In April 2016, the canoeing development programme, Rock the Boat, came into being as a collaboration between The Stanford Canoe Club and Grootbos Foundation.
The aim was to establish a canoeing culture on the beautiful Klein River, in the village of Stanford, that would unite youths of various ages from different cultural backgrounds, through sport.
Committed coaches and volunteers offer free training throughout the year to a dedicated group of young paddlers, keen to master new skills. Many of the youths come from disadvantaged communities. This canoeing programme ensures that they have positive, healthy, outdoor afternoon activities, exciting regattas each month, and are motivated to pursue healthy interests for the future. These experiences and this drive aims at a more positive future. The opportunities that arise from programmes like these are endless.
Learning to balance and then race a kayak is not something that comes naturally overnight. One cannot just jump into a kayak and paddle down a river. One needs bravery, self-motivation, a good mental mindset and perseverance, skills that are all taught to the youth who join Rock the Boat.
These children were taught to swim, to balance in a beginners “Guppie” boat and then progress to paddle K1 (single) and K2 (double team) kayaks, and then taught to train hard for upcoming regattas. The emphasis is on fun! Through hard work, determination and a mental shift, they soon realise that they can achieve and reach their goals if they train regularly and stay focused.
Rock the Boat coaches and volunteers have noticed tangible changes in the young paddlers’ confidence, strength, stamina and enthusiasm for the sport. Even general wellbeing and attitude to school work changes, both of which have enormously positive impacts through the extended Covid lockdown that saw a great number of school interruptions.
Rock the Boat training sessions are free of charge to youths between the ages of 12 and 18 years. Registration to Canoeing South Africa is required to ensure proper safety precautions, and Canoeing South Africa assists Rock the Boat by sponsoring the annual fees for development paddlers’ registrations. All gear and equipment is donated by the Stanford Canoe Club, so all that is needed is for youths to pitch up and dive in.
2021 has been a truly thrilling year for Rock the Boat. Three young paddlers were selected at the SA Schools Sprint Championships (Shongweni Dam, KZN) to represent South Africa at the Olympic Hopes World School Sprint Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia in September 2021. What a life-altering experience for these young paddlers who, despite missing out on winning medals, have returned home with a changed view of the world and sport! Rock the Boat has recently challenged the young team to expand their repertoire from still water regattas and sprints like the Triple Series in Cape Town (Tyger Valley, Paarl, Zandvlei) and the South African Canoeing Sprints (Shongweni Dam, KZN) to longer distance river marathons – a whole different kettle of fish where paddlers learn to use their kayaking skills on fast-flowing rivers with currents, weirs, portages and natural obstacles. Rock the Boat paddlers were apprehensive at first, but with careful planning and partnering first-timers in K2s with experienced veterans and seniors, they managed to tame the Berg River twice, Breede river twice and the two day Breede River marathon in September 2021. They have now set their sights on competing in the Berg River Canoe Marathon, 2022. Watch this space!
By creating a safe environment, Rock the Boat gives paddlers the opportunity to paddle socially or to compete in regattas, as well as to develop life skills. Not only are youth taught a new and exciting watersport and life skills, but they are also taught all of this from a conservation perspective, something that defines all Grootbos Foundation programmes.. Children are taught about water conservation, the importance of keeping rivers and estuaries clean and they are taught water safety, essential in our coastal region which suffers tragic drownings each year in the ocean, rivers and farm dams. With the skills and the networks built through canoeing, youths are equipped with the skills for careers such as coaching, river guiding and even eco-tourism. Conservation and community upliftment, while having fun, are the principal goals of Grootbos Foundation. Why not take a stroll down to the river on a Wednesday afternoon or Saturday morning and see the youth in action? You might want to grab a kayak and paddle yourself!