Youth Kayaking for Education, Fun and Life Skills

7-minute read

Aqua Bound Ambassador Marcel Bieg is the director of River House Outdoor Center in Eugene, Oregon. A lifelong paddler himself, Marcel discusses the paddle programming they offer as well as the myriad of benefits he sees for kids who paddle.

kids whitewater kayaking

We’re excited to share our interview with him. We hope it provides inspiration and motivation for families to see the possibilities of successful paddling education in their own communities:

Aqua Bound: Tell us about the River House paddle programs.

MARCEL: River House Outdoor Center is part of the City of Eugene’s recreation program. We’re basically a community center that’s focused entirely on outdoor education. We serve kids, adults and seniors and also offer adaptive programs. We work with a lot of affinity groups and teach in local schools.

Our paddlesports program is pretty big and established. For youth programming, we start at eight years old: ages 8-10, 11-13, and then we have a bunch of programs for 11-17 year-olds.

During the summer we have several camps that are paddlesports based: program beginner kayaking, beginner, intermediate and advanced whitewater kayak. We do a multi-day kayaking trip on the Deschutes River here in Oregon. We have SUP classes for kids like SUP surfing and SUP camp as well.

 kids kayak class, practicing kayak rolling

Young whitewater kayakers practice rolling

Then in the fall and spring, we have something called Club Programs. These are after-school and weekend programs in different disciplines: beginner, intermediate and advanced Kayak Clubs. In the spring we also have a youth kayak team for kids who have gone through our whole kayak program and are ready to start doing more.

We probably serve about 200 kids annually with close to a thousand user days each season, because every program is multiple days.

AB: Paddlesports must be pretty popular in your area for this kind of participation.

MARCEL: Yes, it’s pretty established here in the Eugene area. We’re just an hour from the coast and Oregon has tons of rivers. We have two rivers that converge in Eugene so there’s whitewater right in town. Then we have a number of rivers and lakes throughout the Cascades nearby. Fortunately or unfortunately, rec kayaking is really, really big here. A lot of people don’t know what they’re doing but at the same time at least they’re getting out. That’s really important.

Young kids coming into it is a big growth area for paddlesports. Our kayaking classes are probably some of our most popular programs.

kids on SUP boards learning to surf

Youth SUP Surfing class on the nearby coast

AB: What do you see as the biggest benefits to kids with paddlesports?

MARCEL: It’s limitless. I’ll start by saying we teach several outdoor disciplines from skiing to climbing to kayaking and sea kayaking. We teach these activities, but learning the skill is not the most important outcome to us. We use the activity to positively impact people’s everyday lives.

Most of these kids are not going to grow up to be professional kayakers or SUP surfers. But they are going to grow up to be professional people. And so that’s really what we focus on. We always talk about how many metaphors are created through paddlesports—like “running the river of life.”

That’s the biggest benefit right off the bat—the challenges the kids face, the relationships they develop, the fear control they have to face, risk management, how to manage themselves. A lot of kids just don’t get that anymore these days.

The other thing about our programs is we’re a “no cell phone” type of program. Kids aren’t allowed to bring their phones. In paddlesports, there’s no choice. Most of them don’t have waterproof phones so they don’t even want to bring them. It fixes that problem by itself.

In our programs we follow ACA curriculum and offer structure, but we don’t necessarily  dictate what a kid does at a feature or how they run a particular section. We teach the skills needed to run the river or surf safely, and then give students the autonomy to make their own plan.

I think that’s missing in a lot of kids’ lives, and paddlesports is a really easy way for kids to experience a level of autonomy. Most of these kids are doing things in our paddlesports programs that their parents have never done. Then they go home and it’s a big deal.

 kid learning to launch a whitewater kayak from above the water

Intermediate whitewater class—launch practice

We have a Junior Swiftwater Rescue Program for kids ages 11-17, entry-level and intermediate. I can’t tell you how many parents we’ve gotten for our Adult Swiftwater Rescue Class because their kids attend the youth program. They go home and tell their parent all these things they learned—so the parents want it, too. They realize their kids know more about safety than they do.

On the other side—and this is really, really important—we encourage kids to really be kids. It’s purely for the fun of the activity. We try to emphasize this concept in all our programs including paddlesports: They don’t care how good they are, they’re there for the joy of being kids.

 kids SUP class on whitewater

A youth class taking on some whitewater

AB: How long have you been involved with Aqua Bound?

MARCEL: I’ve been doing stuff with Aqua Bound even back when AB was still based in British Columbia. [See Aqua Bound’s history timeline here.] I’ve been an Aqua Bound Ambassador for years. Our program pretty much exclusively uses Aqua Bound paddles, 95% of everything we have.

All these outdoor sports have a lot of barriers to them. With a lot of companies, you get either Walmart crap or Werner that’s very, very expensive. Out of all the companies that exist in the market, Aqua Bound makes a quality product at a price normal people can actually afford. That’s the reason I’ve been with Aqua Bound.

It’s as good as anything out there at half the price. And it’s made in the US, so it’s pretty easy to sell that idea. We can buy paddles for our program at a good price that are tougher than most other stuff out there.

A paddle is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have for paddlesports—it’s like your motor. And so you can go out and buy junk and not really enjoy it…you can buy good stuff and take out a bank loan to pay for it…or you can buy Aqua Bound and have something that’s really good and super tough that you can actually pay for.

kid learning how to kayak surf, using Aqua Bound paddle

River House uses almost exclusively Aqua Bound paddles in its programming

AB: What’s your favorite paddle?

This is a tough question for me. I love my Whiskey for sea kayaking, my Shred for whitewater river running/creeking, and my Malta for SUP touring and SUP surf. AB also made me an Edge canoe paddle with an extra-long shaft that I use as a guide stick for rafting.

Honestly, though, AB made me two custom paddles for specific expeditions and activities which are hands-down my favorite. The platform for these special paddles is the Manta Ray touring blade with a whitewater carbon shaft.

One of these I affectionately call the Manta Surf. It’s 194 cm with a 30-degree feather (seen in the pic below). I use it for surf kayaking and river play boating.  

I have a second paddle with the same construction in a 210 cm with 0-degree feather that I use as my sea kayak rock gardening and down river/wind paddle. For me, it’s the best combo of weight, durability and power that I have ever found in a paddle and I absolutely love it.

Marcel Bieg in his sea kayak surfing a big wave 

River House Director and Aqua Bound Ambassador, Marcel Bieg

Our thanks to Marcel for his time talking with us! Read his bio and see his social channels here. Learn more about the City of Eugene’s River House Outdoor Center here.

All photos courtesy of Marcel Bieg and/or River House Outdoor Center.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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