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I’m filled with gratitude and appreciation for Diversify Whitewater, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works 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 kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and stand-up paddle boarding. This year, I was able to provide kayak instruction for my 3rd Diversify Whitewater event in the Greater Seattle Area at Lake Sammamish and the Snoqualmie River. This event is magical and it’s been amazing to see it grow and become better each year. This was without a doubt the best weekend of weather we’ve had so far for the event!

The first day of the Diversify Whitewater Paddling Weekend in the Greater Seattle Area started at Lake Sammamish, a beautiful lake in Issaquah, Washington. The weather was blue skies and wonderful all day! Due to a warmer than usual summer, the water temperature was very pleasant for a September day. The first day as 2 AM sessions and 2 PM sessions, separated by a delicious lunch and raffle of amazing prizes. Participants were able to choose their craft, play around, share stories, and receive small group instruction from community instructors like myself. Then they could swap crafts for their 2nd session of the AM/PM. Some folks opted to spend the whole day with us which was awesome! All the paddle crafts and gear for the two-day event were provided by members of the community to remove barriers to entering the sport and connect our community. I left so inspired by the amount of generosity exhibited by our paddling community!

This year, my Day 1 focus was teaching river kayak hand paddling. I love the different ways to enjoy the water, whether it be in a kayak, canoe or inflatable, or with a paddle or with hand paddles. I found it important to show the diversity of the sport and ways to connect with the water. …and I certainly found a few folks that really connected with hand paddles which made me very happy. Seeing people swap between a hard shell kayak, canoe, inflatable kayak, and stand-up paddle board provided many opportunities for people to fit their connection with the water. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s many. Once that moment happens, it’s wonderful to see that look in someone’s eyes as they fall in love with the sport for the first time. Do you remember that moment for you?

The second day of the Diversify Whitewater Paddling Weekend moved to a class 1 section of the Snoqualmie River in Fall City, Washington. This 2nd day built on the flat water skills learned in Day 1 and applied them to a moving water venue. Again, community members provided the paddle crafts and gear for the day. The day was filled with people sharing stories, smiles and laughter, connecting with the water, and building community. One of my favorite aspects of being a whitewater paddler is the community and friendships I’ve made along the way. I was so amazed seeing how quickly people progressed in their first two days on the water. By the end of Day 2, I could see some people finding their path to a life long connection with whitewater.

These past few years have been rough for so many with a global pandemic, losing family members and friends, losing a job, etc. The healing powers of whitewater and the whitewater community are extraordinary. I’ve heard many stories across my years of paddling in which whitewater saved someone’s life, provided them a happier and healthier path through life, and healed their mind, body, and spirit. I could see people coming to this event and seeking those healing powers and I’m so thankful that we were able to come together and begin that healing process. I reflect back upon my years of paddling and am filled with gratitude for finding paddling when I needed it the most and helping me to find a happier and healthier life.

Thank you Diversify Whitewater for making paddlesports and our communities better and more connected! I look forward to attending the 2024 event in the Greater Seattle Area and I hope you’ll join me. Or you can see where the nearest Diversify Whitewater event is to you. Thank you for the photographs Edith Han, Will Baker, Megan Kelly, and Shirley Lu.