New Horizons: Hood River native learns life lessons with World Kayak Academy

Nick Dancer, a sophomore in high school, checked in recently to give an update on his experience with the Trout Lake-based World Class Kayak Academy. The student kayakers and teachers were in transition from an extended trip in China to the West Coast of the U.S., where they will spend the rest of the school year paddling and studying.

In an interview with the Hood River News, Dancer wrote the following about his trip:


I first heard about World Class Kayak Academy when I started kayaking at the age of 13.

It is a high school for whitewater kayakers, and I was always interested in doing it because it seemed like the ultimate place to become a better kayaker.

I’m now attending WCA during my sophomore year of high school. There are nine students in the school; six sophomores, one junior and two seniors. There are two kids from Canada, one from Bali and the rest were from around the United States. Everyone in the group is already a solid paddler, which allows us to run harder whitewater.


Each semester at WCKA is broken up into two parts. For the first part we travel to an exotic location which, this year, was the Yunann region of China to paddle the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween Rivers. The second half of the semester, which is where we are now, will take place along the West Coast of the United States, traveling through California, Washington and Oregon in search of classic whitewater runs.


The program at WCKA puts academics first.

Students have to maintain a 70 percent (grade average) or above to be able to go kayaking. Every school day we wake up, have morning workout and start classes after breakfast. We usually finish classes in the early afternoon, in time to load gear and head to the paddling destination for the day. The routine keeps everyone motivated to work hard on school work because we know that as soon as we are done, we will be able to hit the river.


Going to China was absolutely incredible.

It is very sad to see that no one seems to appreciate the rivers there. Everyone looked at us like we were aliens. Most people there have never even seen a kayak before. The scenery was incredible, mountains carving out rivers that were so unique and so different than anything I had ever paddled before. China has huge-volume rapids creating massive holes and huge waves. Here in Hood River, we have low-volume, steep creeks. The transition from low volume to big water kayaking was a great experience for me. Kayaking a variety of whitewater has really improved my paddling skills.


In China, our day-by-day living situation was varying. We stayed at different hostels in small river villages and towns. Usually we had two or three students to a room. You can imagine how cluttered the room gets when you have three teenage kayakers living in it. The hostel would usually provide us breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Everyone in the group is a kayaker and has a loving passion for kayaking. We have all becomes great friends with each other, including with the teachers. It has been really interesting to live with my teachers. I have found that living with a teacher is very useful for education.


My kayaking improved greatly during my trip to China. When you go to a certain destination for just kayaking, it keeps you motivated to focus as much as you can on improving your skills.

The teachers are also very good at giving tips and advice. I’ve learned so much through my experience with WCKA.

Kayaking is my life. I love everything about the sport. It is something I will be doing until the day I die. I love the places kayaking takes you and the people you meet. The sport itself is so unique and unlike any other sport. It’s a sport where you become so focused on one paddle stroke and one moment where nothing else matters except getting to the bottom of a big rapid or waterfall successfully.


Now that we’re back from China and I can reflect on the experience, I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have back home: friends, family, good food, warm house and clean clothes, to name a few.

We Americans are so lucky to have what we have, and I believe that a lot of us take it for granted. Going to China really opened my eyes to how lucky I am to have what I have.

For the rest of the semester we will be traveling through California, Oregon and Washington, letting river levels lead us to our destinations.

After the trip is over I plan to spend the summer working at the Kayak Shed. I’m looking forward to being back home and spending a wonderful summer in Hood River.

This experience changed my life forever. It has changed me in ways that I can’t even explain. Going to World Class Academy has been the greatest experience of my life.

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