The events of the First Waves Johnstown program in July of 2018 imbued a sense of urgency and amplified passion for everyone in attendance. A pollution event upstream of the program site resulted in water that was too tarnished to proceed with the paddleboarding and whitewater activities for local teens. Students that wouldn’t otherwise have the means or opportunities to experience the river were on deck for their first paddling experiences. Instead, they focused on the other aspect of the First Waves workshop – filmmaking. They learned to document what they were experiencing and create a film that could influence others to take an interest in watershed conservation. Their film, Upstream, does exactly that.
Nestled in the urban sprawl of Pittsburgh’s East End, The Mount Ararat Community Activity Center provides innovative programs and experiential learning to the area’s families and youth. Earlier this summer, the Center debuted a new program for a select group of students, part of which involved teaching them to surf in whitewater rivers. While surfing might be the last thing many think of in this landlocked region of Pittsburgh, that is exactly what Mentorship Director, Dr. Charles Howell, has brought to the Center through partnership with a local organization called, First Waves.
The river wave at Greenhouse Park is little more than a pile of foam during the hot month of July in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The Stonycreek River is the tamest version of itself and instead of whitewater enthusiasts, the park attracts sunbathers, tubers, and swimmers to its shores. What most have overlooked, however, is this wave’s potential as a training ground for the area’s youth to become river enthusiasts. When presented in the right way, the wave can capture the attention of teenagers better than the latest X-box and carve a path for outdoor recreation and education that is widely available but pervasively ignored. This is exactly what the First Waves Johnstown Program is able to provide to underserved youth in the area.
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.
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.
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.