June 14, 2018

Come on in, the water's fine!

Kids unplug with a paddle in UCalgary’s Outdoor Centre paddling programs

When you’re outdoors on a paddle board learning about forward strokes, sweeps and draws, you might spot muskrats or beavers, eagles, hawks and herons, deer coming down to the water’s edge for a drink, and families of ducks and geese floating peacefully nearby.

Being out on the water gives people a totally different perspective on where they’re at. “You’re seeing things from the middle of a lake, or you’re being pulled down a valley on a river, and it’s beautiful,” says Bridget Mahaffey, the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre youth program co-ordinator. “Paddling offers a range of opportunities for you to do whatever you like the most about being outside.”

Learning how to paddle is part of Canada’s heritage.

“Every Canadian should be given the opportunity to learn how to paddle a canoe. It’s a uniquely Canadian thing,” says Logan Jones, Active Living interim director.

The Outdoor Centre makes learning to paddle easy, offering programs for people of all ages to learn how to paddle safely. There’s everything from canoeing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding lessons for children, youth, and families, as well as rafting trips and multi-day backcountry excursions.

Instructors say there are many benefits to learning to paddle, especially for young people. Children and youth develop skills in physical literacy, teamwork and leadership, and build self-esteem, self-confidence, independence and resiliency.

To this end, the Outdoor Centre offers a variety of paddling camps for students, such as the extremely popular World of Watersports, where participants Grades 4 to 8 learn the fundamentals of canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, river kayaking, recreational kayaking, and rafting.

“After the kids learn the basic skills, we let them explore and play in the water,” Mahaffey says. “It’s a huge water fight, and nature-exploring adventure all week!”

Although all the Outdoor Centre kids paddling camps and teen paddling expeditions are sold out, there are still some programs with space available. See the story for details.

All the Outdoor Centre kids paddling camps and teen paddling expeditions are sold out.

Bridget Mahaffey, for the University of Calgary’s Outdoor Centre

The Outdoor Centre also works in partnership with the City of Calgary to teach children and youth how to paddle, with the Outdoor Centre operating the boat house at Bowness Park, and offering paddling lessons to many school and youth groups on the lagoon.

“It’s a lifelong sport,” says Steven Wapple, paddling instructor and guide, who organizes group bookings for Bowness Park. “These days, kids spend a lot of time inside, whether they’re in classrooms, at home watching TV, or looking at computer screens or smartphones. I have been privileged to teach kids canoeing and kayaking and to lead them on guided trips, and it’s great to watch them in situations where they’re completely disconnected from their electronics. They are present in the moment and need to react to the water, in order to control their boat — otherwise, they pay the consequences and end up in the drink!”

Wapple’s passion for paddling comes through loud and clear to his students, who appreciate his depth of knowledge and relaxed style. You can spot Wapple on the cover of the Outdoor Centre summer program guide, paddling a river kayak down a waterfall in Johnston’s Canyon, west of Banff.

The Outdoor Centre is a valuable resource for outdoor education teacher David Manning and his Westmount Charter School students, by providing customized paddling trips, transportation, equipment and instruction at Bowness Park and out in the backcountry.

“They have very experienced and personable instructors, and they offer a really good breadth of courses,” Manning says. “When you expose students to these lifelong adventure-based outdoor activities, you are setting them up for an appreciation of wilderness, and a lifetime of health and wellness.”  

The Outdoor Centre has some spots open in Canoeing with Kids, and most older teens can take paddling lessons with a parent, while schools can find information on our Outdoor Centre group paddling lessons for schools.