Thirty gates. Twenty-three dollars. Eight hours. The announcement of flight 2354 to San Jose drew my time in the Houston airport to an end. My patient attitude disappeared into a flurry of jittery excitement. I was returning to my team: World Class Kayak Academy. Through our travels around the world, most recently kayaking in Costa Rica, this group of people is one I will never forget. The lessons I have learned from them and the experiences we have shared are ones that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Upon landing in Costa Rica we collected outside the San Jose airport. The bags, kayaks, paddles, and twenty kids lined the sidewalk of the arrival terminal. The next leg of our trip began with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a rattly, slightly broken bus. It chugged and huffed along for three hours over the mountain pass into the valley where the lovely city of Turrialba rests. 

On the way to Turrialba

Jim and Sally Wells, a local Trout Lake couple who live part time in Costa Rica, had opened their home to World Class while the students are kayaking in Costa Rica. The students piled into their various accommodations and collapsed in exhaustion. We spent a total of eight weeks in a variety of sleeping arrangements from the master bedroom to tents on their property.

My first taste of Costa Rican whitewater was the Pacuare River. It is one of the most incredible places I have been. To get to the river you spend almost an hour winding your way down into a steep river canyon. The canyon walls are lined with jungle, the water is bright blue, and waterfalls cascade off the sides. It is a place untouched by the detriment of humanity; a place to reconnect. Within these walls I found myself  at peace. I often spend my time living in the future, but there I spent the whole time kayaking in Costa Rica centered and present with my team. 

Learning how to kayak waterfalls

The remainder of the seven weeks passed in a blur of paddle strokes and studying. The next eight weeks were filled with waterfalls, beaches, canyons, and jungle boat rides. Everything in Costa Rica had an element of magic to it.  Our team traveled around the tiny country soaking up the Costa Rican lifestyle in the jungle, mountains, and finally the beach. We concluded our magical adventure in the country with a week of kickflips and surfing at the coast. 

Costa Rican Coast

Overall what I will take away from World Class is not the places we went or the things we did, but the people I did it with. Each one of them has impacted my life and taught me something about who I am and where I want to go. Kalob Grady, the head coach at World Class, has taught me to take the extra moment to be kind and empathetic. Maddie Kimmel my best friend at World Class, has reminded me that nothing pays off like hard work. Rachel Buys, the student body president, has shown me that equality and compassion make the best leaders. Nicole Mansfield, my mentor, has demonstrated to me how important it is to be humble while striving to reach your next goal. Cole Moore, my calculus teacher,  has shared with me the type of excitement and positivity that make the world a little brighter. 

Each teammate has left me a little better than they found me. They have taught me to be kind, humble, empathetic, compassionate, driven, and loving. From dish-washing to late night studying to 5:00 am workouts to running 30 foot waterfalls, I have learned that it is not what you are doing, it is who you are doing it with. While I am sad to be leaving my team at World Class Academy, I’m excited to move forward with new adventures and the resolve to surround myself with people who make life magical.


Author Naomi has worked on the Wet Planet Cafe & Grill’s team since 2016. As you already know, she loves kayaking, and plans to be a kayak instructor for Wet Planet when she turns 18. If you haven’t been following Naomi’s kayaking journey, you can check out her previous blog here!