Anna Bruno 02/10/2016 | Posted in 2016 Rock Star Competition, Family Zone, Featured Post, Instructional, Playboating, rivers, Team JK, Whitewater, WW Disciplines
With red hair, freckles and a large smile beaming out from beneath his helmet, Lorenzo Vellutino looks like any other Keener on the water. “Anna… wassup???” He shouts at me, offering his hand for a high five. Lorenzo’s accent quickly gives away a hint of the journey he has taken to get to the Ottawa River. He has traveled almost 4000 miles from Peru to spend three weeks paddling with the Ottawa Kayak School Keener program.
Fourteen-year old Lorenzo grew up in near Cusco, Peru in a whitewater family. The Vellutinos own a rafting company and Lorenzo’s father and uncles also kayak. Yet Lorenzo’s arrival to the warm waters of the Ottawa Valley have more to do with another Peruvian paddler: Juanito de Ugarte.
A Jackson Team paddler globally recognized for his warmth, generosity, and smile as well as his graceful paddling style, Juanito spent two summers working as a coach for the OKS Keener Program.
The OKS Keener program brings teenagers together to spend three weeks paddling the Ottawa River under the tutelage of some of the world’s best freestyle kayakers. Headed by Stephen Wright and myself, the program focuses on freestyle kayaking, racing, river safety and skill building, but also places a huge emphasis on youth development. “We aim to give kids the opportunity not just to be good kayakers, but good people who will contribute and give back by being leaders in the whitewater community,” Stephen says
Juanito shared this mentality and was passionate about expanding the whitewater community, mentoring young paddlers along the way. When Juanito passed away while kayaking in Chile in 2014, his loss left a huge void at Keeners and in the global paddling community.
In January, 2015, friends and family joined together to create the Juanito de Ugarte Memorial Scholarship, putting into action one of Juanito’s longtime dreams; providing paddling opportunities for Peruvian youth. The scholarship aims to fully cover the cost for one Peruvian youth to attend Keeners, paying for everything from flights and visa fees to the black “OKS” shirts Keeners must wear off the water.
Lorenzo is the second recipient of the Juanito Scholarship. Last year’s winner, Angela Palomino Baca came to Keeners speaking little English, and with no whitewater roll. In her three weeks, she made friends, learned her roll, and paddled her first real rapids.
This year, Lorenzo won the 2016 scholarship spot through a bilingual video application introducing himself, demonstrating his river skills and explaining what he hoped to take away three weeks on the Ottawa. When he found out he won, Lorenzo was in shock and then spent the next six months practicing for the Ottawa. He came into the program open to new experiences with a solid whitewater roll and left far stronger paddler with a new international network of friends.
How did Lorenzo like his experience at OKS? Here are a few of his thoughts:
“I think the scholarship let me be better at kayaking because I learned tricks like loops, and safety; like how to do knots and throw ropes, and how to surf big holes. But also made me more friends from everywhere to go kayaking with. Now I can do some of the chores, and help people when we go kayaking.”
“Mondays…Man I like Mondays…Because…We get to surf waves all day.
I don’t like Mondays because we have to do the speeches, and those are hard.”
“Garburator is my favorite wave for surfing.”
“Wednesday is fun because we do races, and the whole group gets to paddle together.”
“But Thursday…. Man…Thursday is the best day at Keeners!”
Thursday is probably the most infamous of all the days at Keeners. Known as Big Water Bacon Beatdown Thursday it is feared and revered as the day dedicated to challenging yourself, pushing limits, and of course, surfing large features such as right side Phils. It is an easy indicator of progress over the three weeks on the Ottawa as kids move past fear and intimidation to paddling confidently, many of them choosing to surf features they purposely avoided week one.
You may have seen the video Stephen Wright posted online of Lorenzo’s beatdown in Right Side Phils, a notorious feature on the Ottawa’s McCoy Rapids. Lorenzo drops in for a handsurf, arms wide open as he ducks his head embracing the foam pile. For almost two minutes, Lorenzo alternates between controlled surfing and out of control tumbling, face surfing, cartwheeling, his arms flapping as he tries to fist pump while still in the feature. You can hear his coaches and peers on the side cheering him on, shouting “Yes Lorenzo, Yes!” When he finally manages to surf out, Lorenzo rolls up on his first hand roll, then makes his way to shore
In three weeks on the Ottawa, Lore was on the water every possible moment practicing his hand roll in the flats, surfing at Garb and Pushbutton, or swimming and splatting the pourover at the Lorne. When he wasn’t kayaking, we could hear him singing around Keenerville, high fiving friends, or chasing after Pistol Pete, a dog-pig living at Keeners.
From his first surf to his first time cleaning a toilet, Lorenzo’s upbeat attitude and enthusiasm shone, earning him the honor of “Keener of the Year Off Water.” Voted by his peers, this award goes to the Keener who is the most helpful, gets along with everyone, and makes other people’s day better. More important than his getting first blunts on Garb, even more than winning “Beatdown of the Session” to earn the coveted Walla Walla shirt, earning this award demonstrates Lorenzo’s growth as a person; his awareness of those around him and his efforts to contribute positively to his community. We couldn’t be prouder.
The scholarship wouldn’t be possible without the help of our sponsors and from individual donations of money and gear. Jackson Kayak provided a kayak for Angela in 2015 that is now used to teach kids their roll in Peru, as well as a one of a kind Jackson Kayak Zen engraved with Juanito’s signature. A massive thank you to Level Six for dressing our scholarship winner in a Reign Dry Top, rashguard, board shorts, and steezy hats. Gracias to Sweet Protection and Benny Marr for making sure Lorenzo’s noggin looked good and stayed safe. Thanks to James Roddick and LP for Lorenzo’s paddle, which he loves! And of course, a huge Thank You to Wilderness Tours and the many others who work hard to make this scholarship a reality.
For more information or if you are interested in donating to the Juanito Scholarship to help another Peruvian Youth make the journey to the Ottawa River, visit our Facebook page www.facebook.com/livelikejuan/ our website www.juanitoscholarship.com or contact us at Juanito.Scholarship@gmail.com.