Leading the Way with Ian Smith & the Watersmith Guild


“We think that First Waves is the perfect bridge to engage [youth] and allow them to become stewards, and it’s just a way for them to share that love that they can find on the water.” – NRS Lead Ambassador Ian Smith

With its history of coal mining and the pollution associated with its industrial past, a stigma lies within the waterways of Pennsylvania. A lack of connection to the rivers perpetuates the aversion.

In its tenth year of operation, First Waves uses river surfing, whitewater paddleboarding and filmmaking as a catalyst to inspire conservation of local waterways and mentorship for at-risk youth. It’s just one part of the Watersmith Guild, a non-profit started by NRS LEAD Ambassador, Ian Smith, that uses art and adventure programming to reintroduce Pennsylvania youth to the beauty and potential of their home rivers. While these teens build confidence on and off the water, they’re simultaneously becoming environmental stewards.

Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of Jared Wickerham.


“Leading the Way” is a film series that celebrates and promotes NRS ambassadors, organizations and projects fostering inclusivity and positive change in the outdoors.