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Socially stimulating yet physically distant, program seeks to build kids' leadership and risk-management skills.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIJAH HILTEBRAND - Members of the eNRG Youth Kayak Team practice navigating down a set of river rapids.West Linn families recently teamed up to practice near Oregon City's eNRG Kayaking shop at least twice a week and travel to different rivers in Oregon and Washington on Saturdays.

Created in late summer 2020, the eNRG Youth Kayak Team has a goal of youth paddling development for ages 12-18. The team frequents the Clackamas, Sandy, Santiam and Washougal rivers.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIJAH HILTEBRAND - West Linn student Hannah Langdon says she was drawn to the kayaking team for its challenge and adventure.This past November, the team competed in freezing temperatures in Washington at the Cedar River Slalom Race, placing in the top three in each division. The team is hoping there will be more opportunities to compete in 2021 as things begin to open back up and would love to get more kids in the community involved.

Kayaking team coach Jacob Verhaegh set out to build a year-round program starting with a weeklong training session on the Rogue and Umpqua rivers in southern Oregon. Verhaegh, who competed in the 2016 kayaking Junior World Championships in Poland, wanted to create a socially stimulating yet physically distant environment for kids that builds leadership and risk-management skills.

Participating families camped out on the riverbank and were able to follow along in rafts while the team trained on both whitewater and slalom courses with J.R. Weir from Oregon's Sundance Kayak School and Oliver Fix, an Olympic gold medalist from Ashland, Oregon. The following month they went to the Bend Whitewater Park to continue training with another Olympic athlete, Bend resident Tyler Uthus.

West Linn student Hannah Langdon was drawn to the team for its challenge, adventure and opportunities to explore. She said she wanted to continue building her skills, techniques and safety protocols all year long.

Daniel Juarez, another team member from West Linn, worked with individual instructors to hone his skills before applying to attend high school with World Class Academy, traveling and kayaking abroad next year. He took advantage of eNRG's one-on-one instruction for paddlers who are looking to take their skills to the next level.

In the past year, team members have learned advanced strokes, turns and rolls on both flatwater and whitewater while learning river terminology such as eddies, ferries, pillow and surfing. They have developed the skill to scout rivers and read the water to look for dangers or obstacles as water levels can change rapidly, especially in the winter. Different water flows can create waves in which the team can practice turns and rolls. Team members have worked on self-rescue techniques as well as group rescue and have the opportunity to complete safety training.

More information can be found at enrgkayaking.com, and an informational meeting for interested families will be scheduled in April.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIJAH HILTEBRAND - Daniel Juarez of West Linn is a core member of the eNRG Youth Kayak Team that practices weekly in Oregon City.

The program is overseen by Sam Drevo, cofounder of eNRG Kayaking, a former U.S. kayak and rafting team member; and Kurt Doettger, former operations manager for the Natahala Outdoor Center, ewho has international rafting competition experience.

Coaches include Jacob Verhaegh, who's in his fourth year working at eNRG Kayaking and has raced in the Olympic discipline of slalom for Team USA; and Nathan Watt, who earned a bachelor's degree in adventure sports management and received technical certifications in tandem canoeing, whitewater kayaking, rafting and as a wilderness first responder.

Core team members include Daniel Juarez, Bruce Juarez and Hannah Langdon, all of West Linn, and Hayden McGowan of Portland.

Part-time team members include West Linn residents Romi Rozenhaimer and Bar Rozenhaimer.


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