August 1st, 2013

2013 CReW Youth Challenge Kayak Program Last week -what a great season!

2013 was the 7th season of the CReW Youth Challenge Kayak program in Cornwall Ontario.

Every year we ask ourselves if it will be a good one. This was no exception. The group was small this year and when we met them we looked at each young face and asked what would they think, would they like this and would they walk away just a little bit different. The answer could be seen on their faces on Tuesday evening at Lamoureux Park.

Working with these young people as they got their first crack at kayaking has been the best evenings you could imagine. Every week we met up with Karolina, Alex, Jarrett, Nick, Max and Mateo.  Every week each one of them stood up to each challenge.
We saw every emotion imaginable, Some happy faces, frustrated faces, nervous faces, tired faces and yes even the occasional growling face. Everythying that comes with being young, learning something new and very different and most of all stepping way out out of the box. This week was no exception.

Sylvie and Zachary are out west with the truck for Slalom Nationals so I was joined by AJ and David on a spectacular evening at the park. Of course we can never forget Joel. Joel has been our SD&G BGC rep and help though the summer. Both on and off the water he has been awesome.

As always we started up with some good old fashioned warmups (loud and noisy too). Then we hit the water. slipping off the dock one by one.
A few easy-peasy paddle strokes while parents watched on and then up the river we went. A few great moment included Max making it up all the Eddy hops! Way to go Max!  Karolina making it look like she was born to paddle climbing each Eddy with the rest of the boys right on her stern.  Once the last eddy we talked a bit about the eddy lines and then wasted no more time. One by one like little ducklings they peeled out over the eddy line and into the mighty Saint-Lawrence in groups of three.
What we saw after that was exhilarating.
Each person heading out into the strong and boiling currents of the St Lawrence river. To some it may not seem like a big deal but let’s put those people in a 6 foot boat for the first time and let them bob around the boils, the small whirlpools and the strong currents. It can put things into perspective very quickly. Each kid, under the watchful eye of the instructors and assistant, used the new skills they learned and made it across from the bridge to the island, rode down the waves to and then crossed back to Cornwall.
And ohh the reactions!!!! From wired nerves to little shrieks and loads of smiles each one showed good paddle strokes, great boat balance and a resolve that has to be seen to be understood.
Can not help but proud of them all.
A couple more highlights? Jarret slipping down the eddy lines next to the island. Alex just had to touch land at the island just to say he did, Mateo sitting up straight and paddling hard and Nick (who I will forever think  of when I see the artwork of Andy Warhol) working the waves, keeping focus and his cool and seeing it through to the end.

By the time we go back to the dock they all had arms and abs that were on fire. Young kids taking on 5 to 6 knots or high water is a big deal and will those muscles.

Their reward for making the round trip? The satisfaction of knowing that they can and taking that knowledge home with them. Yest they have the abilities and can overcome soo many obstacles. :)
The other reward? A chance to play a bit with a stand up paddle board! Each one took a turn on our (my Daughter Emily’s) stand up board.  They enjoyed that too.

When it was all over, each of our new friends left us with a ORCKA flatwater certificate and badge, a crew sticker (gotta have one of those), a year CReW membership (puts them on our mailing list), a little more confidence for the lives ahead of them and loads good memories.

I am so very proud of each our kids in the group and look forward to paddling with them again soon. (maybe we will see some of them at the August CReW and World Kayak Throwdown in Valleyfield)

Now it is over and we will miss our new friends but know that we will get many of them back in boats as soon as possible and their adventure is just beginning.

Before we think about our next adventures, fixing up the gear for another season and making sure that the CReW equipment is ready for the next collection of eager new paddlers, I need to say thank-you.

Thank-you to our new young friends for accepting our sport and our words of encouragement and teaching.
Thank-you to the parents and care givers who are willing to trust us with their most precious commodity (ies).
Thank you to the parents and family members who we saw every week on the site and who encouraged their kids and were waiting for them. That is priceless and you should be proud.

Thank-you to the Boys and Girls Club for being a part of the adventure.

Thank-you to our sponsors: Jackson Kayaks, H2O Paddles, Level Six and the Trillium Foundation – your support continues to keep the kids on the water.

And thank-you to this years CReW volunteers. They are the back bone of our success and I would be lost without them: Sylvie, Aime-Jean, Emily and our latest addition David.

As always, I hope to see you on a river somewhere. :)


Robert Zwanenburg
7 years of putting young people in Kayaks!…. many many more to go….



July 10th, 2013

Youth Challenge Kayak Program

Youth Program 2013!

Well, Robert is suppose to do the writing but I lost him in his office :( Work is keeping him pretty busy but he is able to make it to the kayak program every week so all is good!

Last week Tuesday was our first kayak lesson with this year’s group. We have a small group this year because of instructor availability, having 2 kids on competitive teams makes life a bit unpredictable at times.

So we have 6 great teenagers joining us every Tuesdays in July at the Cornwall waterfront.

First week, we just got to know everyone and the teens learned about kayaking and the very basic stuff. It was cold too so getting wet was not high on anyone’s list. With that in mind, we started paddling with no skirts as we kept the wet exit until the very end of the evening. A little frustration at times just trying to get that playboat to go in a straight line but we reassure everyone that by next week, it will already be better :)

The evening ended with wet exits for some and just getting used to being upside down for others. One step at a time and everyone at their own pace, it’s perfect!

Week 2, we were missing one kid :( but he will be back next week. Tonight was nice and very warm so wet exits for everyone; we learn something and cool down in the process. Everyone did great, I know for those who have been paddling for a long time, it seems very easy but remember that first time someone flipped you upside down and said just relax? I do and relaxing was far from my state of mind; somehow being upside down, stuck in a kayak, under water wasn’t my idea of a relaxing place. So we work on that and show everyone that you are definitely not stuck in there and that you can find your happy place and relax :)

More paddling tonight, we went up the river a bit and into the current. Going upstream seems to help everyone perfect their forward stroke and then we get the bonus of going back downstream much faster. As we mentioned last week, everyone got a little better at all their strokes, very encouraging!

Then, enough work, time for the “stand up” game which is more a falling in game but it’s fun to try. We actually had one teen that did not fall in at all!!!  The goal is to stand up in your boat and paddle around as long as you can which is not very long for most of us. While you are in the water, might as well learn a practical skill: re-enter your boat. That went well for most too :)

We also had Joël, the volunteer from the Boys and Girls Club join us on the water. He is learning alongside the kids and seems to be having fun too :)

We are looking forward to next Tuesday evening for more learning and fun on the water!

A big thank you to our partners and sponsors who are making this possible!

Boys and Girls Club of Cornwall / SDG

Jackson Kayak

Ontario Trillium foundation

H2O paddles

World Kayak

Level 6


August 16th, 2012

Thank you for a great 2012 Youth Program!

Well, another season has gone by. Everyone was sad that it was the last kayaking lesson already, that’s a good sign.

I was very happy to see lots of amazing progress on everyone’s part!

A lot of them were very nervous on the first day and managed to conquer some of their fear at their own pace. It doesn’t matter to me if you managed to work on your roll or not, what does matter is that everyone had a good time, learned something new and pushed their limit just a little and I think everyone did just that!

I would like to say a Huge thank you to all our volunteers, without you, this program would not be possible (Eric our other instructor, Zachary and Emily and I even had 3 young people from last year’s program that came and helped a few times, that is awesome!)

Another Huge Thank you to our sponsors and partners, Cornwall Boys and Girls club, Ontario Power Generation, Jackson Kayaks, Kiwi Dezignz, H2O paddles, Hybrid Marine, Immersion Research and Level 6. Every year, you make it possible for us to bring this program to the young people of Cornwall and surrounding area!!!

Thank you and see you next summer!


