They say that the paddling community has only 85% the number of participants than in 2000. Where are the youth paddling? Are they paddling? After traveling all around the country with New River Academy I have noticed that there is a surprising lack young paddlers. On the Gauley I observed that the average paddler was between the age of 25 and god-knows-how-old. The only other young paddlers out there I saw other than our group was that of World Class Academy. Even here in Colorado I am noticing a lack of younger paddlers. When I go out and paddle it is me and about 4 of my friends, we make up a lot of Steamboat’s core youth paddling community.
Kayaking has taught me many great life skills. Perseverance, attitude, hard work. Now tell me if you are a parent or parent figure, these are qualities that you would like your child to have, eh? Sure paddling may be scary at first but given the right time and frame of mind, which is a very important thing to have, kayaking can be a life long endeavor. I don’t think that I will ever stop kayaking; it is a firm tree that has taken root in my heart and provides me the fruit of joy and personal growth.
Kayakers are always willing to help. Many ‘normal’ people only help after finding out what’s in it for them. More than just help fellow humans I believe that kayakers also have a better connection with their earth as well. We look out for our rivers, we look out for the fish in them, and we look out for the people who use them; not just for recreation, but for other things like irrigation and drinking water. We loath pollution, like that of mining waste filling valleys, or dumping of chemical; we protect fish populations, or at least try to help them by opposing dams that inhibit natural migration.
Determination. Huge part of kayaking. In the middle of a rapid you can’t just give up, you need to keep going and you need to do it right. This may be a fear of death but it is all about determination. You have to be determined to get to the end in one piece, to get past the obstacle by paddling as hard as possible. Your muscles may burn, your hands may be blistered but you need to get past that and think only about what must be done at that one moment. This may also be called perseverance, and with out it I feel like I would not accomplish anything, not try anything. That’s another thing kayaking is all about trying new things. New experiences, Huge Experiences.
This is why I am so lucky to go to New River Academy. I get to travel all around the world while kayaking at the same time. See new places, meet new people, and see different ways of living. I like to think of my kayak as a passport. Not only as a way to get from point A to point B, but also a way of meeting new people, and interacting with different cultures. I see kayaking and rivers as a worldly venture, one that can not be bound to certain areas or demographics. Kayaking can not be put into a box and stored, it needs to stay free, to crash down the tumbling rapids, and wind lazily down the canyons.
Kayaking is my life, river water is my blood, and my gear is my skin. The numbers may be declining, there may be less youth paddling, but kayaking will never die. It is a lifestyle, a teacher, and a friend. Open the front door and let him in, and like a friend who is a pilot, kayaking will take you places you’ve never imagined.
See you on the water!
By Matt Hill
Also be sure to check out my blog here at Newriveracademy.com to learn more about my travels with NRA!