At-Risk Teens Get Their Feet Wet Whitewater Kayaking

How a New York non-profit takes young non-swimmers from dry land to whitewater in just a few days


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How do you teach kids who don’t know how to swim how to kayak? If you’re Jessie Stone, a freestyle kayaker and doctor who built a health clinic in Uganda, you start by taking them to the pool and teaching them to put their faces in the water. Pretty soon, they’re swimming the length of the pool. By end of day three, you’ve taught them how to wet exit, brace, and roll their kayaks. In other words, you don’t waste time.

Stone, 45, founded the Inner City Kids Kayak Camp in New York in 2001. Since then, she’s offered an annual five-day intensive summer clinic to dozens of at-risk teens who would otherwise have no access to wild rivers or boats. This year’s camp, which wrapped earlier this week in Hastings-on-Hudson, brought together eight students from the Graham-Windham School, ages 12 to 17, all of whom have been separated from their families due to abuse or neglect. On hand was guest instructor Eric Jackson, a four-time world champion freestyle kayaker and founder of Jackson Kayaks, whose passion for the sport is only a few degrees shy of totally gonzo.

Of course, rabid enthusiasm comes in handy when you’re trying to convince newbie urban boaters that it’s not totally nuts to peel themselves out of their boats while upside down underwater. So does a four-year-old prodigy like K.C., Jackson’s youngest child, who’s been wet-exiting since practically birth (birth being its own kind of wet exit) and made a guest appearance in the pool to rally the campers before they headed out for the real action on the Hudson, Housatonic, and Farmington rivers.

Check out EJ’s video of the action here.