Madawaska Unveils Whitewater Riders Summer Camp

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If only we all had it so good growing up. Madawaska Canoe Centre, Canada’s oldest whitewater school, is helping teens take up whitewater kayaking with its new Whitewater Riders program, a fully immersive two-week camp for kayakers aged 13-17 looking to take their boating to the next level.

While kayaking over waterfalls isn’t your average summer camp activity, learning to boof is only the beginning at the camp, located two hours northeast of Ottawa. Unlike a lot of kayak programs that focus solely on freestyle, the Riders curriculum puts teens in all kinds of boats: slalom boats, creek boats, play boats, even canoes. The goal, according to camp leader Katrina Van Wijk, is to inspire a new generation of “complete paddlers.”

Van Wijk should know. An Ottawa native and extreme kayaker, her parents, Claudia and Dirk, own and operate Madawaska, Canada’s oldest whitewater school nestled along the Madawaska River. The Swiss-style resort comes replete with restaurant, lodge, sauna and, well, lots of different kinds of boats.

The MKC facility serves as the base camp for the Riders crew, whose two-week session is divided into various instructional units. The creeking unit starts on the Class III Madawaska, and progresses to a day-trip down a more challenging local river, like the Gull or Rouge. Freestyle takes place on the Ottawa, slalom is back on the Madawaska, and somewhere in the middle is a three-day overnight canoe trip down either the Dumoine or Petawawa River.

Van Wijk is the camp leader both on and off the water, but she’s joined for each unit by world-class instructors. This summer’s program will feature Canadian and US national slalom team members Thea Frollick and Ashley Nee, along with top freestyle competitors Martina Wegman, Kaleb Grady and Dane Jackson. The canoe trip will be headed up by Katrina’s sister, Stefani Van Wijk, who is a professional wilderness and canoe guide.

The scope of Riders is larger than just learning to J-stroke or cartwheel. There’s an emphasis on river stewardship and getting ‘offline’ (Facebook is not allowed). A full day Swiftwater Rescue course teaches teens things like team awareness, rescue techniques and ropes systems. “We’re trying to build these kids into self-sufficient kayakers who don’t just focus on themselves,” says Van Wijk.

She’s part of a paddling family, and knows first-hand how important it is to get out on the water together. She sees Whitewater Riders is a natural evolution in MKC’s Family Week and Kids Kayak programming, pillars of the school’s summer schedule. “Young paddlers need the passion and support from their parents,” she says. “Eventually it turns around, and it will be the parents looking to the kids.”

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