2013 was the 7th season of the CReW Youth Challenge Kayak program in Cornwall Ontario.

Every year we ask ourselves if it will be a good one. This was no exception. The group was small this year and when we met them we looked at each young face and asked what would they think, would they like this and would they walk away just a little bit different. The answer could be seen on their faces on Tuesday evening at Lamoureux Park.

Working with these young people as they got their first crack at kayaking has been the best evenings you could imagine. Every week we met up with Karolina, Alex, Jarrett, Nick, Max and Mateo.  Every week each one of them stood up to each challenge.
We saw every emotion imaginable, Some happy faces, frustrated faces, nervous faces, tired faces and yes even the occasional growling face. Everythying that comes with being young, learning something new and very different and most of all stepping way out out of the box. This week was no exception.

Sylvie and Zachary are out west with the truck for Slalom Nationals so I was joined by AJ and David on a spectacular evening at the park. Of course we can never forget Joel. Joel has been our SD&G BGC rep and help though the summer. Both on and off the water he has been awesome.

As always we started up with some good old fashioned warmups (loud and noisy too). Then we hit the water. slipping off the dock one by one.
A few easy-peasy paddle strokes while parents watched on and then up the river we went. A few great moment included Max making it up all the Eddy hops! Way to go Max!  Karolina making it look like she was born to paddle climbing each Eddy with the rest of the boys right on her stern.  Once the last eddy we talked a bit about the eddy lines and then wasted no more time. One by one like little ducklings they peeled out over the eddy line and into the mighty Saint-Lawrence in groups of three.
What we saw after that was exhilarating.
Each person heading out into the strong and boiling currents of the St Lawrence river. To some it may not seem like a big deal but let’s put those people in a 6 foot boat for the first time and let them bob around the boils, the small whirlpools and the strong currents. It can put things into perspective very quickly. Each kid, under the watchful eye of the instructors and assistant, used the new skills they learned and made it across from the bridge to the island, rode down the waves to and then crossed back to Cornwall.
And ohh the reactions!!!! From wired nerves to little shrieks and loads of smiles each one showed good paddle strokes, great boat balance and a resolve that has to be seen to be understood.
Can not help but proud of them all.
A couple more highlights? Jarret slipping down the eddy lines next to the island. Alex just had to touch land at the island just to say he did, Mateo sitting up straight and paddling hard and Nick (who I will forever think  of when I see the artwork of Andy Warhol) working the waves, keeping focus and his cool and seeing it through to the end.

By the time we go back to the dock they all had arms and abs that were on fire. Young kids taking on 5 to 6 knots or high water is a big deal and will those muscles.

Their reward for making the round trip? The satisfaction of knowing that they can and taking that knowledge home with them. Yest they have the abilities and can overcome soo many obstacles. :)
The other reward? A chance to play a bit with a stand up paddle board! Each one took a turn on our (my Daughter Emily’s) stand up board.  They enjoyed that too.

When it was all over, each of our new friends left us with a ORCKA flatwater certificate and badge, a crew sticker (gotta have one of those), a year CReW membership (puts them on our mailing list), a little more confidence for the lives ahead of them and loads good memories.

I am so very proud of each our kids in the group and look forward to paddling with them again soon. (maybe we will see some of them at the August CReW and World Kayak Throwdown in Valleyfield)

Now it is over and we will miss our new friends but know that we will get many of them back in boats as soon as possible and their adventure is just beginning.

Before we think about our next adventures, fixing up the gear for another season and making sure that the CReW equipment is ready for the next collection of eager new paddlers, I need to say thank-you.

Thank-you to our new young friends for accepting our sport and our words of encouragement and teaching.
Thank-you to the parents and care givers who are willing to trust us with their most precious commodity (ies).
Thank you to the parents and family members who we saw every week on the site and who encouraged their kids and were waiting for them. That is priceless and you should be proud.

Thank-you to the Boys and Girls Club for being a part of the adventure.

Thank-you to our sponsors: Jackson Kayaks, H2O Paddles, Level Six and the Trillium Foundation – your support continues to keep the kids on the water.

And thank-you to this years CReW volunteers. They are the back bone of our success and I would be lost without them: Sylvie, Aime-Jean, Emily and our latest addition David.

As always, I hope to see you on a river somewhere. :)


Robert Zwanenburg

7 years of putting young people in Kayaks!…. many many more to go….