Its a hard claim to make, but a week with the cancer survivors of First Descents is typically the best week of kayak instruction all summer long.
The 2011 FD camps in Hood River and White Salmon, Washington were no exception.
This year, a handful of new campers and old campers came together to take on the challenges of whitewater kayaking with the kayak instruction staff at Wet Planet. Many started the week with absolutely no kayaking experience, handing over their anxieties and worries to receive smiles and laughter in return. Some campers had experienced the river before, during a previous FD camp, and returned to feel the flow of the river and build upon their skills.
What makes the First Descents learning environment so special?
1. While all campers share in the experience of battling cancer, most come from completely different worlds.
Butta works as a counselor in Texas.
Stryka attends school in the Northeast.
Scout runs a non-profit in Denver.
Despite these differences, everyone offers support and encouragement for fellow campers. Differences in lifestyle, opinions, or beliefs get washed away with the first wet-exit. Campers rejoice in each other’s successes and help out when challenges arise. Because of this, First Descents groups become a family, often resulting in a healthier learning environment on the river.
2. First Descent kayak course participants learn to take on whitewater in a completely immersed setting.
FD campers live the kayaking lifestyle.
Waking up to eat a big breakfast, campers begin to mentally prepare for their day on the water. This may be expressed by attempting to sleep through their alarms or impromptu parking lot dance parties. After riding over waves, slicing through river currents, and hitting the Klickitat River’s white water rapids head-on, the group returns to the lodge where post-kayaking activities begin: hanging out wet-suits, posting on facebook, and lounging in front of the panoramic view of Mt Hood.
The most important part: they do this for 5 days straight.
By building upon skills for multiple days in a row, the kayaking gets easier and the challenges become more attainable. A full-immersion kayak course is the only way to accomplish this accelerated and supported learning.
3. Campers take on the challenge of bigger rapids with the fire of a thousand dragons.
These kayak students know what it means to face adversity, discomfort, and frustration. They also know what it means to live life to the fullest, to laugh at every moment possible, and to build lasting friendships.
After getting that T-rescue, hitting that wave, or making it through the big whitewater, First Descents campers walk away with the knowledge that they can overcome any challenge they may encounter. Stryka and Butta were even rolling in the whitewater!
Whitewater kayaking naturally forces participants to let go of control while simultaneously taking charge. Kayaking requires strength and power, while also finesse and ease. Finding this balance is not easy for many people. Yet, once experienced, the feeling can never be forgotten. First Descents provides this experience to a group of people who will take it back to their daily life and use it to continually overcome challenges.
During this year’s 2 weeks of camp, Wet Planet’s kayak instruction team learned (and re-learned) how amazing this sport can be. We shared in campfire stories of the day’s events, we danced in the street while waiting for shuttle, and we got to share the passion and excitement of whitewater kayaking with a whole new group of people.
Thanks to all the staff and volunteers that made these two weeks of kayaking so phenomenal! Special thanks to Kate Wagner, Pixel, for some incredible photos!
Susan Hollingsworth, FD kayak isntructor and writer, felt incredibly lucky to be a part of the First Descents team for this year’s Hood River camp.