Featuring Paddling: Adventure Program Blog Series

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In 2020, our Advanced Paddling Expedition spent a week honing their skills on some of the biggest and most beautiful rivers in the Southeast.

Pinkies Up!

“Water is powerful - it shapes rocks, moves dirt, and it is always moving. Learning to successfully pilot your craft in that environment is amazing.” says Outdoor Adventure Director Ben Williams, reflecting on the paddling program at Falling Creek Camp. “I love that we start boys in tandem canoes. It really requires a level of commitment for a camper to be able to enter into a solo boat at FCC. Seeing each camper create that motivation on his own is pretty incredible.”

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Jez hails from Australia and is an accomplished paddler, with three World Cup Championships and over 10 National Championships. He has been head of our paddling program for a decade.


The paddling program at Falling Creek is progression based, not age based, like all of our Adventure Programs. Boys can decide to orient their efforts toward single and multi-day trips on exciting whitewater rivers, or focus on trips to peaceful and scenic mountain lakes. On the lower lake at camp, boys learn correct paddling techniques. Working with a partner in a tandem canoe, campers run the gates course and prove that they can control their boat with the proper strokes.

After mastering skills on the lake, campers move to the Green and Tuckaseegee Rivers to learn river running skills in whitewater. As campers progress, they advance to more challenging rivers like the French Broad and Nantahala. Once a camper has completed his progressions in a tandem canoe, he earns his “yaklet,” and may continue his whitewater training in a solo canoe, C-1, or kayak. Each summer builds on the progression made previously, and our talented and experienced paddling staff are equipped to continue teaching and offering new challenges, no matter the paddling level of the boy.

Our Head of Paddling, Jez, hails from Australia and is an accomplished paddler, with three World Cup Championships and over 10 National Championships. He has been chasing summer from Australia to America, and has been heading up our paddling program at camp for the past decade. Jez and his wife Claire O’Hara (also an accomplished professional paddler), are the parents of a young daughter and newborn son.

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Steve McGrady, 11 year camper and 2 year paddling counselor. "It's a privilege to be able to take these young men on adventures and let them experience the magic of the places.”

Paddling Perseverance

“My favorite part of the paddling program is seeing kids’ reactions when they successfully navigate the Nantahala falls in a canoe,” says Jez. “Achieving this goal takes a lot of preparation, practice and teamwork (in a tandem canoe) to successfully obtain your yacklet (a wristband which represents this achievement) and move on to truly begin your journey in the world of whitewater.”

“As a Falling Creek Paddling Instructor at the falls, you get to see true raw emotion come through from the campers. The excitement and elation that often has followed previous disappointment which they have turned into the motivation to hike back up and give it another go. The moment they make it is one of the best feelings for me and a lot of our instructors, seeing all the hard work come through into one glorious moment,” reflects Jez.

Steve McGrady literally grew up at camp, as a camper for 11 years and son of Director Emeritus, Chuck McGrady. Steve returned in 2019 and 2020 to be a counselor, and give back to the paddling program that meant so much to him growing up. When asked what his favorite part of the paddling program is, Steve said, “Getting out of camp with the boys and paddling new rivers all around the southeast. It’s a privilege to be able to take these young men on adventures and let them experience the magic of the places.”

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Steve McGrady instructing campers before running a rapid during the 2020 Intermediate Paddling Expedition 1.

Trying New Things

Camp gives boys the opportunity to try new activities they can’t usually do at a home. All campers have the freedom to choose their activities, but Jez would always encourage a camper who is unsure if they want to try paddling to give it a go. “I would say to a camper, ‘don’t let an opportunity like this pass you by, give it a try, you might surprise yourself.’ Paddling takes you to truly fantastic places that you can’t get to any other way and the bonds you make on the water are life changing,” says Jez.

Steve agreed with this, saying that “paddling is unlike any other activity at camp. While it can be considered an adventure sport, it can also be a relaxing experience where one can connect with nature. The places we travel can oftentimes only be accessed by a boat, making a truly unique experience. The progression from a canoe to kayaking allows campers/counselors the ability to build skills and find exactly what part of paddling they enjoy. Whether it’s a lake trip or a whitewater river, paddling has something for everyone.”

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“The program teaches the campers to understand the outdoors, as well as the sport, so that they develop a passion that they want to continue to pursue outside of camp." - Jez (photo also taken by Jez in 2019)

The People Make The Program

The adventure program as a whole is unique to Falling Creek, not just because of the places we explore, but because of the people we adventure with. “Falling Creek has been able to recruit great trip leaders,” says Steve. “This allows more opportunity for a wide variety of experiences. For example in paddling, we are able to safely take trips as far as West Virginia where most other camp programs are limited to much more local rivers. Also the leadership at FCC is committed to keeping an open mind about new opportunities while perfecting experiences that have worked well in the past.”

Jez echoed this, saying that the adventure program is about education as much as it is about fun. “The program teaches the campers to understand the outdoors, as well as the sport, so that they develop a passion that they want to continue to pursue outside of camp. If your passion is rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking or paddling, there is no better place than Falling Creek!”

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Running the Green River Narrows on a paddling trip in 2019

Life Lessons Through Paddling

Not only do paddling trips teach you about paddling, they also teach life lessons. “To be honest there are so many life lessons that I have gained from paddling with FCC, almost too many to describe, since kayaking is a fantastic compliment to your life,” says Jez. “One of these life lessons is ‘be prepared’. As these are true adventures you need to be prepared for absolutely anything, something as simple as bad weather can affect the trip dramatically. A good trip leader for any activity or expedition is one who can handle challenging situations, turn negatives into positives and push through them. These are great life lessons for the future; be adaptable; challenge yourself; push your comfort zone; adapt and overcome; turn negatives into positives and be prepared.”

Steve also talked about learning the value of positive attitude from paddling trips. “When someone falls out of their kayak or our groups get stuck in a thunderstorm, a little positivity can go a long way to maintain group morale,” he says.

2021 will give us yet another chance to learn life lessons while exploring the outdoors. Here’s to another summer of trips that push our boundaries, help us grow, equip us with life skills, and life-long friendships. If you’d like to be a part of our adventure staff community, or our counselor community as a whole, you can begin the application process here on our website!

Check out the other blogs in this series, featuring backpacking, climbing, and mountain biking!