Trust – the Essential Ingredient for the Inner City Kids Kayaking Camp

Trust is something that we often take for granted without even knowing it. I look at many things in my life and think about how many would not occur without trust both by me and with the people I am working/interacting with. The inner city kids kayaking camp is a perfect example of this. This year is our 13th camp in 15 years. We had 11 kayak students – a mix of students and teachers from the Graham Windham School in Hastings, NY, and made famous because of the play Hamilton. Elizabeth aka “Eliza” Hamilton founded the original version of the Graham Windham school in NY in the early 1800’s. It is truly remarkable that it still exists today as a residential school for kids who cannot be at home with their families for a whole variety of reasons.


One incredible thing that characterizes this camp year after year is that the kids we teach to kayak often do not know what whitewater kayaking is and many don’t know how to swim. Despite this, our students are willing to do all kinds of things that we ask them to do that scare the heck out of them and really push them out of their comfort zones. For most, the first of this is doing wet exits. Going upside in a kayak and having to get out if you don’t swim and have any claustrophobia issues can be a huge deal and a giant exercise in trust!! The kids really think that they might drown trying this and so being willing to try and flip the kayak over is a huge ice breaker!!


This is just the beginning. After the students practice wet exiting, we teach them to roll and ask them to practice, and once they are comfortable in the pool doing all of this, we push them again to paddle with us in the Hudson – a big, wide open body of water compared to the pool. At first, the kids have trouble getting their boats to go straight and they get frustrated. They have to deal with wind and waves and the unsafe feeling of open water, but again they trust what we say and are willing to try – even when they get frustrated, they keep trying. We encourage them and they see that their persistence pays off. Each year again I am surprised by kids who seemingly have a melt down on the Hudson and come back the next day for more. They all do realize eventually that they can get where they want to go under their own steam. It is amazing to watch this process unfold.


The next big jump is to the whitewater. Our first trip to unfamiliar nature is the Housatonic River in Connecticut. Here the kayak students see and experience their first rapids. All are effected immediately – either thrilled, terrified or mesmerized. And once the kids paddle their first rapid, they have a very direct experience of things being a lot more fun than they thought. Even for the people that cannot swim, to paddle and swim a rapid – always with their lifejackets and kayaking gear on – they begin to make friends with this once terrifying and scary beast and enjoy the river, see what it has to offer. By the end of the last day, they have paddled down a series of rapids, learned to catch and leave eddies, and begun to speak the language of the river. They have a window into a whole new world and even for a short time, they have left a familiar world behind, and they can only do this because they trust us to show them the way and keep them safe.


Even after all these years of doing this, I find the entire process miraculous and of course so much fun! None of this magic would be possible without a lot of help and team work! A giant THANK YOU goes out to all the people who come together to actually make things happen. This year it would not have been possible without EJ, Dave and Paula Saaf, Andy Kuhlberg, Sam Reichman, Cate Spear and Jeff Dynia. Special thanks to Eli Reichman for coming to take photos and drive our van with all the gear (Yes, Eli is Sam’s Dad so they got some quality time in too!) Dave Saaf did save the day this year because we were just a tad short-handed and Dave dropped everything at the last minute to help teach. It was really fun to see him in a kayak again! EJ and Jackson Kayak not only did a superb job teaching and supporting us but got boats to us that we desperately needed right in time! Really if there is a definition of community making things happen in a positive way – this is it! Thanks everyone who helped make this so special – I couldn’t do it without you!!

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