For some folks, getting on the water to paddle is super easy. For others, experiencing the joy of paddling can seem unattainable whether that be based on hesitancy uncertainty, anxiety, or just not having access to boats and gear.
This spring and summer, AQ Outdoors received a grant from Sport Canada and Canoe Kayak Canada that enabled first-time paddlers the chance to get into a kayak and try paddling for the first time; whether in a pool environment or on the lake supported by skilled paddling instructors. AQ Outdoors partnered with two helping organizations Hull Services, and the Centre for Newcomers.
The impact that this opportunity had on the youth, families, and staff from Hull Services has been nothing short of incredible. The partnership between AQ Outdoors and Hull Services was fantastic as it created a rich experience that aligned with Hull Services treatment initiatives to provide opportunities for novel sensory experiences and help manage difficult emotions based on past or present challenges in life.
Paddling as an activity, has immense healing properties and contributes to improved mental health. It was incredible for me as a Hull staff member and an AQ Flatwater Paddling Ambassador, to combine these two areas of my life and watch how each person challenged themselves, developed skills, gained confidence, and thoroughly enjoyed their kayaking experience.
AQ’s paddling instructors played a pivotal role in creating a safe and enjoyable environment for participants of all ages. The journey began with six spring pool sessions, where new paddlers ventured into whitewater kayaks, received dryland training, and conquered their first wet exit. Basic paddle strokes, including the sweep stroke, forward stroke, and edging practice, were taught, as well as learning to navigate the pool through paddling games such as Sharks and Minnows (the paddler’s version of British Bulldog), and skill development.
The Saturday/Sunday Lake Courses we ran were extremely popular and offered a different kind of experience in recreational and touring kayaks. After discussing water safety, paddlers were fitted into their boats and taught how to get in their kayaks at the shoreline. Instructors reviewed and practiced the basic flatwater paddling skills (sweep stroke, forward and backward stroke, the use of core muscles etc.) before playing some fun paddling games such as Freeze Tag.
The new paddlers’ nervousness was quickly replaced with energy, laughter, and pride in their accomplishment. The best part about the lake courses was that the Saturday session was focused on introducing each person to flatwater and skill practice exercises and developing a level of comfort. The same paddlers were again on the water for the Sunday session to review and advanced their skills followed by a longer scenic paddle on Glenmore Reservoir. It was incredible as an organizer to watch these new paddlers build their confidence on the water. They all enjoyed the experience and expressed their heartfelt appreciation for the opportunity. There is no better way to understand what a positive experience this was for the kids, family members and Hull staff than to read some of their comments.
“I loved the challenge of trying different boats and the hard work it made me do. It challenged me to manage my fears.”
“What I appreciated most about kayaking was the opportunity to socialize with others, especially my family. Kayaking opened up a new leisure activity to do with my family.”
“I liked getting out in nature, trying a new activity. The wet exit lesson in the pool gave me confidence. I wasn’t afraid to flip over after that. I loved seeing Bryan and the AQ team share something they clearly love. Their enthusiasm for the activity is contagious. I was pleasantly surprised with how calming it was.”
“The exemplary leadership of the trainers encouraged me to challenge myself at my current skill level. It improved my confidence on the water in turn enabled me to relax and enjoy the peace and beauty of my surroundings.”
“I appreciated, as a Hull staff, that I had the chance to learn kayaking alongside the youth. It was a great experience to connect with youth in a new way.”
“I liked that I could go fast with the double-bladed paddle, and it felt different than just using one paddle with a SUP. It helped give me confidence to be out on the water in general.”