Giving Back: Mixing Paddling with Service in China


Recently, the international kayaking high school World Class Academy traveled to China to study, kayak and spread some paddling goodwill. Each semester, WCA conducts a Service Learning Project, giving back to local communities, whether at home or abroad. Here is the story of Salween Riverfest 2012, a fun, informative event that WCA students and teachers put on for the people of China’s Salween Valley.

It is a familiar sight to global paddlers: Show up at a remote river location somewhere in the world and the locals will come running. We’re oddities. They are attracted to the bright colors of our kayaks, the peculiar foreigners with strange outfits, cameras, paddles, helmets with stickers, and assorted items strewn about. But more importantly they are attracted to this crazy concept of whitewater recreation. The fact that these people, who clearly are not from around here, are actually going to get in this river and float away… something the locals have never done and have never been able to do.

Whitewater recreation is a privileged sport. The equipment, the instruction, and the logistics simply make it unattainable for the majority of the world’s population. Ask a local in China why the river is important and they will tell you a variety of things, but they won’t talk about the recreational value. This has never been exposed to them.

As a travelling high-school, we have the unique opportunity to share our world of river recreation with the people that we visit. Our Service Learning Projects are our way of giving back through different events and projects. Sometimes we focus on river clean-up; sometimes we give lessons in river safety; and we always make it fun and educational.

In the winter of 2012, World Class Academy decided to focus its Service Learning Project on getting the local communities in the Salween Valley to experience their river from the viewpoint of rafts and kayaks. WCA decided that in order for the local Chinese to gain pride over their local river, they must experience the power and beauty of it first hand.

In the spirit of international sharing, what better way to represent American cuisine than with french fries and donuts? We set up an NRS River Wing with blue Roll-a-Tables and laid out a feast of fresh local fruit, fried starch and carbs. Even though the day was slightly overcast, it was glorious. Our new friends were so eager to get in the kayaks and rafts that most didn’t even pause to roll up their pant legs, let alone remove their shoes.

The Salween Riverfest was put on by World Class Academy and NRS as a celebration of whitewater as a sport for everyone. It was put on with the idea that conservation begins with an appreciation for natural resources at a local level. On this day in the Salween Valley, when locals gathered by the river shores and around the foreigners with the brightly colored equipment, they did not just smile and point. They got into the kayaks and the rafts and engaged with the river like never before. For the first time ever, they too were able to float away.

About World Class Academy: World Class Academy is a traveling high school for students that want to earn their education while exploring unique rivers and cultures around the world. WCA takes pride in being the first program to offer an exceptional education to student-athletes using whitewater kayaking as a vehicle to instill life lessons, build confidence, and hone skills. Learn more at:  www.worldclassacademy.com