Waypoint Adventure: Using Kayaking to Teach People About Themselves

Waypoint Adventure is a non-profit experiential education organization that works with people with disabilities in the Boston, Massachusetts area—both kids and adults.

using kayaking waypoint adventures
(Photo courtesy of Waypoint Adventures)

Co-founders Adam Combs and Dan Minnich, their staff, and a small army of volunteers use adventure activities like kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, ropes courses and snow shoeing. But they don’t use them just to go out for a paddle or climb some rocks.

Their goal is to give their participants the chance to discover new strengths and abilities, new purpose, new talents. To help them realize how much they can do physically, mentally, emotionally…how far they can push themselves.

“When I stepped out of that kayak, I felt like I was walking on air.”
- Waypoint Adventure participant Bob H. (read Bob’s story here)

I had a chance to talk with Adam about why Waypoint uses adventure activities in general, and kayaking specifically.

Why Adventure Activities?

“Adventure is a great way to represent our everyday life—the challenges, the need for good communication and social skills,” said Adam. “The point is to transfer those skills back to everyday life.”

“Adventure teaches people about themselves. It teaches people with disabilities what they’re capable of.”

(Does that sound familiar? Really, that’s what adventure activities teach all of us!)

Waypoint offers two different types of programming: Open Enrollment and their main niche, Custom Groups. They partner with schools, social services organizations, families and individuals to provide quality adventure-based experiences.

These experiences have a way of pulling the participants out of their comfort zone, and opening doors for them to try new things and take new risks.

using kayaking
(Photo courtesy of Waypoint Adventure)

“I am in awe of Waypoint for creating such a supportive and inspiring climate for all to succeed. Waypoint has provided Abigail with successful experiences that provide her with the confidence to pursue indoor rock climbing and kayaking on a regular basis.”
 - Elaine B. (Abigail's Mom)

Why Kayaking?

Kayaking is an ideal way for Waypoint’s participants with mobility issues to go longer distances with their non-disabled peers. Getting on the water is a way to “level the playing field,” said Adam.

Kayaking is also an excellent way to teach teamwork, especially when using tandems: How are we going to get this boat into the water? How are we going to paddle together so we get where we want to go? How are we going to make this turn?

Each kayak participant is taught how to get in and out safely, how to wear their PFD properly, the three basic paddle strokes, and what to do if the kayak flips.

using kayaking
(Photo courtesy of Waypoint Adventure)

One Participant’s Story

Adam told me the story of Kamisha, a participant in one of Waypoint’s kayak programs. After a longish, windy, somewhat rainy trip on the Charles River, Adam was looking forward to getting the group back on dry land.
Just as they approached their take-out destination, Kamisha said, “I need to do this more.”

When Adam asked her why, she continued, “Sometimes I get too wrapped up thinking about my limitations. This adventure reminds me of what I can do. It brings me out of that [limitations] mindset.”

That’s it! That’s the vision Waypoint has: To give all people, regardless of their abilities, the chance for adventure. The chance to push past what they thought they were capable of.  

Kamisha got it. She understood she could take her kayaking experience and transfer those same skills, that same mindset back into her everyday life. Now whenever she finds herself discouraged by her limitations, she’ll remind herself of her day on the river, and remember: She can do it!

using kayaking
Kamisha (photo courtesy of Waypoint Adventure)

Visit Waypoint Adventure’s website for more information and stories.
Are you a kayaker in the Boston area? Consider volunteering with Waypoint.