A Weekend On The River: CRYK Fest 2017
Despite consistent rain, cold temperatures, and nerve-wracking rapids, a large group of enthusiastic white-water paddlers gathered at the Horseshoe Bend campsite for the annual Cowichan River Youth Kayaking Festival last weekend. The event, hosted and organized by Mr. Norman, is intended to teach white water paddling to young people, with a strong focus on skill development, safety, and, of course, fun. “At the end of the festival, the difference in paddling ability in pretty much every paddler is noticeable, so the goal of helping youth paddlers learn definitely seems achievable” observed Mr. Norman.
Since the first CRYK Fest, in 2013, the turnout has been phenomenal, with groups of young paddlers coming from as far away as Chilliwack. This year, over 40 youth and 15 volunteer instructors attended, despite cancelled ferries and inclement weather.
As always, CRYK Fest began with a pool session at the Cowichan Aquatic on Friday night. The purpose of going to the pool is to ensure that anyone who hasn’t paddled before knows how to exit the boat underwater in case they flip, and to practice practical river skills like rolling.
Because skill and confidence levels in participants ranged from years of paddling and confidence on the river to never having been in a boat and rather nervous, several groups, based on experience, were made. The more skilled paddlers ran sections of the river with bigger waves, faster current, and trickier lines, while those who had limited or no experience paddled on the calmer upstream section that many call Duck Pond.
A CRYK Fest tradition is, on Sunday afternoon, to do a mass paddle on a section of the river. This short run presents a challenge – exciting and demanding, but hopefully not too terrifying – to the beginners, who are guided and kept safe by the instructors and more experienced paddlers. As the river flows under a bridge, this mass run also presents a great opportunity for anyone not paddling to capture footage.
As with many paddling festivals, there is a raffle at CRYK Fest, where participants are chosen at random to receive gear donated by generous people and paddling companies. This year, Brentwood students came away lucky, with a few students acquiring Werner hats, Nick A, Privett ’18 winning a spray top, Liam S, Rogers ’17 receiving a pair of neoprene booties (which incidentally fit perfectly), and Darcy S, Ellis ’19 walking away with a new kayaking-specific PFD.
Without a doubt, many who have attended it before anticipate the positive atmosphere well in advance of CRYK Fest. Eme L, Hope ’19, when asked what her favourite aspect of CRYK Fest is, replied, “Everyone is happy to be there, no one’s grumpy, and the energy on the campsite and on the river is great. The whole experience is fun, but what makes it awesome is the people.” Mr. Norman said: “The great attitudes of all the youth in attendance make them wonderful to be around. Everyone finds so many ways to help out, and the unglamorous work that needs to be done for an event gets completed quickly and easily.” Such unselfishness is truly the spirit of CRYK Fest – and the paddling community, in general – but it is unquestionably the instructors who continually give most.
In order to keep participation costs (which mainly cover camping fees and food) as low as possible, the success of CRYK Fest relies entirely on volunteer instructors; every one of the highly qualified group leaders is there because of a desire to pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation of paddlers. As Mr. Norman acknowledged at the closing of this year’s CRYK Fest, There is no way the festival could run without” the many “skilled and passionate” people who “give their time to come out and teach young paddlers.” So, from all the youth who have had the privilege to paddle at CRYK Fest to each and every generous volunteer, and, most of all, Mr. Norman: Thank You.
Hannah R, Mackenzie ’18