The USS Requin is a floating museum of World War II era technology along the Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. While educating and enchanting hundreds of thousands of visitors about the life and science aboard a submarine, the ship often helps divulge a more sinister story about Pittsburgh’s waterways.
At First Waves, we have been dealt the opportunity to work with amazing partners and volunteers. The latest project in conjunction with VIP Sports was one of the most memorable. By working with Slippery Rock University volunteers and VIP Sports instructors, we were able to provide a standup paddleboarding experience to more than 60 youth participants that were blind or semi-blind. Here's a short film documenting the training process and the event itself! Enjoy!
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.
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.