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Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills

Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills
Marty Colbert of Cedar Rapids, in orange helmet, an experienced whitewater kayaker and river surfer, offers instructions on river surfing to some of the members of the Charles City High School Expeditions Class, Friday afternoon on Charles City’s whitewater course. Expeditions Class instructor Rob Pittman is at left. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills
Jeb Wandro, a Charles City High School Expeditions Class member, gets to his feet but quickly wipes out as other students laugh and cheer Friday afternoon at Charles City Whitewater. Adults helping out with the class are Hanna Ray J (blue helmet), Marty Colbert (orange helmet), Cutter Sandvig (white helmet, left), and Caleb Lundberg (white helmet, right). Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

A couple of dozen students are spending part of their class time on and in the Cedar River as the Charles City High School Expeditions Class adds river surfing to its list of outdoor skills.

Rob Pittman, a social studies teacher and coach who teaches the high school Expeditions Class, said he and a couple of other teachers got some instruction in river surfing from Hanna Ray J and Marty Colbert last summer when the two Cedar Rapids residents and Charles City Whitewater regulars were in town as part of a community river surfing class.

“After we did it we realized that this is something super fun, totally new that you can do right here in Charles City and on the Cedar River,” Pittman said.

Two other Charles City residents, Caleb Lundberg and Cutter Sandvig, also got involved and have become very excited about the sport, getting their own equipment and helping Pittmann with the class as sort of “guest lecturers,” he said.

“Something I didn’t know is the city of Charles City has this stuff as a resource for people in town,” Pittman said, referring to river surfing gear. He contacted Tyler Mitchell, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, who said Pittman could use the equipment to teach kids how to river surf.

The idea was presented at a city Parks and Recreation Board meeting several months ago, where Mitchell said the whitewater course is popular with adults, but there aren’t many kids who use the river, and he saw the class as a way to open up the course to younger generations. The board members were enthusiastic about the idea and gave their support to using the equipment.

Pittman said he has 25 students in his Expeditions Class this semester, with half of them going to the river last Wednesday and the other half on Friday. It’s up to the students whether they want to participate.

“If somebody’s not comfortable in the water, I don’t necessarily want them doing this,” Pittman said. “I have one student who can’t swim, so I was like, ‘Hey, come watch us. If you feel comfortable getting into the water and just standing let’s do that.’ She has a fear and that’s OK.”

The health and safety of the students is the priority he said. If the kids get cold or tired they take a break. In addition to Ray J and Colbert, and Lundberg and Sandvig, helping Pittman with the students in the water, he had a high school student who is a lifeguard stationed on a rock in the middle of the river a short ways downstream.

Pittman advised looking at the smiles on the faces of the students when he was asked how the kids were reacting to the surfing training.

“Almost every single kid has told me, ‘I want to do this again, Mr. Pittman,’” he said. “And that’s what I wanted. I wanted people getting excited and wanting to come out here and do different things here.”

Pittman started the Expeditions Class five or six years ago, he said, as part of a goal of creating an outdoor education class.

“It is a curriculum that I have generated. Anything that we do I’ve done through my principal. We’ve done a rock-climbing wall. We go to Backbone State Park and go rock climbing there. We build shelters, we cook meals outside. We do a whole bunch of different activities. … I do everything within reason that I feel safe and that I can do it,” he said.

Regarding the whitewater surfing, he said he has applied for several grants for the school to get its own equipment, through the First Citizens Bank and First Security Bank foundations, and through the Floyd County Community Foundation.

Pittman said that although the river and whitewater course are free for everyone to use, the cost of the gear can be an impediment.

“If I get any of these grants then we’ll have even more gear that, with some instruction and supervision, that a lot more people can use. That’s the hard limitation – this stuff is not accessible to every economic demographic,” he said.

“I have kids who have higher socio-economic backgrounds, all the way to kids who are need of assistance. To get those grants I could make this an opportunity for everybody. And that’s my point. I want equity in this sport as much as we can,” he said.

As far as getting younger people interested in the sport, Pittman said that’s exactly what he hopes will happen.

“My goal that I have is if I get one of these grants that we start having Surfing Saturdays, where once, twice a month, I come down here, Caleb, Cutter come down here, we get all the equipment out. We dedicate a couple of hours to be down here. .. Maybe somebody could bring a barbecue and we could just kind of do some more community stuff,” he said.

“Really, when you think about the river, this is some of the most that we’ve got people to be down here besides competitions,” Pittman said. “To get people using this I think would be a good resource on this river.”

Superintendent Dr. Anne Lundquist, who stopped by Charles City Whitewater on Friday afternoon to enjoy watching the class, said, “I just think it’s another opportunity for our students to appreciate and balance their academic core with some time outside. They’re working and learning together. We’re taking advantage of this beautiful river. When we balance this kind of outdoor activity, this kind of expeditionary learning, if you will, with a good solid academic program, we have well-rounded kids,” she said.

Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills
Polina Philippova, a student in the Charles City High School Expeditions Class, gets practice in river surfing at Charles City Whitewater Friday afternoon. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills
Tawny Ebel, a Charles City High School Expeditions Class student, gets to her feet on a paddleboard at Charles City Whitewater Friday afternoon. On the bank are McCoy Bilharz and Nicolas Bormann. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills
Gillian Mutch, a certified lifeguard, watches the students participating in the Charles City High School Expeditions Class whitewater river surfing event Friday afternoon. Behind her is class member Kylie Blunt, who couldn’t participate because of an injury. Press photo by Bob Steenson
Charles City High School students learning whitewater skills
Jeb Wandro paddles into the surf at Charles City Whitewater Friday afternoon while Marty Colbert and Hanna Ray J keep an eye on him. Press photo by Bob Steenson

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