds, fish, and boats though there is plenty of room for all of us. It is the first time everyone gets to paddle their kayaks over distance and quickly everyone develops the ability to paddle their boats straight and have a bit better control. This year we had a little more mud than usual but by the end everyone developed a new appreciation for the mud – especially its beautifying properties.

We were also blessed with the perfect combination for teaching people to kayak – good water levels and warm weather. Since we had so much water – almost like spring water levels – we opted to go to the Farmington River on Thursday instead of the Housatonic. The section we paddle provides a very gradual progression from flat moving water to small riffles with waves and finally bigger rapids that you actually have to paddle through. While it’s a fast progression from flat water to bigger rapids, this year everyone did great and paddled really well. Several of our students wanted to leave or get out while we were going down. They were scared and certainly the experience of learning to kayak pushes anyone out of their comfort zone. This is normal, but the exhilaration that accompanies paddling a rapid is one of the many things that keeps all of us life-long lovers of paddling coming back! The students got to discover that themselves this week too!

After lots of protestation and wanting to leave, the students get to the bottom of the hole section of the T’Ville gorge and are so happy! There is lots of playing in the water and the current there – very good experience to better understand water and the power of moving water. It’s a fantastic place to work on self-rescues too. Some students even get back in their boats and want to work on ferries, S – turns and rolls! Some want to catch fish and some are just soaking up the outside experience. It is great to see! And this year, we ended up doing the T’Ville Gorge Friday as well as Thursday. It was awesome for honing skills and evening pushing the students to do more than they believed they were capable of. By the end, I think we had some new converts to the sport. As usual, this camp would not be possible without the super amazing help of all our volunteers – Dave and Paula Saaf, Andy Kuhlberg, Bupi, Katelyn Green, Sam Reichman, Juerg, Ann Colliard, and Rob Paggiola who took lots of awesome photos! And a big thanks to Tom Sherburne from Shred Ready Helmets for the new helmet donation – the students’ heads are safer than ever!! Thanks to everyone for making this possible – we will back next year for more!!