By Eric Jackson
I have been bringing groups of boaters up to the Ottawa River for over 20 years. The Ottawa is a high volume river that flows out of Northern Quebec and Ontario and makes the border between the two. It is the namesake of the Capital of Canada and an important river to this country. One of the biggest lumber trades in the world was found on the banks of this river and the river was the transportation for the logs. Even today there are occasional “Dead heads” found in the flatwater sections of the river (trees that didn’t make it down the river and only a small corner of it sticks above the water). However, what makes the Ottawa so special to me, is the quality of the whitewater, and the perfect logistics for paddlers here.
Wilderness Tours is a rafting company, primarily, that started here in 1975 by Joe Kowalski and friends. It was built, one piece at a time, up to be the largest of the companies on this river, and also focuses on the kayaker and kayak instruction. Ottawa Kayak School, and the “Keener” program are world famous programs that were started by Joe here and are run today with the best instruction that money can’t buy. Paddlers like Stephen Wright, Clay Wright, Nick Troutman, Joel Kowalski, Seth Ashworth, Anna Bruno are found leading groups of paddlers through the various stages of their paddling careers.
In the Keener program, the kids become trained on how to become better citizens and become aware of others, and how to be a positive influence on their surrounding environment. A simple, but telling example is that if you were to have a Keener on your kayaking trip, they would be the ones that are helping to unload the boats off the cars, load boats up, and generally find the things to do that often the adults look around and hope somebody else will do. They won’t complain about it being cold, hot, high water, or low water. They make the best of every day on the water because they realize how lucky they are to be on the water at all! This is not something they all come in with, but it is something they all leave with. Thanks to Joe for setting the bar on character development, and on Stephen for being a leader than can achieve the desired results with his instruction team. It is almost unnecessary to mention, but the kids become great paddlers as well. The majority of the medals won in international freestyle competition over the past 10 years for juniors are won by current or former Keener students. Those students also include my kids, Emily, and Dane.
Ottawa Kayak School- started back when boats were fiberglass and skills were far from developed for general river running and playing, OKS has a long tradition of teaching new paddlers on this river, as well as intermediates and experts how to be all they can be. I began bringing my own groups up from Washington, DC with “Adventure Schools” my old kayak school back in the early 90’s and then, when I moved into an RV in 1997 began teaching for OKS instead. I also taught in many of the major kayaking markets around the USA and Canada. I did the instructor training each year at OKS for many years, bringing the World Kayak instruction methods I was developing here as a pilot/beta program. As my business of making kayaks has developed I no longer had the time to teach around the country, but was not going to give up my teaching here on the Ottawa. It is a good excuse to get me from wherever I am at, to this amazing river for my own personal paddling pleasure, and also to keep me directly connected to teaching students from around the world.
The facilities here on the Ottawa keep improving from basic camping, meal plans, to time share rentals, cabins, or even log houses. I prefer my RV. The Whitewater Brewery is a new addition in 2014 that brings local microbrew beer and pub food to the river, started by kayakers, of course.
So what is the attraction to the river here? That is what surprises so many people…
- Warm water- yes- want warm water you drive north of the USA Border and keep going until you reach the Ottawa River and you will find 73 degree water! Why? Because the water comes down through flatlands for 1,000 miles through shallows and is sun drenched in the long summer days here. From Mid-June- Mid-September the river is warm. Not hot like the Potomac, but a perfect temperature.
- Deep water- friendly nature- great place for rolling, and learning big water skills without the danger of rocks. This is one of the best places I know to paddle on big water without big water skills yet. As with any river, there are places that have rocks to hit, but they are few and far between here.
- Two channels- middle and main- yes- you put in, and then paddle down the first rapid, McCoy’s and then decide whether to go left or right at the split. The right channel (Main) is big water and the Left channel (middle) is smaller water with completely different rapids!
- Playboating- This river is the ONLY river in freestyle history to get more than one World Freestyle Championships on it. 1997 and 2007. Now, it will get its third World Championships in 2015 on Garberator Wave. The first was “Right Side Horseshoe” the Second was the famous “Buseater Wave” and the third will be the even more famous “Garberator Wave”. That only scratches the surface of all of the awesome features this river has. Big waves, little waves, big holes, and little holes! Awesome playboating.
I am in the middle of my second week of teaching here at OKS. I have an awesome group of 8 students. My students come from all over the world. Alaska, England, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Washington, DC, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, Idaho, and the list goes on forever. Every time I introduce students to the Ottawa River for the first time, they immediately fall in love with the river and plan to come back again soon.
What is my class like? My class is 50% kayaking skills and 50% mental training. I push people far and fast, out of their comfort zones and into new realms in their paddling. I focus on teaching self-sufficiency and self coaching. I want them to be able to continue to progress after they leave my class, not just during. I help them develop a better appreciation for what they are capable of and the motivation to achieve more in their lives on and off the water. It is a short period of time to have someone under your wing (5 days) but enough to leave a mark, open eyes more than they were opened before, and create a memory that will last a lifetime. Everyone gets different things from the class and everyone wants something different. There is no magic pill for everyone, but the overcoming of personal fears, pushing the limits of skills and physical abilities, and doing it as a group over a 5 day period creates magical moments for most. I am lucky to be a part of this and plan on continuing in the future. I already told Joe Kowalski that I will be doing this again next year. He wants me to give him my schedule now for it. That won’t happen as I have too much going on to plan that far in advance… January 2015, I’ll announce the dates. If you want in… give them your name now and they’ll get you on the list.
Meanwhile- I am meeting the group for breakfast here in a minute… then we go down the “Main Channel” for the first time. We’ll surf Baby Face, Push Button, Garb, Blacks, Chopping Block, do some fun stuff in the Whirlpools at brain douche, do some river running skill exercises in “Coliseum” and end up at the hot tubs with beer and stories to tell.
here is a customer video… from one of the rapids on the middle channel..