No cheerleaders, no stadiums with hot dog stands, a lack of pep rallies and press conferences…outdoor programs are often treated like misunderstood stepchildren by the administration of colleges/universities. Under funded, struggling for facilities and fighting a bias against student activities that might include inherent risk, many college/university programs not just exist but are very successful in introducing students to a life long sport.  That is why we target college/universities every year for our college outdoor program tour.


If we had to define the key to outdoor programs’ success, it would be the combination of enthusiastic (oft times underpaid) program directors, volunteer student leaders, and local community members who give of their time, experience and frequently spare equipment to introduce students to outdoor sports. This dedication provides the motivation behind our annual college tours. These past two weeks have had ERA immersed in our annual college outdoor program tour and the opportunity to spend time with the folks that make these programs successful.

Round One: Virginia Schools. Heading up to Virginia, Roanoke College was the first of our three-day Virginia tour. Roanoke College’s Outdoor Program has had a surge enthusiasm for kayaking thanks to 2nd year student Chris. Chris arrived at Roanoke College in 2007 already an experienced whitewater kayaker (as well as an ERA Costa Rica alum!) and ready to help introduce fellow students to kayaking. Then last summer Chris worked on the river for ERA before heading back to Roanoke College. Between pool rolling sessions and spring opportunities on Virginia Rivers, Roanoke College is buzzing with new boaters. And a night of talking Costa Rica and rolling technique with the Roanoke gang was great for us.  

 From Roanoke College we headed down the road to Virginia Tech. Alma mater to such paddling luminaries as Andrew Holcomb and Jimmy Blakeney, Virginia Tech has really never had an organized paddling program. Last year we added Virginia Tech to our tour on the request of the new program director and former southeastern guide Jason. Even with the history of well-known paddling alums, Jason was working within the confines of the establishment’s reluctance to share pool time and budget allocations. Last week found us arriving on campus in the middle of exhibition baseball game, played by the NY Yankees in honor of the 2006 campus shootings. While the Yankees may have impeded a huge turnout for our presentation, weekly spring pool rolling sessions are now on the student activities calendar and an order of new Wave Sport boats are scheduled to arrive this spring.  

From Virginia Tech, Team ERA headed up to one of our cornerstone programs: Sweet Briar College. Eight years ago Sweet Briar’s outdoor program, SWEBOP, had nothing more than a couple of spider-web filled Dancers tucked away in the equipment list. The winning combination of program director Laura’s commitment to expanding the SWEBOP program, support from the administration for new equipment, participation on the part of local paddlers like Dave and Shannon, and a kindled spark of interest on the part of students—and SWEBOP today has a recognized paddling program. And whether it is on Balcony Falls, Maury Gap, or the Nantahala River, the SWEBOP group is always a head turner on the river—Sweet Briar is an all-women’s college.

Our Next Stop: Tennessee!