Why Do We Do Trip "Preps"?

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We had an adventurous group of boys go on a Dupont waterfall day hike yesterday!

The adventure begins!

Yesterday was the first full day of camp and already there are dozens of trips this week for boys to choose from! Before our off-property adventure trips, every boy participates in a “prep”, to make sure they’re informed, prepared, and ready to enjoy the trip. Yesterday we had preps for backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and paddling, preparing boys for a session full of adventure.

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What can you expect from a prep? Let’s use paddling for example - First thing after morning assembly, groups of eight boys (in four sets of pairs) come to the Yak Shack to start their paddling preps. From the beginning the basics are covered, and the many questions boys have are answered. Do I need shoes? No. What about my shirt? Not unless you want it. Sunscreen? Definitely. As they wait to start some dip their feet in the lake water and are surprised by the cool temperature.

After a quick introduction boys head over to a canoe to start learning. Here they’ll learn the anatomy and terminology of a canoe. Once they’re done, the boys will know the bow from the stern and perhaps most importantly to not grab the gunwales (pronounced gunnels). Putting too much weight on the gunwales can make the boat difficult to maneuver or more prone to capsizing.

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While at the canoes, they’ll also learn the parts of their main tool: the paddle. It’s good to be able to tell the blade from the t-grip. Next, they’ll be taught some basic paddling strokes on the dock, to perfect their stroke technique before getting in the boats. Kneeling on the dock they’ll dip their paddles into the water and practice, following the instruction of the counselors. Forward, back, pry, draw.

Once they’ve shown that they know how to hold and use their paddles, it’s time for campers to put on a PFD and hop in a boat with their partners. Yesterday, one pair of campers decided to partner up because they recognized each other from the 2-Week session in 2021, and chose to reconnect by being paddling partners for the day.

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To pass the prep and get on a river in a canoe, partners need to be able to complete the buoy course in a certain amount of time. The buoy course is a test of how well boys can work together to efficiently and effectively maneuver their boat around obstacles. If paddling partners can complete the course in the allotted time, it’s likely that they’re proficient enough to get out on a river and start trying out rapids. To be successful on the river the campers need to be able to put the boat where they want it, dodging rocks and other obstacles.

It sounds relatively simple. Just paddle your boat. However, the prep is deceptively difficult when you include the added element of teamwork under pressure. Campers must learn to work efficiently with their partners to navigate the course. In some boats a bit of bickering is inevitable. The pressure to succeed can cause small errors which throw the boat of course. They’ll need to learn to trust each other, recover from mistakes, and communicate.

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Yates teaching one of his daughters Danielle how to canoe at the Lower Lake

Back in the early days of camp, when boats were made out of delicate materials like fiberglass or wood, the prep was crucial for preserving equipment and making sure you could steer your boat down the river without hitting a rock or busting a hole in it. These days the canoes are much more forgiving and sturdy, but the preps are still used to set boys up for success on the river. “The Prep is important no matter what for the boys to feel comfortable,” says Yates Pharr. “I remember to this day pulling up to the rapids as a camper and hearing the roar of the water for the first time - it makes you feel nervous. Practicing ahead of time makes you more comfortable.” Ben Williams, our Outdoor Adventure Director, agreed. “Boys are able to take what they learn on the prep with no moving water, and then apply it in action when they get to the river.”

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Boys invest several days and trips working on their canoe technique and building up skills on more and more challenging rivers before moving to kayaks.

Upon completion of the prep the boys are then able to begin signing up for river trips in their canoes. If boys don’t feel ready to move to a river yet, they can repeat the prep as many times as they want. Moving on to paddle a river is the first step in the journey to earning their Yaklet. The Yaklet means that they’ve earned the ability to move from a canoe to a kayak, and begin signing up for river trips in either style of boat. Boys invest several days and trips working on their canoe technique and building up skills on more and more challenging rivers before culminating with the falls on the Nantahala River. If boys are able to run Nantahala Falls without swimming, they’re awarded their Yaklet and able to begin kayaking! “Seeing the elation on their face when they finally run a rapid and they know that they did it, it makes earning the yaklet so worth it,” said Yates.

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Now you know why we start with preps before any trips, but why do we start boys out in canoes before moving to kayaks?

“For me, the teamwork piece is one, but also canoeing is a skill that’s lifelong,” said Ben. Yates echoes Ben’s sentiments, adding that “kayaks are forgiving, so if you learn to read whitewater when kneeling in a canoe instead of sitting in a kayak, you become much better at it. You don’t need to be the strongest to canoe either, it’s about finesse and technique.”

No matter what kinds of adventures these boys are looking forward to this session, our counselors will help them be prepared and set up for success! “Adventure” also happens to be the theme for this week. We’ll certainly be embracing adventure every day, whether it’s in camp or off property!