From seasoned river veterans still a long way from a driver’s license, to parents and kids getting their first tracks in whitewater, what happened out there was a transformation in what river kayaking can mean for families.
The Powerhouse stretch was cranking, with about 4,400 cubic feet per second spilling over 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls and downstream to the five or six class II rapids between there and Plum’s Landing. Even though the water level was higher than average for a typical Powerhouse run, this was no typical day.
So, led by World Champion Eric Jackson and his talented kayaking kids Emily (16) and Dane (12), Western Washington’s most intrepid youth paddled out to strut their stuff. Dialed into their Jackson kayaks, they ferried and surfed like pros, impressing the bystanders back on the beach.
Emily and Dane were the stars of the show. Paddling 300 days a year while traveling around the country in an RV with your folks is not something every kid experiences, and I’m sure it has its trials, but when you watch these guys paddle, it’s clear that they are doing what they were meant to do, and that they love every minute of it. And they know how to reach out and teach other kids.
Dane was awesome, helping fit kids in the right boat and giving technique tips on the river. He showed us he is possessed of that classic kayaker motivation and independence when he silently eddy hopped his way upstream, then hiked another 200 yards to reach a surf wave, which he then enjoyed by himself, spinning endless cartwheels before floating back downriver. Emily, meanwhile, styled through the rapids with ease, dropping into every hole and making it look easy.
The confidence the Jacksons bring to their kayaking was infectious, and that’s when the transformation began. The other kids on the river were watching. That’s what kids do best: pay attention and absorb. It wasn’t long before the kids were lining up in the eddies and ferrying out to catch waves.
Alex Faith is a high school student on Mercer Island who has been kayaking for about six months. He dedicated himself to developing a solid roll in the pool, and is now a fearless boater. He showed it on Sunday, too. I saw him watch Dane surfing. I saw the moment he decided it was time to surf, and he got out there on that wave and stuck it. That happened again and again on Sunday: kids getting the courage and motivation to kayak from watching each other and throwing themselves into the mix.
See more photos here.
And is there any other way? Adults do it every time we paddle. We shouldn’t assume kayaking is any different for kids, who are ten times as observant as their parents when they want to be. Kids, like adults, find out more about themselves, their limits and their limitlessness, when they are out on the water. Lessons learned on the river seep into every aspect of their lives.
Emily Jackson, in a presentation back at Seattle Raft & Kayak later that night, summed it up: “When I’m kayaking, I feel completely independent. I feel completely free. When else does a kid have that chance in their life to be in complete control?”
As more kids discover this truth for themselves, I think we’ll have a river revolution on our hands, led by the next generation. And I can’t wait.