If you didn’t grow up around people who kayak, canoe, or paddle board, it can be tricky to gain exposure to the world of water recreation. Gear can be expensive, and there’s a learning curve when it comes to using it safely. And, of course, there’s the matter of knowing where and how to access recreational waterways in the first place.
Luckily, there are organizations working to remove barriers to participating in water recreation and conservation in Pennsylvania. First Waves collaborates with partners and supporters, including the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers’ (POWR) Sojourn Mini-grant program, to host sojourns for youth from underserved communities. Program participants learn to river surf and paddleboard, all while documenting their experience through video. First Waves also engages participants in hands-on conservation work and teaches them about local water quality and ecology.
This past summer, southwestern Pennsylvania youth spent three days on the Stony Creek River with First Waves. Over the course of the program, participants were introduced to new water sports, and had the opportunity to engage with nature and share the importance of watershed conservation.
Tali MacArthur, Watersheds Program Manager, tagged along (and even did some river surfing herself!). This past fall, she interviewed Ian Smith, First Waves founder, about his inspiration for the organization and their work over the last eight years. The interview video was shown at POWR’s Statewide Conference for Watershed Organizations in November 2021.