Did you know you could volunteer your kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddle boarding skills? There are dozens of events and organizations around the country in search of experienced paddlers.
Whether you are into kayak fishing, enjoy paddling around your local waterways, or anything in between, there is a need for your skill and passion. Use this intro guide to get plugged in somewhere in your community.
Heroes on the Water
Heroes on the Water’s mission is “To help warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors.” Volunteer-led Heroes on the Water (HOW) chapters across the country put on kayak fishing trips and activities that are free to active duty military, veterans, and first responder Heroes with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
HOW invites family members to participate in their events as well, offering a space for the Heroes to connect with and enrich their family dynamic. This is an important aspect of the healing process and offers a social network with like-minded people.
No experience or equipment is necessary for the Heroes or their families to participate and most HOW chapters are equipped to make the events adaptive to Heroes with physical disabilities as well.
Alternative therapeutic programs like kayak fishing reduces the impact of PTSD while offering a community of support and understanding for both the Heroes and their family.
If you like kayak fishing and love serving those who serve, Heroes on the Water has local chapters across the USA and in the U.K. and Australia. They are always looking for trip guides, volunteer organizers, and people with all levels of kayak-fishing experience to help make these outings safe, fun, and effective for the Heroes and their families.
Disabled Sports USA
There are more than 50 Disabled Sports USA chapters that offer kayaking, canoeing, and other sport opportunities to their athletes. Their mission is “to provide national leadership and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation, and education programs.”
Founded in 1967, Disabled Sports USA has made sports and recreation opportunities accessible and safe for youth and adults with a variety of disabilities. They have a network of community chapters across the country run by volunteers and athletes. Each year they serve over 60,000 youth, wounded warriors, and adults.
Disabled Sports USA would love for canoe and kayakers to volunteer their time, skills, and strength to help their athletes have safe and positive experiences out on the water. There are even opportunities for you to become certified or endorsed through an Adaptive Paddling certification program.
If you live in an area that hosts adventure races, triathlons, or open water swims of any kind, these events are always in need of safety SUP and kayakers. Safety paddlers patrol the water during the event to make sure swimmers stay on course, keep any motorized boats away from swimmers, and are available if a swimmer is in need of help.
Safety paddlers act as lifeguards and safety patrol personnel, but lifeguard certification is not always required. With the increasing popularity adventure races, triathlons, and other sports that involve open water swimming, the demand for SUP and kayak volunteers has increased dramatically.
Usually all that’s needed to volunteer as a safety paddler is experience and confidence as a SUP or kayaker. Some events even provide the kayak or SUP for you to use.
You will need to be confident enough in your paddling skills that a panicking swimmer holding onto the side of your kayak or board will not unnerve you. You’ll need skills to navigate tight areas and the endurance to paddle anywhere from 1 to 15 miles depending on the event and what you volunteer to do.
The best way to find these opportunities in your area is to identify local events with open water portions and contact the event organizers. This is a fun, easy way to offer your sport and skills to help other athletes enjoy their sport safely. With enough experience and the right opportunities, you just might find yourself as a support/safety paddler in a national event!
Many communities along the coast and other bodies of water have organizations dedicated to protecting the waterways and shorelines. There are dozens of organizations around the country looking for paddlers to give their time and energy to remove trash, monitor the ever-changing condition of the coastal or waterway habitat, and even help educate younger generations about the ecosystems.
Many of these environmental organizations do not require prior experience and often offer training on conservation and habitat restoration. Most are local or regionally-based organizations, but a quick search usually turns up a number of opportunities.
A few major organizations are:
No matter what your paddling looks like, there is surely a need for your skills and passions to get others out on the water and to protect our water ecosystems.
Do you volunteer your paddle skills with an organization? Share in the comments so others can connect!