First Waves and the Benscreek Canoe Club is celebrating the 2015 success of First Waves Johnstown with an outdoor film screening of "River of Change" and FREE Paddleboarding and River Surfing lessons at the 2016 Stonycreek Rendezvous.
In 2015, The First Waves Johnstown Program was conceived thanks to support from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies in partnership with the Benscreek Canoe Club, Goodwill of Conemaugh Valley, the YMCA of Greater Johnstown, Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and SurfSUP Adventures. In the first year, the program accomplished the recruitment and certification (through Goodwill Goodguides) of 7 new mentors, completed 4-intensive workshops, removed hundreds of pounds litter from the Stonycreek River outside Johnstown, and produced a high-definition film documenting the experience through the eyes of youth participants as well as mentors, instructors, and community leaders.
Cheryl Jones has a way of getting straight to the point when it comes to the impact of programs on the youth of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. She describes things like overcoming challenges, working with peers, and being active outdoors, but this statement was one that tickled the tummy and fogged the windows. So simple. So delightful. “This group of kids will NEVER litter.”
A heavy rain engulfed the Stonycreek River Valley on the night before Day-1 of First Waves Johnstown. The next morning, instructors and volunteers of the crew arrived early to observe the day’s conditions: a swollen river with strong currents. If it weren’t for the team of expert instructors and volunteers from the Benscreek Canoe Club and SurfSUP Adventures, this amazing adventure would have been cancelled. One volunteer exemplified this commitment by relentlessly retrieving gear from the flow and helping participants find comfort in the grip of the river’s flow. Were it not for Andy May’s efforts, First Waves equipment would likely still be on a journey toward the Gulf of Mexico.
“IT’S SAFE, THE KIDS WILL BE FINE!” I yelled into my cell phone, trying to overcome a howling wind off the Gulf of Mexico. In spite of the ambient roar, I could hear doubt on the other end spinning like a turbine. Intuition, however, has a way of prevailing under duress, when communication is done on an instinctual level rather than through the confusion of words and reason.
Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer lies on the shores of what is arguably the finest venue for whitewater paddleboard instruction in Pennsylvania. Connoquenessing Creek, known locally as “the Connie,” boasts miles of class I to III rapids, and a river wave as smooth as glass after a good rain. The camp itself is a stunning sprawl of wooded acreage and beautiful log cabins. While the whitewater and facilities are ideal, the Connie does have a darker side. Not long ago, it was considered one of the most polluted waterways in the Country, and still faces many environmental challenges. To illustrate the opportunities presented by the stream, along with solutions for conservation and education for youth, First Waves’ partnered with the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer for an inaugural residency expedition to the creek.
At first glance, a group of teens yielding camera equipment and various electronics around water seems like a bad idea. Now, incorporate the instability of standup paddleboards, whitewater rapids, and the goal of scooping up every piece of trash we float by! “A recipe for catastrophe,” some will crow. At First Waves, our eyes bulge and mouths water at this morsel of contrast, challenge, and adventure.
First Waves is all about adventure. Learning to perform outside your comfort zone is what enables participants to grow, and inspire others. But like any proper adventure, there are obstacles to overcome. For First Waves, one of these obstacles are the rocks that surround the waves and rapids we surf and document. To stay protected, First Waves is proud to announce its latest partner, G-Form Protection.
The moment has finally arrived! The inaugural First Wave Film Premiere is set for Friday, February 20th at 7:00pm at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh offices. Attendance is FREE. Please RSVP at our facebook event page: Here.
Creativity comes from within, except in places like the Scaife Building. The Tudor revival mansion in Mellon Park, formerly known as “Millionaires Row,” garnishes thick walls that emit a fragrance like the most untouched shelves of an ancient library. It is nostalgic, but in a way that encourages creation rather than reflection, like a disco ball. This grand structure is not a museum. It is a living, breathing studio where artifacts are made instead of stored; where future artists first put their hands on clay, or in the case of First Waves, make their first edits to an adventure film.
After two intensive workshops of filmmaking, paddleboarding, and conservation, the First Waves group was here to collaborate and edit films that showcased their work and experiences over the summer. Filmmaking instructors Susan Howard and Louis Cappa of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program provided a lecture about using Final Cut X, a professional grade editing software, and guided the team on their own personal edits of the interviews and video they shot throughout the program.
You could have pulled off an eye examination as the students stared intently at their work, ears muffled by headphones and hands dancing across their keyboards. Occasionally, Susan would highlight specific functions of the software by showing clips on a projector. Some of the footage resulted in raucous laughter. There were inglorious crashes, interviews gone wrong, and plenty of awkward shots of instructors and students alike. In equal parts, however, were powerful scenes of pollution removal, hard work, and enjoyment. It was immediately apparent that the team had achieved something special.
They had shown how a group of strangers could be brought together through the enjoyment of paddling, surfing, and conservation. Standing in front of a heaping pile of garbage that they removed from Pittsburgh’s riverbanks, they demonstrated what was possible using just a handful of kayaks, paddleboards, trash bags and cameras. They didn’t preach about the work that needed done or complain about the river being too dirty. Instead, they set aside their preconceptions, sought the truth from their own experience, and did something about it. Asking for nothing in return, except maybe some hand sanitizer and pizza, these students created a model of watershed stewardship that our community can be inspired by.
As the final workshop of the First Waves program came to an end, participants left with a CD of their own personal film. Their contributions and collaborative thoughts about the program will be culminated in a short film due to release at a screening in the winter of 2015.
To learn more about the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Group, please go to: http://pfm.pittsburgharts.org/education/young_adult
This project supported in part by the Hive Fund for Connected Learning at The Sprout Fund.