Click on the thank you bellow to see our letter

than you



August 7th, 2012

Valleyfield day

Well, summer just flew by again this year, it seems worst every year though!

Here we are at the end of the summer program already :(

We spent Saturday in Valleyfield with most of the kids, only 2 could not make it. So we had 2 groups of 8 kids, 3 instructors and Zachary joined us for part of the afternoon as well to swim and do some tandem rides.

This was a day for whitewater introduction for all the kids.  The day started at 10 with almost all of them arriving very early and eager to get on the water :) Robert and I were there very early anyways as our 2 kids had to be there at 8 for their slalom training so we were ready for our day!

We start by talking about the river a bit and looked at other boaters enjoying the river; this gives them a chance to see why they would learn to roll and all the other skills that we practiced all summer. Might give them a goal for next year too :) Talking is a bit boring though so in the water we go for some swimming in the rapids. Well, that was a success and everyone wants to do it again so we swim one more time :)

Then some rafting down the river and while 2 instructors are doing that with 2 kids at a time, the other is in the tandem giving the other kids a ride down the river. The tandem is awesome it gives the kids a chance to experience the whole river even if they do not have the skills to run it on their own. All our instructors enjoy it too :)

Now that all the kids have swam, rafted and ran the river, it is time for the parents to get a whitewater introduction! So all those willing to swam the river with their kids as guides, again, everyone had so much fun that we had to do it a second time :)

Time just flies by when you are having fun and 2:45 is not that long so time was up very quickly :(

We had a short break and then did it all over again with the second group of kids and no, it doesn’t get boring or repetitive, it is always a lot of fun to watch the kids try something new and a bit scary for some and then watch them do well and go back for more! What a great day! I did sleep very well that night though :)

A huge Thank you to Eric who has been helping me at every class this summer and was there for the whole day on Saturday!!! Also to Zachary who joined us for the afternoon and Robert who usually runs the whole program but because of work this summer, I had to take over and he had to trust me :) Robert was able to come to the Valleyfield day and did a lot of tandem rides and swimmer rescues.

We still have one last evening in Cornwall and I am planning on enjoying it!


July 14th, 2012

First days of the 2012 Youth Program

Well, I am a week late but I have some pictures J Thanks to Kari-Anne from the Boys and Girls!

We had a big waiting list for the Wednesday evening so we have 2 classes this season as Robert is in Toronto and will be for most of the summer L and also, all the kids are pretty much the same size so boat wise, 2 groups work well. So we have one from 4:30 to 6:30 with 6 kids for which I am the only instructor ( When Zachary comes back he will be able to help me and Emily jumps in the water to help out when she gets back from her Hoop class too so I am not really alone J) and then 12 kids from 6:30 to 8:30. And along with my kids, I have Eric and Jen to help me for this one, thank you to both of them!!! I also have Zoe, a returning Youth Program enthusiast from last year that comes to give us a hand and I think Eric and Charles, both returning enthusiasts as well will be helping out for the next few weeks, I am very lucky to be surrounded by all these great people!!

First evening is just getting to know the kids and what they expect and why they signed up for this class. Some were apparently forced to, to keep them active I guess or just to try something new. Turns out he was the most enthusiast about kayaking at the end of the evening J.

I try to learn all the names and I usually get it by the third class 1 or 2 name aside that I might confuse all summer L I try very hard! Mine is written on my helmet so the kids have no excuse J

For the kids, they get to meet the instructors and volunteers, get introduced to a new sport and have to trust us with their lives as we flip them upside down and assure them that we will bring them right back up! We do J

Big night for everyone! Some were ok with the whole upside down thing but for others, it took until the second week to want to try that. As long as they can get out of the kayak without a skirt and no panic, I am happy so we work at their own pace after that. I bet that by the third week, everyone will have done the wet exit with the skirt on, judging from the interest in trying it by the end of Wednesday evening J

As I try to get them to do the wet exit in a relaxed manner, I tell them to think of a favorite place, thing, song, whatever will make them relax while upside down in the water. One kid said he did not have any favorite place, game, song, until I thought of a favorite food J So, while upside down, to stay calm, he thought about ribs J That sounded good and it worked very well for him, downside, I thought about ribs too and am having a craving for them!! Maybe ribs will be on the menu this weekend.

