Serious Fun at Whitewater Symposium

Lowering the barriers to participation in whitewater kayaking was the major theme of the second annual Whitewater Symposium, hosted by the Nantahala Outdoor Center in western North Carolina. The Symposium, kicked off Oct. 22, offers the opportunity for all in the field of kayaking to exchange ideas about trends in equipment, instruction, growth, river access and any issue affecting the sport. The theme was revisited many times throughout the following three days. Mark Singleton, the new Executive Director of American Whitewater, presented statistics from the Outdoor Industry on participation in whitewater kayaking with the following questions: Has our sport stopped growing? Are we beginning a trend of decline? If so, what impact can we, the leaders in the field, have on this? Kent Ford hosted opportunities to promote class II-III whitewater and along with Bruce Lessels looked at current marketing effects on entry into whitewater kayaking.


Risa Shimoda, the prior Executive Director of American Whitewater, Pam Dillon of the American Canoe Association, Eugene Buchanan of Paddler Magazine, and Sutton Bacon of American Whitewater offered their insights into the state of the sport in the next five years. Whitewater parks, accessibility of rivers, instructional opportunities, Federal and State impacts to our sport, making the sport more available to kids, and marketing with an eye toward attainability were topics that were explored and expounded upon for the next three days.


I joined a panel with Eric Jackson, Chris Spelius, Sam Drevo, Wayne Dickert, and Mark (representing the beginners viewpoint), discussing current entry level boat choices and needs, including those for kids, women and the aging hardcore paddlers. Light-weight boats and proper fit of the boat to the paddler were the themes here!


River rescue practice opportunities for the weekend warrior as well as the latest professional techniques were offered. Sam Fowlkes of the American Canoe Association presented a session on lessons learned from river accidents. Will Leverette, a specialist in liability insurance, discussed risk management in whitewater. Sam Drevo and I teamed up to look at a leader’s role in adventure trips and developing judgment and self-assessment in participants. Clay Wright hosted an on-water discussion of personal responsibility and preparedness in on-river decision-making and group dynamics.


At the instructional end, Anna Levesque shared insights on teaching women, Kent Ford and Wayne Dickert offered instructional tips for tuning up intermediate river-running skills and the use of video to make breakthroughs in one’s paddling. I offered progressions for mere mortals and looked at the mental game of kayaking. Janet Burnett Cowie and Andrew Jillings’ session on Using Games To Improve Instructional Programs was a huge success and loads of fun! Ken Whiting offered ways to manage skill splits in a program, and the foundation of playboating skills. EJ also taught strokes and concepts for playboating. Leland Davis’ sessions on successful creek boating techniques were full. Scott Shipley offered slalom technique for recreational paddlers and led a discussion on whitewater parks. EJ presented a 15-minute roll progression while Kent Ford and I shared teaching tips for the sweep roll. Andria Baldovin offered daily yoga warm-up for paddlers and discussed use of yoga for injury prevention. Sam Drevo hosted talks on spin momentum and stroke timing. Gordon Black of the ACA offered instructor updates.


Attendees included manufacturers and reps, program organizers from schools, clubs, county parks and rec departments, universities, and individuals seeking coaching from the most experienced. Time spent in the sport ranged from 6 months to 40 years! Mealtimes buzzed with positive energy and friendly debates on almost all aspects of whitewater paddling. The overall sense of the event was one of unification in the concern for and optimism toward growing our sport.


Mary DeRiemer is an ACA-certified ITE. Her Web site, www.adventurekayaking.com, features information about trips to Ecuador, the Rogue River, and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, as well as lessons.

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