Compared to other sports, whitewater kayaking can be a challenging hobby to pick up. Not only do you need to be prepared with the right gear, but you need a boat, a river, paddling friends, and all the right techniques.

While getting started can be intimidating, the Gorge is known for its whitewater enthusiasts and scenic rivers, so the paddling community is a major part of the region. For kids who want to get into kayaking, accessibility can prove difficult – especially if their parents or guardians have never kayaked before. Luckily, Wet Planet’s kayak school has been around for 20 years to help teach locals and visitors, but the Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club (CGJKC) is also an option to bridge the gap for young aspiring kayakers. Newcomers to the sport may not have the exposure, means, or continued support to get into paddling without a youth club like the CGJKC.

Started by local boater and Wet Planet team member Naomi Elyard, the Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club aims to make whitewater more accessible and inclusive. “We recognize that our sport is an extremely exclusive sport with many barriers to participation,” Naomi shared. The club is on a mission to break those barriers and share the joy of paddling with young people in the Gorge who may not feel like the river is inviting.

CGJKC group getting ready for rafting

Naomi Elyard began kayaking at the age of 14 and has quickly risen to an impressive level of skill. Her years paddling in the Gorge and around the world have connected her to countless members of the whitewater community, and her experience has helped her as an instructor for paddlers of all ages. Elyard has worked for Wet Planet for many years, and her affinity for paddling led her to start the junior kayakers’ club. She understands the challenges that new boaters face and her goal is to help other young people gain access to the sport in a safe, supportive environment.

Rattlesnake rapid on the White salmon

Centered around respect for others and the outdoors, CGJKC’s goal is “to create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, loved, and appreciated for who they are” while recognizing the beauty and value of rivers and the river community. As Program Director of the club, Elyard reached out to partner with Wet Planet for a family-inclusive day of whitewater fun. Always applauding the CGJKC initiatives, Wet Planet has committed to sponsoring a rafting event for the club on the Lower White Salmon River on June 3rd, 2023.

“Our goal for hosting the event is to help more kids access the river. We believe that a family river day is a fantastic way for families to see the value in outdoor recreation as well as the community-building, empowerment, and skillset that it helps build,” Elyard said. The function is open to the public, but CGJKC is reserving space for low-income individuals and families in hopes of making the event accessible and inclusive.

Rafting group on the White Salmon River

The event on June 3rd included whitewater rafting, crafts, outdoor games, and a BBQ at Northwestern Park. As a partner of the club and event sponsor, Wet Planet provided guides, gear, and rafts for the afternoon. There will also be bilingual guides, volunteers, and paddlers from CGJKC. Wet Planet has offered a nearly 75% discount on the trip cost for a fun rafting outing on the White Salmon River. Members of Mt. Adams Orchards and Culture Seed were encouraged to join the fun, no experience or personal gear required!

“Our collaboration with Wet Planet is key in facilitating this event,” Elyard shared. “It takes a whole community to create more inclusive spaces in the outdoors and I am so grateful to have partners like Wet Planet to help make it happen. I can’t thank them enough for supporting us with this event.”

Partnering with the Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club is an exciting opportunity for Wet Planet. Jaco Klinkenberg, Co-Owner of Wet Planet, couldn’t be more eager to support Elyard’s endeavors. “We are so proud of what Naomi has done and accomplished since [learning to kayak], from becoming an excellent kayaker and inspiring ambassador for the sport, to making kayaking accessible to the youth in the area,” Klinkenberg said.