For the 4th year in a row, I have had the opportunity to be an instructor at Kelly’s Academy in Cascade, Idaho. The academy is held exclusively at Kelly’s Whitewater Park, which is one of the most user friendly, beautiful, and all around fun whitewater parks in the country. With warm water, huge eddies, beginner surf waves, spread out features, and a top of the line group of instructors, it is truly one of the best places to learn in a kayaking class. The Academy is only for residents in Valley County, Idaho ages 10-18 AND the class is completely free! Another unique aspect about the Academy is the ratios: 4 instructors to a max of 6 students. This allows a lot of one-on-one time and the chancre to improve very quickly in the 4 days of classes. The instructors of the academy include Clay Wright, Claire O’hara, my little brother Hayden, and myself.
During the academy, the percentage of students who have taken the class before and total beginners are about 50/50. The morning classes are our returning students, and this year everyone did very well! Those classes differ in skill level usually, but If I can remember correctly, all of the kids were able to at least hit their rolls in flatwater, and most hit a combat roll. The afternoon class is our beginner class, and once again the kids were awesome! It is very satisfying as a teacher when kids show up and want to learn and get better! Since Kelly’s is a whitewater park with good play features, we definitely work towards being able to surf. Typically, a list of progression for the week includes: wet exits, hand of gods, basic paddle strokes, basic warm up drills, edging the boat, eddy turns, ferrys, reading water, down river paddling, rolling practice, surfing, and basic safety scenarios for the park.
Kelly’s also is very ideal in the structure of the park. Up above is as flat as flatwater can get, with a nice sliding seal launch too. From up top there is a nice bit of current leading into the top freestyle feature which is a big hole with a nice green tongue on river left to take the kids through. After the wave/tongue there is a little tiny reactionary curler that looks very small, but always manages to flip them if they aren’t paddling. Afterwards there is a nice wave train leading to the island that separates the river into two channels. We don’t usually use the river right channel because at the bottom all the water broaches up onto another island and becomes very shallow. The river left channel has two more freestyle features with an awesome set of current and eddies in between. The middle feature is one of the best beginner/intermediate playspots anywhere in the world and is perfect for teaching them how to surf at the end of the week. The last feature is a diagonal hole that is very easy to punch and ends in more flatwater.
Although teaching at times can be kinda stressful, I have really been enjoying the last few summers spending my time at Kelly’s and instructing. That feeling when a kid either is scared and overcomes that little fear, or they are just a natural and are rolling within 10 minutes of instruction, is very awesome to have. Having the same core instructors has also helped a lot, because we have figured out who is best at teaching what, getting a good basis for what we want to do, and being able to be creative and add some new fun things! From the dam upstream to Kelly’s is one mile of flatwater, so it is a great flatwater trip that we can stretch to most of the 2 and a half hours, and work on some great skills on the way down. To start out the trip, this year we found a perfect 6 foot seal launch into the water that was definitely a big hit! Kids definitely get fired up on it and want to do laps on it, even when it is their 2nd day in a kayak!
As always a thank you is in order for Mark and Kristina Pickard. They are the founders, owners, and visionaries for the park. It is very impressive with everything thing they have done for the community of Cascade, Idaho with the opportunity these kids have, as well as bringing a world-class park for boaters to come and enjoy! Already looking forward to next year!