So, 18 new kids on the water this season! Both evenings were a blast; 2 hours just flew by with both groups. By the second evening, they were all paddling straighter, had better balance and were a lot more confident! I am looking forward to next Wednesday so we can all paddle together and I can witness their progress!!

Thank you t the Cornwall and SDG Boys and Gilrs club for their partnership and to the Ontario Power Generation for their continuing support!!!

Happy paddling!



Pictures are from the first group on the first week, I will add more as I get them.

November 12th, 2011

From the kids, my volunteers and myself – Thank-You

The Youth Challenge Kayak program has been running now in the Cornwall, Eastern Ontario region for 5 years. It started small and it is still small though growing at a nice little pace.
We have had a lot of fun, made new friends, shared our experience with kids and in return we have learned so much from them.

Tomorrow, is our first winter session at the Aquatic Center in Cornwall. The pool will see 6 new paddlers from the SD&G Boys And Girls Club at each session. They will meet many of our club members, learn to paddle, play some kayak polo with the club (also a good learning tool) and have a lot of fun while they are with us.

We could not do what we do without the sponsors that have stayed with us since the beginning and a few that have joined us along the way.
Please accept my thanks on behalf of the kids, the volunteers and my family. We hope that you will stay with us for many years to come and continue to allow us to teach and share with the young people around us.

Thank-you and stay tuned for posts from our winter sessions. :)

Robert Zwanenburg

Thank you Sponsors signed

August 21st, 2011

CReW Youth Challenge Kayak Summer Program ends and marks the beginning for new young paddlers :)

Saturday August 20th 2011
Riviere St-Charles, Valleyfield, Quebec.

A warm sunny day greeted us our volunteers as we set up for the Season finale of the 2012 Youth Challenge Kayak Program. The trailer is set up in Valleyfield, Sylvie, Zachary, Emily Aime-Jean, Jennifer and Eric are up to speed. 9 young people (16 registered) are on site and their parents and grandparents are with them to encourage and have fun throughout the day.

Sylvie has the equipment ready for the kids and in no time at all everyone is good to go.

The activities start with a tour of the site and a walk of the river. Zachary and Aime-Jean are the demo paddlers and give them a little freestyle show at the same time. :)
The river walk includes a discussion of the features, hazards, communications (hand signals), river courtesy and local rules. From there we move to our regular JSmarts Circle Check. The circle check brought out some new questions about the risks of whitewater and how they would be addressed. Everyone is showing a little anxiety and it comes out in the questions. After a few questions and a few jokes the kids are ready to swim!

Swimming is the best intro to a river for young kids (whenever possible). They can all swim and have a good control over that. So allowing them in to the water with their own perceived strengths and comfort lets them relax.
They swam it over and over again :)

Then we raft and get right into their warm ups a short review of entering current and a wet exit.

A short lunchtime is next and the chatter of exited kids continues. We also let the parents and grandparents (yep, grandparents too!) know that later in the days them would have an opportunity to swim and play with their kids.

Right after lunch Aime-Jean and I set up the duo’s and it is time for each of our young paddlers to get the full river paddling experience. (This is my favorite part of the day!) From the top of the river to the take out, each young person gets a feel for all the features, gets to surf and gets a taste for what they are aiming for.

The duo run is all it takes to get the group motivated to learn to roll. As the duo runs end, Sylvie and Jenn are already working on the roll with the kids.
After 2 hours of rolling practice Zoe, Charles and Melanie have shown us that they can roll. Nick has been rolling for a while and is now getting on the waves to surf! Aimee is just a hair away from rolling. Soo close and only needs a little bit of help from her instructors. Austin is very close and just needs to put pieces together upside down. Same goes for Ben. Katiana and Breanna worked on their confidence and comfort.

