Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kid Kayakers

It's that time of year again here at NOC; the time when we batten down the hatches, move the instruction crew to DEFCON 2, and remove the sugar packets from the dining room tables. Yes, it's time for our bi-yearly Kid's/Teen Week. For many instructors, the two summer weeks in which we close instruction to adults and just focus on teaching kids is our favorite time of the year. Many of the kids come back year after year and we've had the privilege of watching them progress from tentative beginners to class 5 creekers. If you've got kids and are looking to get them into boating then here's a few suggestions we've picked up over the years:

1. Kids rarely place the same pressure on themselves that adults do. I've seen many novice adults disappointed in themselves after flipping at Nantahala Falls their first time running it. I have never met a kid who was disappointed about flipping at Nantahala Falls. They get the same satisfaction (if not more) from doing a successful wet-exit when they flip as they do from running the Falls upright. I cannot count the amount of times I've seen a kid do a wet-exit on the river and come up smiling. Which brings us to the next point...

2. Kids love swimming. And we encourage it. Our first few days are spent doing wet exits and swimming rapids. Sometimes we'll spend a couple hours swimming rapids just to get them comfortable in that environment. (This is particularly important for the younger kids) I've even had kids that wanted to swim Nantahala Falls before they kayaked it. Adults view swimming a rapid as a consequence for their mistake - kids view it as just a fun part of kayaking. Their comfort out of the boat, and in the water, increases their learning curve exponentially.

3. Kayaking is one of the best sports I've seen for teaching responsibility. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of responsibility and good decision making I see from 9-15 year old kids in regards to kayaking. Sure, we put them in safe environments in which they can succeed, but we also allow them to make many of their own decisions on the river - which rapids they run, which lines they'll take, which rapids they'll lead, etc. The results are often amazing. For example, when we ask the kids to choose their own line at Nantahala Falls very few of them actually choose the standard left to right line, eddying-out in Truckstop Eddy, like 95% of boaters do. They often choose completely different lines going down the right side of the Falls which they correctly deduce will give them a greater chance of success than the standard line.
For more information on our Kids/Teen week programs click here
Photos courtesy of Jon Clark: Advanced Kids Week

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