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This year I was fortunate to volunteer as a kayak instructor for Diversify Whitewater’s Greater Seattle Area weekend event. The mission of Diversify Whitewater ( is to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in paddlesports by removing the barriers that may exist for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and Allies in kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and stand-up paddleboarding. The Seattle event, like many other Diversify Whitewater events, focused on reducing the barriers to learning to paddle in a material way (access to equipment and instruction) and cultural way (lack of representation and mentorship for minoritized communities). Kind members of the Greater Seattle Area paddling community donated kayaks, canoes, rafts, and stand-up paddleboards along with all the essential safety equipment such as float vests, paddles, helmets, and more. Oh yeah and this event was F-R-E-E for all participants!

Diversify Whitewater - Greater Seattle 2022

Day 1 of the Diversify Whitewater event occurred at Lake Sammamish State Park, a popular location for watersport activities. Volunteers came from all around to help support the event by helping with registration, coordinating on-land logistics, teaching lessons, providing safety support, and more. This quite simply is a well run event by a well run organization! The day was split into two halves: a morning session and afternoon session. Large groups of participants arrived for each session and were able to pick two paddlesport activities to enjoy during their session, or they could double-down on one paddlecraft if they desired. I was so inspired to see the interest and excitement for paddlesport education. During the pandemic, I’ve observed a boom in the growth of individuals pursuing paddlesports recreation but I’ve worried if paddlesports education would grow equally. This event showed that paddlesports education is alive and strong! Events like this save lives and allow safe paddling practices to “go viral”. It’s easy to forget that an experienced paddler might tell a newbie something on Day 1 that’ll save their lives or prevent a traumatic event from happening.

getting people on the water

When looking around our cove at Lake Sammamish, it was quite the sight of a rainbow of river kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. Folks learned the basics of paddling strokes, boat control, and maneuvers from experienced paddlers in the area. Not only did folks learn skills but they also met others with an interest in paddling. It’s hard to get into paddling without a group of like-minded individuals who also like paddlesports. It’s especially difficult to pursue a sport in which everyone around you looks or acts completely different from yourself. I know I had some difficulties exploring outdoor recreation at first because I grew up in a family that didn’t pursue these kinds of activities. Those first few days of learning paddling were highly impactful on me and my interest in the sport. Yeah, I swam quite a few times but the atmosphere was kind and supportive when I did.

Diversify Whitewater - Greater Seattle 2022

On most days on the water, I help out as a kayak instructor. On this weekend, I decided to mix things up a bit. I offered support for hand paddling and whitewater canoeing. To commit fully to the event and its purpose, I wanted to commit my skills to showing the diverse ways to enjoy the water (and rivers in particular). I’ve spent a good bit of 2022 promoting hand paddling in the Pacific Northwest which is a sport much more common in the Southeast USA. With the weather nice and the water warm, it was a perfect day for people to try out hand paddling! …and to my excitement I was able to recruit people to try it out. The first ACA hand paddling lesson in Washington State happened at this Diversify Whitewater event! There are so many ways to enjoy the water and rivers, and I’m so glad that people were able to connect with the paddlesport(s) that most resonated with them. Trying before buying is a great introduction to the sport.

Diversify Whitewater - Greater Seattle 2022

Day 2 of the Diversify Whitewater event, a community river float, occurred on a class 1 section of the Snoqualmie River. Day 2 built on top of the skills acquired from Day 1. At last year’s event, we had a 1-day event at a lake so it was very exciting to have two days and get to showcase a river venue. While the air was a little smokey from nearby wildfires in the area, we were all able to have a beautiful day on the water together. It was especially exciting for me because I hadn’t yet paddled the section of river. I find the first experience of a river to be quite magical. I am always amazed at how quickly people learn river kayaking, going from spinning around on flat water to gaining more and more boat control and confidence. Yes, those spins still happen and maybe a few swims here and there, but folks are able to navigate from point A to point B in a river kayak and have fun while doing so. I was very proud of the group I worked with throughout the day as they focused intensely to learn how to gain more control of their kayaks through applying various paddling strokes and gaining more confidence with edging their kayaks.

tons of paddlers!

After wrapping up the community float, we had a delicious catered lunch of tacos, burritos, and nachos provided by a local restaurant. Nothing quite like a delicious and filling meal after a great day on the water. The event concluded with a spectacular prize raffle including tons of gear, opportunities for instruction, and a brand new river kayak. Everyone participating in the event walked away with a prize and at least one less barrier to their pursuit of paddlesports. The positive vibes were contagious and everyone looked like they had such a great time including myself. The community aspect of river kayaking is such a crucial part that motivated my pursuit of the sport. Some of my best friends are paddlers, some of my favorite moments in life involve paddling, and so many stories that inspired me were told around a delicious meal or campfire after paddling. I’m glad that we were able to showcase the end-to-end experience of being a paddler, including setting shuttle and all the fun stories told during those rides.

having fun

All and all, I love Diversify Whitewater and their mission. I hope you’ll join me in diversifying and growing paddlesports so that people can have life-changing experiences that help them through the tough times (including the pandemic), inspire their care for the wonderful Earth we live on, and provide tons of smiles to spread good vibes around the globe. Paddling changed my life for the good and I’m hoping to introduce it to as many people as I can who need a change in their life and an inspiring adventure!