CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since 1965, the West Virginia Wildwater Association has been connecting outdoor-loving residents of the Mountain State with the joys of paddling its wide variety of streams and rivers.
Bringing novice paddlers into the fold remains one of WVWA's primary missions.
"We offer a number of different ways to introduce people to paddling," said Tom Connelly, president of the 150-member organization. "This winter, we're holding pool sessions every Sunday night at the South Charleston Recreation Center to give people instruction on the basic paddling strokes, and to teach them how to roll and get out of their boats safely. It's a great way to get introduced to paddling."
The pool sessions are held from 8 to 9:30 p.m. and are open to anyone. Cost is $10 for non-members and $5 for members.
In addition to the pool clinics, which extend into the summer, WVWA hosts a novice clinic for beginning paddlers, scheduled to take place this year on the weekend of June 1-2. Although the site for this year's clinic has not been set, previous beginners' clinics have been held on the upper New River, headquartered at the Army Camp campground in the New River Gorge National River.
At the novice clinic, participants are taught basic river reading, river courtesy and paddling skills. "And we make sure people are able to safely get out of their boats if they need to," in the event of capsizing, Connelly said. After a day of hands-on instruction, novice clinic participants join club members on a trip down a gentle stretch of whitewater during the clinic's second day. Cost for the session is $20.
Other clinics are held for intermediate-level paddlers and to teach swiftwater rescue skills.
Each year, WVWA volunteers lead National Youth Science Camp delegates on a whitewater trip, and hold numerous group outings targeting all skill levels. In addition to scheduled trips, "members post pickup trips on our message board all the time," Connelly said.
For prospective paddlers interested in learning the ropes of kayaking, loaner boats are generally made available from club members.
"If you buy a used boat and gear, you can get started for about $500," Connelly said. "If you buy everything brand new, it's maybe $1,200. It's an investment, but once you have your equipment the only cost is gas to get you to the river."
Connelly said interest in paddling has waned a bit since its peak period of popularity in the 1990s, because of the a sluggish economy, competition from other recreational pursuits, and a general decline in interest in outdoor recreation among the young.
"Our membership numbers are fairly steady, but our members are a little older than they used to be," he said. "But paddling is something you can do in your 40s, 50s and 60s. Our oldest member who still gets out a lot is 75."
For more information on the West Virginia Wildwater Association, visit www.wvwa.net.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.