For many of us, our greatest aspirations are dreams that we desperately wish to become realities. We imagine ourselves achieving greatness and conquering the barriers that lay in front of us. For me, this dream is attending World Class Kayak Academy

Naomi paddling Triple Drop on the Orletta Section of the White Salmon River

World Class Kayak Academy

World Class is a fully accredited high school that uses athletics as a platform to travel the world, explore new cultures, and cultivate a community that supports safety and teamwork: the end goal being to build well rounded youth that make a positive impact on the world. Each quarter the students of World Class Academy travel to a different location, making that place their home for those seven weeks: exploring, learning and kayaking.

Naomi backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail

Learning to Whitewater Kayak

Let’s take a step back to two summers ago, back to when I was first learning to kayak. I had already fallen in love with the sport; within a week of my first pool roll I had declared it my life long passion and absolute love. Not only was kayaking amazingly fun, but the people teaching me were so supportive, positive, loving, and inspirational. One of my favorite things about kayakers is their relentless excitement to teach beginners, especially youth, more about the sport. Everyone and anyone who kayaked would talk to me about how cool of a sport it was, how it only got better the more you learned, how they wished they had learned at my age, etc. One of those many conversations first sparked the flame that led me to World Class. 

Pre-kayaking meditation!

It was a late August day and I was obsessing over my new found passion to a very experienced and talented kayaker and Wet Planet guide, Jeremy Bisson. It was in this conversation that I first heard the mention of a kayaking school. Throughout the next couple weeks, I heard more and more of this unknown kayaking academy. At the time, it seemed like an impossible reality. I could barely kayak, I had just learned to roll, and had hardly brushed the surface of the sport. Throwing my whole life into it seemed a little extreme. But as I was once told, “kayaking is going to ruin your life in the best way possible”. And that it did. 

By the time I  was finally able to find out more about World Class, I was hooked. It was my dream, but seeing the price, I was certain that it would never be a reality. So I just kept kayaking. More and more I became obsessed; the following summer I couldn’t get enough of it. Going two or three times a day just wasn’t cutting it for me. I wanted more. I had reached the point where kayaking was indeed ruining my life in the best way possible. World Class was mentioned to me again the following fall, this time it seemed much more real. It dug a nail in my side: I continually thought about it, nothing I did (well except for actually going kayaking) could shake my thoughts of World Class. I obsessed over it. I would stare at the application, contemplating how I would answer those questions if I ever had the opportunity. 

Snowy days on the White Salmon River

Then after an especially long school day and a good twenty minutes of staring at the questions, I took a baby step toward my dream. I never knew the fear and anxiety that came with chasing you life’s aspirations, especially a dream that meant the world to me, until this application. My essays began to absorb my thoughts and bled into all areas of my life. There was a total of seven of them, three for the application and four for the desperately needed financial aid. The essays were written, rewritten, revised, deleted altogether, and written again from scratch. Finally I reached a point where I thought maybe, just maybe they were good enough. The essays had not been the only struggle, throughout these weeks of excessive writing and rewriting I was continually bugging my parents, begging them not to let me go, but to sign the application, just to give it a chance. Finally after reading my essays they saw how serious I was about it, how much it truly meant to me. 

So I submitted my application. I thought that the anxiety, fear, frustration, and would subside if I turned in the application. Rather the contrary happened, the anticipation of not knowing was burning a hole through me. I had handed people who knew nothing about me the power to completely fulfill or crush my dreams. In the weeks of waiting, I began to doubt so much of who I was, I was filled with an unshakable anxiety and fear that I wouldn’t be accepted. Even kayaking, my ultimate stress relief, wasn’t helping. I would spend the whole trip down the river absorbed by the thought that I may never achieve my dream, that even though I had given everything I had it might not be enough. People would tell me that I didn’t need to go to World Class or that I will have other dreams. But that never changed what I wanted. I wanted to go, I wanted to kayak, I wanted to travel, I wanted to be part of the team that passionately loved kayaking as much as me, I wanted to have my own adventure, an adventure that I had earned from the very beginning to the very end. 

Asisting the 1st grade classroom at the Trout Lake School

At 6:00 am on a Wednesday, after what seemed like forever I received a letter telling me that I was accepted with a half scholarship. I spent very little time focusing on anything that day, rather I lived a dream inside my head. I imagined myself flying over waterfalls, laughing with strangers who had become family, sitting in the tropics, and tan-freckled skin from long days under the sun. 

But again I was hit with reality, dreams are not free. I still needed $10,000 to go World Class. Luckily, mini-me had been obsessed with chasing goals and had always imagined going on some grand adventure. I had saved $3,000 dollars in tips throughout the past four summers at Wet Planet for an adventure just like this one. $7000 seemed just like little digits,  until I needed it. My first idea, which seemed ingenious at the time, was to reach out and get sponsored by companies. A little bit of flattery and I could have $7000 in no time, right? I called over 200 companies from large corporations to small, local kickstarts, explaining the same story about how I had passionately fallen in love with the sport, who I aspire to be, and why they should take a chance on me. I was rejected by every single one. Kindly by most, wishing me well with the occasional discount on a couple clothing items. 

There was plenty of frustration and many tears as I saw my fantastic dream crumbling into nothingness. So I sat down again and rethought the real value of $7000. I could easily put $2000 from my summer job at Wet Planet toward World Class. So really I only needed $5000, still huge, but slightly smaller. That led me to another idea, if people wouldn’t donate money they would donate things right? So I started all over again, this time asking companies for item donations to a virtual silent auction. Using a platform I had found while searching for “how to make a silent auction successful” I listed the $2000 worth of auction items I had collected and let then the bidding began. I ended up making a little over $3000 from my fundraising. The tears and frustration slowly become smiles and laughter as I took baby steps toward my goal. 

My Wet Planet Sponsorship

I did get one sponsorship though, one I did not ask for. I had been too afraid to approach anyone I actually knew about getting sponsored, maybe I would’ve been more successful if had. In this case I didn’t have to, rather Wet Planet approached me, and very kindly offered to sponsor me. The only sponsorship I got was my employer and I’m super grateful for that!

Cooking at the Wet Planet Cafe & Grill

Now, six months after receiving my acceptance letter I have reached my goal. This experience of making my dream into a reality has taught me more than anything else in my life and has helped shape how I see the world. I have learned the importance of persistence and failure. As many people know, failure can be crippling and difficult to rebound from, but I strongly believe that without failure and challenges you will struggle to grow. Life’s challenges push us to be greater people. I finally realized that talking to people isn’t as hard as it is made out to be and that people are very open to listening. The largest lesson was the importance of generosity and giving people a chance, whether you know them or not. This experience was a reminder that kindness and love will never be forgotten and that everyone deserves a chance to chase their dreams.

Everyone who supported me has left an incredible mark on my life. I will spend years trying to pay forward everything I’ve been given and working to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness, love, respect, and generosity equal to the one I have been shown. I aspire to reflect all the light I have been given back to the rest of the world.

Author Naomi has worked on the Wet Planet Cafe & Grill’s team since 2016. As you already know, she loves kayaking, and she would love to become a kayak instructor in coming years.