When it comes to reporting on environmental topics in Western Pennsylvania, the Allegheny Front radio show is the frontrunner. Naturally, we were ecstatic when digital editor, Andy Kubis, came to cover a First Waves river surfing and filmmaking workshop last July. What she witnessed, however, was a foreboding account of why watershed protection is so vital. As the river turned black before our eyes, there was only one thing for us to do – document the event to instill the urgency of action needed.
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.
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.