By Adrick Brock
Toketee Falls is a narrow sheet of white water that spills 85 feet into a deep pool flanked with moss and ferns. For most people, the falls is a pretty scenic destination along Oregon’s Highway 138, but for extreme kayaker Katrina Van Wijk, it was an opportunity to push the limits and earn a first female descent.
Van Wijk grew up on the rivers of southeastern Ontario. Her parents, Claudia and Dirk Van Wijk, own and operate Canada’s oldest whitewater school, the Madawaska Kanu Centre. The racks at MKC teem with all manner of canoes and kayaks designed for slalom, freestyle, creeking and expeditions, and Katrina has paddled almost all of them.
It was this breadth of experience that spurred her to create the Rolls Royce of summer camps for teen boaters: Whitewater Riders.
Unlike a lot of youth kayaking programs out there, Whitewater Riders promises to put kids in all kinds of boats, not just the ever-popular playboat. The curriculum is a 12-day smorgasbord of fun and adventure, chock full of river trips, clinics, races, video sessions, and overnights. It covers slalom, freestyle, creeking and canoeing.
Van Wijk is the camp’s mother goose on and off the water, shuttling the Riders between the Madawaska, Petawawa, Gull and Ottawa Rivers. She’s joined for each unit by other world-class instructors. This summer’s program will feature Canadian and U.S. national slalom team members Thea Frollick and Ashley Nee, along with top freestyle competitors Martina Wegman, Kaleb Grady and Dane Jackson. Katrina’s sister, Stefani, is a wilderness canoe guide and will be leading the three-day camping trip.
The focus of the Riders program is to create what Van Wijk refers to as “complete boaters.” Built into the program is a full-day Swiftwater Rescue course that will highlight 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,” she says.
Van Wijk sees Whitewater Riders as a natural evolution in MKC’s Family Week and Kids Kayak programs. These are weekend and five-day courses for everyone in the family, from six year-olds to 86 year-olds, kayakers and canoeists alike. “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.”
In addition to her feat at Toketee Falls, Van Wijk spent August of 2014 completing two second descents in Norway. Her record time at the Green River Race is still unbroken in the women’s category.
Her real passion, she says, is inspiring the next wave of paddlers. “There are so many young paddlers out there who just need to be pushed to that next level,” she says. If that means losing the Green River Race record to one of her proteges, so be it.
The camp has two installments for the 2015 season, one starting in late June, the other in late July.