Catching Up with Devon Barker-Hicks and Her Dare to Kayak Kids Program


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Getting kids out paddling is key to growing the sport. And no one’s doing it better than Idaho’s Devon Barker-Hicks, whose Dare to Kayak program received a $3,300 grant this year to run the program for free to local Riggins, Montana, kids and discounted spots for kids outside its area (with all the gear and instruction provided for all students). We caught up with her between Idaho surf and student sessions to learn more about the program:

Catching Up with Devon Barker-Hicks and Her Dare to Kayak Kids Program

Paddling Life: When did you start the program?

I took a leave from teaching 4th grade in 2001 to compete in freestyle and surf kayaking. I was missing my connection to students so I began working on a classroom and pool presentation for Dare to Kayak. After a few years of teaching students their strokes and river safety in the pool setting, we moved the program to the river.  We still do classroom presentations to about 100 students a year where they learn to fit a PFD and helmet. They also learn the whitewater swim position, basic river safety, and ethics like Leave No Trace.

Devon barker
And we can learn just as much from them…

Paddling Life: How many students do you teach per year? How many instructors?

We keep our river instruction to about 20 to 30 students who join us for three days in July and three days in Aug. We usually have four instructors and a handful of helpers. We encourage parents to help when we are working in the eddy at the start and end of the day to work with their child on wet exits and rolling. We teach them how to wear PFDs as well.

Paddling Life: What do you like about it?

 I am a teacher through and through. When I took a leave from teaching and  I started competing I was always using my teaching brain to help others with their paddling. I really missed the kids during those years I was not teaching and realized that I wanted to teach kids to kayak. Kayaking is one sport that is very empowering. I love the self-confidence that blooms as students learn to move their kayaks on the water.

Paddling Life: Where do you get all your equipment?

NRS has supported my paddling and teaching kids to paddle since 2001. When I started Dare to Kayak they were very supportive. Over the years they have stepped up more and more. Now I am a lead ambassador with NRS. Through this partnership, they have made sure we have all the gear we need! Jackson Kayak and Wave Sport (when they were in North America) we very generous with their kid’s kayaks. One year, Werner Paddles, sent me six paddles for my program. These donations are always so unexpected and so appreciated.  As we all know, it takes a village to make one kayaker, and this has led to many paddlers donating used gear to us. We are so thankful.

Devon Barker
Kids will be kids…and kayakers!

Paddling Life: Are you stoked about the grant?

The Wild Rivers Grant is funded through the specialty plates for vehicles for the state of Idaho. They funded Dare to Kayak through the Salmon River Dive Team which supports river safety and rescue. Their support is crucial to keep the program free to the local Salmon River kids and affordable to kids outside our area.  The Salmon River is a permitted river. We run Dare to Kayak through Barker River Trips, my family’s business. You can find more about Dare to Kayak and adult instruction at

Paddling Life: Are you seeing more kids get involved these days?

I encourage parents who sign their kids up for kayaking to have them sign up a friend too. I am seeing the kids who get involved and persevere are the ones who have a buddy learning right along with them. It takes a lot of grit to learn to kayak, but the support of a peer really helps. Kids also support and push each other in a different way than instructors. I am not sure if the numbers are going up but if everybody is encouraging and learning with a friend, they will.

 Paddling Life: What’s your take on the state of kayaking today?

Kayaking is fantastic and it guides my life and so many of my decisions. The availability of kid’s kayaks and kayaks that are more comfortable and easy to use are encouraging more people to paddle and luring other paddlers to become active again. I teach a lot of adult lessons too, and I have many people tell me they quit because of comfort. Now they are getting back into kayaking because they cannot believe how comfortable the kayaks are. I am 5’4″ so I was always comfortable. I am so stoked that everyone can find a kayak now to be comfortable using. Kayaking is so rad that no one should ever have to stop because of a fit issue.

Devon Barker
Roll ’em: Barker, dissing out the beta for a bombproof roll…

Paddling Life: What trips do you have planned for this summer and how’s the snowpack?

Well, before summer we have spring and the snowpack is looking great. I live along the Little Salmon River a few miles before the confluence with the Salmon River. A lot of Little Salmon laps and surfing on the Salmon will be coming up followed by the desert season. I have an Owyhee River self-support trip in early April. This summer I am doing a bucket list trip with my brother, Jon Barker. We are going to paddle Loon Creek to the Middle Fork and then fly to the top of Big Creek. I have never done Loon, and I have not been back to Big Creek since the late 1990s. Then we will paddle out the Middle Fork in a day. You do not need a MF permit to do this so if you did not win the lottery you can still get on the river. Also on the books are a couple of South Fork Salmon trips. With all the snow, the SFS is going to be great into July!

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