Continuing in my aim to write about the various daily class activities at Camp Alleghany (last week I wrote about Rifle), this week I’m going to talk about Canoeing. There really is something for everyone who wants to do canoeing, no matter your level of expertise.
We divide campers taking canoeing into four levels: Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced/Solo. I find that it generally takes about one term to complete each level. But no matter what level a camper is in, for safety, everyone wears a Personal Floatation Device (PFD, life jacket) during canoe class.
From Beginner to Aide
For the first two levels, there are 2-3 campers in a canoe with a counselor, learning the basics of paddling, sterning, steering, vaulting and boarding, swamping and un-swamping. Everyone also learns the proper names for all the parts of the canoe and paddle. Campers gain familiarity in the water while being directly helped by the counselors presence in the vessel.
In the Intermediate Level campers are just two in a canoe together, with their counselor instructor in a nearby canoe or on shore. The campers spend several days doing laps up and down the river to build up arm strength for the tasks that they have to complete in order to pass the level. They need to be able to vault and board, swamp and unswamp, perform canoe-over-canoe rescue, and complete several landings at the dock.
And then it’s on to Advanced/Solo class. This is similar to Intermediate but the camper is in the canoe alone this time. Again the camper does laps to build up arm strength, and then each of the above tasks is completed all by her lonesome! (With close nearby supervision, of course.)
Basically once each task is completed campers will move on to the next task, and when all tasks have been completed she’s passed that level! A camper who passes Solo and is still a camper can then become an Aide, where she will help a counselor instruct a canoe of Beginners. This can be an exciting opportunity to develop assistant and leadership skills, as third year camper Chloë Cook wrote in a recent blog entry about her activities.
Before you start thinking that canoeing is a whole lot of hard work, rest assured that the counselors do all they can to make canoeing challenges fun and engaging.
In addition to skill building, they throw in some adventures, too. It’s not always about working towards goals. Sometimes a class is spent just canoeing up river to explore the scenery, or some days they’ll do relay races and other games.
The classic canoe
Like our platform tents, seeing the canoes stored on racks near the docks evokes a sense of the classic summer experience. And for campers, moving and storage of the canoes is another opportunity for learning and taking responsibility. Campers in canoeing take the canoes in to the water each day, then bring them back up to the racks at the end of the day. This is done in a deliberate manner for their safety and the long life of the canoes.
To move one, a camper stands on each end of the canoe and puts one hand under the front (or back), and the other hand holds the top part above her head, leaving room for easy movement an a clear line of sight. It’s important to not scrape the keel of the canoe because it’s needed for proper sterning and steering.
Canoeing was another one of my favorites (in addition to Rifle, then of course Dance and Drama), so I took it every year as a camper. Even though the class itself could be stressful and challenging as I was working to perfect my skills, it was still rewarding and always peaceful.
I can barely remember that long ago ;), but canoeing has stayed with me. Whenever I’m stressed and close my eyes to imagine a peaceful place, I always see myself in my mind’s eye floating in a canoe down the Greenbrier River :). And that cures stress in a heartbeat!
–Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls