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Kayaking all summer and getting paid?
That’s the dream for many young people all over the world. But how? And where?
Have you ever heard of summer camps? In America a lot of parents send their children to those camps. Kids are able to do a lot of activities there, like horseback riding, climbing, mountain biking and of course kayaking.
Being camp counsellor is an amazing work and travel opportunity for young people during their summer. Are you interested in going to awesome places, traveling, kayaking and getting paid? Then read this!
At the beginning of this year I was living in Sydney (Australia). I paddled once or twice a week in a manmade white water channel which was quite far away. One day my friends asked me if I want to come to America this summer and work with them.

“You´ll be in your boat every day, teach awesome kids on class I-IV and the Green River Narrows is 15 minutes away.”
Sold. So I contacted the camp director straight away and started my visa application process.
As I am originally from Germany it was quite a hassle to get all of my documents together, but finally I got my visa 3 days before I was supposed to fly out. This was in May.
We had all kind of paddlers to teach. Absolute beginners, intermediates and advanced kids who would actually paddle rivers like Wilsons Creek (IV) or the New River Gorge (big water III-IV).
Through the summer I took the kids on trips all over the southeast, taught them how to be a better paddler and had a really good time.
I have so many awesome moments to remember. 14- year old Ward throwing his first freewheel of a waterfall, 8-year old Bobby coming of a rapid in his Fun 1 and smiling all over his face or little Mason screaming and throwing the sickest brown claw ever. This was just at work.
On the weekends I spent my time with my workmates, paddling awesome rivers around the area. The most famous is of course the Green River which is such a magical place. Being at places like “Gorilla” and “Go left or die” is kind of unreal as I´ve seen those so often in videos of the Green Race when I was younger. As we were lucky with the rain we managed to paddle a bunch of natural flowing rivers as well.
Living this life for about 3 months makes you tired. But it´s a good kind of tired.
Later in August I owned a car in North Carolina, had a bunch of new friends, 2 new kayaks and I literally paddled every single day in the last 4 months.
I would like to give a little insight in this camp life.

How does the summer look like?
Every Camp is different. I will be describing the summer at Falling Creek Camp out of the paddling perspective. Of course there also is mountain biking, climbing, etc.

Camp was structured in blocks:
1. Staff Training
The training was 3 weeks long. One week of wilderness first aid (WFR) in the NOC, one week of paddle staff training, where we checked out some of the rivers we would paddle with the kids and one week of in camp training, less paddling but more education how to handle a bunch of high energy children.

2. June Camp
In June it finally started. The kids arrived for the first session which was 3 weeks long. Kids were good paddlers and we paddled class III max. Staff became a good team.

3. Main Camp
In Main Camp (4 weeks) the advanced kids showed up. Paddling waterfalls, learning how to flatwater loop and exploring class IV was on the daily program for the kids. My freestyle background was definitely a massive help to teach flatwater lake lessons and some kids managed to throw cartwheels and loops in the end of camp.

4. 2-week camp
2-week camp was more for smaller kids getting into paddling. Teaching them how to canoe and do their first paddle strokes was very rewarding. I´m sure some of them will be awesome paddlers in a few years.
Junior camp
One week Junior Camp was for the very small ones exploring camp. We spent our days on the lake doing fun lessons on canoeing, which also included a lot of swimming. My workmates and I were on the peak of our own flatwater freestyle techniques after this week.
In between those blocks or sessions we had the opportunity to go paddling for ourselves. The south east has some class whitewater 

What does an average day look like?
Every day at camp is different. It would be boring otherwise right? There are in camp days. You will be working on flatwater with beginners, you teach the more intermediate how to roll or show the advanced groups how to flatwater freestyle. You basically do this all day with a lunch break.
There are days where you are out on trips. These can range from one day to multiday trips which are 5 days or longer. Here you are camping with your group on different campsites, cook your own food and sit around the campfire at night. During the day you paddle rivers and teach all there is about kayaking. These were my favourite days!

Advantages and challenges of working at camp
Let´s start with the advantages.
– You are going to grow within yourself. By taking responsibility for kids on white water you will see the importance of safety and leadership.
– You will learn how to teach. There are a lot of other instructors around you and if you pay attention and check out their style of teaching you will develop your own.
– You know how to handle a group of children. To take care for 12 children can be hard, but after a summer of practice you know exactly what’s up.
– Kids are awesome. Every day you will have at least one moment where a kid makes you laugh for some reason.
– You will make a bunch of new friends. As you paddle with your team every day and share responsibility for 12 kids on the water you get close. And spending the weekends on hard white water let you get even closer.
– You won´t spend any money. Accommodation and meals provided. And you get paid.
– You will get a bunch of discounts. A lot of companies support camp instructors. Get yourself new paddles, a boat and all the gear for about half price!
– You are able to raise the next generation of kayakers. As their instructor you have a big impact on the kids present and future life. It is awesome to see them grow and to be a role model.
– Most importantly, you actually paddle every day. Leading easier rivers during the week and exploring hard ones at the weekend will make you a super solid boater with a big knowledge of safety.

Of course there will be some challenges as well.
– There is a bunch of rain, all the rivers are in and it is Monday. Sorry back to work.
– You work 24 hours a day. There might be nights where you are expected to stay up late if something isn’t right e.g. when little Johnny wakes you up at 3am really upset as he is homesick’
– You will get tired at week 7 and all you want is a week off. That’s normal but look forward to paddle with your friends at the weekend.
– It is hard to get personal space. You will eat with the kids and you will most likely sleep in the same room or campsite as you are responsible. This will make you value your own space more.
– High responsibility. You are with kids on white water. It´s your responsibility that they won´t get hurt. You always have to pay attention and you can never switch off.

And after camp?
There is a lot of opportunity to do things after camp. Some people went back to college, some went traveling the states, and others picked up different work.
I personally bought a little car of one of my workmates and drove to the Jackson Kayak factory to get my new rockstar and nirvana. Thank you JK! From there I travelled to Columbus GA and surfed the local wave for a few days with my new friends. After about a week I started a big road trip through the states and paddled in Colorado, Idaho and British Columbia. That is a story for my next blog though.
It was definitely an experience of a lifetime to work as a camp counsellor and I would recommend doing this job to anyone who loves kayaking.

If you are interested text
Check out my Instagram for more impressions of my last summer and my travels: IG philmichelkayak

– Phil Michel