At the end of the day, the kids got a chance to take their parents and grandparents out onto the water for a swim of the rapids. It was awesome to see so many parents involved with their kids. It also gave them a chance to see just how much we are challenging their kids and how proud they should be of them all. Between swims, anyone who wanted to surf in the duo was welcome to join Zachary or myself. There were lot’s of takers and everyone left the duos with a smile :)

At 4 PM everyone is tired and out of steam. The kids are dry with their families and we are slowly packing up. All the kids have asked us when they can do it again and we assured them that they would have the chance for sure.

As fast as the season started, it is over.

Now we gather the gear, wash it all down and make sure that all the kids who have received our membership forms get them filled in and returned to us. Just because the program is over does not mean that he paddling is done.

All the kids have access to us and our gear. They are all welcome to come and paddle at any outing and event that we host.

This is not the end for them. It is the beginning!

Thanks to all the parents who leave their kids in our care.

Thanks to all our sponsors and partners without who we could not do this.

Thanks to our volunteers who are the back bone of the program

And thanks to all the kids who come back to us week after week.

See you very soon,

Robert Zwanenburg

August 18th, 2011

CReW Youth Challenge Kayak Program: Last Cornwall day of the season – Thank-You Trillium

Wednesday August 17th 2011.
Lamoureux Park, Cornwall, Ontario.

The last flatwater day of the season came up on us soo quickly. That’s right, the 2011 Youth Challenge Kayak Program – Summer edition is coming to and end this week.
At 6 PM we were joined at the Waterfront by our always energetic collection of kids and parents and Jacquie Richards (Executive Director of BGC Cornwall/SD&G) :) And,… we were also joined by a Special guest; Our Ontario MPP Mr. Jim Brownell came out so see us so that we could say a special thank-you from myself, my volunteers, the Boys & Girls Club and of course the kids.
Last winter we were fortunate to be able to be the recipient of a Trillium Grant. This generous grant has allowed us to purchase a 20 foot enclosed equipment trailer for all our boats and gear. As I explained to Mr. Brownell, this trailer has allowed us to spend less time handling gear and as a result more time on the water with the kids. It is a win win situation :)
Again, thanks Mr. Brownell and the Ontario Government for making this a reality for us.

A Happy Group

Shortly afterwards we were back in motion. Kids getting geared up, parents settling in, and the warm up began.
We spent some time with our JSmarts Circle Check and the kids are catching on. Sometimes, some of their “what if” statements are a bit funny but they get it and are thinking about the risks and how to handle them :)

This being the last evening of flatwater Sylvie and the gang wanted to work out a few rolls for as many of the kids as possible. It is a young group and many first time paddlers but several are really close. I am sure that if they choose to stick with us through the winter and next season they should all be up to speed :) For now the key was to get them worked up for our end of the season whitewater adventure in Valleyfield! So some rolling time and a bit of horsing around and the evening blew past.

After getting off the water we gathered everyone up for the seasons kayak certificates :) That’s right. Each of our new paddlers made different improvements. They each stepped up to their own challenges and anxieties and they pushed though. I am proud of them all.

I also wanted to make sure that they all took a moment to acknowledge the CReW. This summer I was away for more than half the program. Sylvie, Zachary, Emily, Jenn, Eric and Aime-Jean held it together and took great care of the kids. I am just a pretty face ;) They also were reminded of the improtance of respect. Every one of the volunteers does this because they want to. From the youngest to the oldest, they are all superb paddlers with their skills and experience to share. This is worth yelling about and saying thanks. So… THANKS!

After a final few words with the kids and some preparation with a few parents for this Saturdays day in Valleyfield we called it a day and headed on home.

Stay tuned for the final event of the summer! This is where the kids get to apply what they learned , step way out of their comfort zone, step up to the challenges and have a whack of fun all day long.
Next stop: Saturday August 20th. Riviere St-Charles, Valleyfield Quebec. See you all there  :)

Paddle hard and play safe

Robert Zwanenburg

August 13th, 2011

Week 6

6 weeks of the youth program, time goes by so fast!

Robert was in Toronto this week and Emily was at camp so we were 3 instructors and one helper. I have to say it again, I am surrounded by fantastic people, Jennifer, Eric and Zachary! They make the Wednesday evening go so smoothly.

This evening was focused on rolling and t-rescues so after Jennifer and Eric were done with the warm up, we did a short bit on how to tie a kayak to a roof rack then proceeded to the water. We split  up the group in 3 and had each of us working on something different and had the kids rotate. Eric was in charge of paddling and games, he is so good at that!! Jennifer worked on rolling and I on t-rescues.

All the kids did very well, pushing a bit beyond their comfort zone. Even those who do not want to go upside down worked on their skills and for them, having the boat go over while I was holding them with their head out of the water was already a big step, so well done everyone!!!

On Thursday evening, we were met by 3 enthusiastic kids all looking forward to paddling with us ! There again, I have a great instructor to help me, Aimé-Jean, this is his 4th summer helping us and he is awesome to work with. We started some by running from the middle and others by rafting, then proceeded to our on water warm up. We only have 3 kids in Valleyfield so I have a mom and usually a dad( he hurt his back this week before paddling) that took some private lessons with me before join their kids on the water. I love to be able to get parents and kids to have a great time together. So we worked on crossing eddy lines and had a couple swims but everyone had fun.

This was our last evening in Valleyfield, next Wednesday in Cornwall will be the last evening of the program, we will have one day in Valleyfield as well, that Saturday is always a lot of fun for everyone, but we know that not all the kids can make it there.

I do have a few pictures this week, thanks to Kari-Anne and Justin!!

Happy paddling!!


August 10th, 2011

August is here! Warm water and kids that want to play in whitewater!

August 4th 2011, Valleyfield Quebec – Riviere  St-Charles.

We were met by a small group of kids. Eric, Charles and Savannah. Here are 3 kids that seem to really enjoy the whitewater experience.
Because of the small numbers on the Thursday nights, we decided that we would reward the parents who come out every week with the chance to get in themselves!

the evening consisted of rolling, rolling, practice rolling and for some the beginning of the surf! Highlights of this particular evening included parents swimming rapids with their kids, A little bit of throw bag practice for young people and parents. Always a good thing to practice since you never can tell when you will need to use the skill and help your friends.
Eric decided that this was his night! He rolled and rolled and rolled. Then,  Aime-Jean took him into the current and he rolled some more! What can we do after that? The questions is what can’t he do after that! Time to start trying to get Eric to Surf! This young man gave it everything he had and although the surf eluded him, his roll was bomb proof! well done Eric.

Savannah and her mom worked together on working out the eddy lines and crossing into light current. It was also cool to see them swim the rapids together :)

Charles stepped it up to show me that he has the skills to peel out in heavier current and run a section of small rapids then eddy out without any issue! Well done!

The boys’ dad, Denis, worked on some rolling with his sons and  in time will have his hips sorted out so that he does not catch an edge when he peels out. Despite the frustration of swimming a lot he had fun too and learned along the way with his boys.

It is really so cool to be able to put families into boats together so they can learn and share the experience. What a memory that will follow them forever :)

This a time when I want to be able to thank the parents who bring their kids out to us. You trust us with your most precious possessions, your children. Thank-You for your faith. You all have great kids and I am happy to see that you are there for them.

2 more weeks to go and it will all come to an end. But that means there are 2 more session and a final day for all the kids in Valleyfield!

Stay tuned and watch as these kids continue to improve their new found skills, learn a bit more about themselves and their water ways and continue to have fun with us.

Until next time,

Share your love for a sport with a young person. Not many things are more rewarding then the smile it will bring.

Robert Zwanenburg


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