Updated: Feb 3
Stop by the U.S. National Whitewater Center on a sunny spring day and you’ll most likely see future raft guides learning to navigate the rapids, kids trying out a mountain bike for the very first time, and beginner kayakers practicing their wet exit in the upper pond. In contrast to the weekend warriors who come here for adventure races and marathons, these outdoor novices are tapping into the growing list of kayaking, biking, climbing, and outdoor skills clinics and certifications taught by experienced guides and athletes at the center. Programs promote an active, outdoor lifestyle, not just for highly skilled athletes, but for anyone who wants to get outside regardless of age or ability. Sessions focus on fundamentals first, then build skills through logical progressions that break down fear and build confidence. Expand your skills and find new ways to enjoy the outdoors this year in one of these USNWC programs.
Learn to Paddle
With kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on the Catawba River and class I-IV paddling on two man-made rivers, the Whitewater Center is a one-stop shop for developing flatwater skills, whitewater technique, or both. Schedule a one-on-one instruction session or book your spot in a small group lesson to get started.
Flatwater instruction begins with a review of essential gear and safety considerations, then moves on to strokes, launch technique, and landing practices. A whitewater lesson starts with gear and terminology in the calm water of the upper pond, then adds boat control, ferrying, and downriver progression on class I-II rapids. Perfect your kayak roll and prepare for paddling natural rivers in a two-day small group session or a five-class package.
Get Wilderness Certified
Solid wilderness skills make you self-reliant and more successful in just about any outdoor sport. The Whitewater Center’s two-day Wilderness Survival course teaches you first aid and land navigation skills, how to build a shelter and start a fire, and proper signaling techniques. You’ll also cover food and water in the backcountry and how your mental attitude can affect survival and safety.
For even more confidence and backcountry expertise, enroll in the 16-hour Wilderness Medicine course. You’ll get outside for hands-on activities that teach you to deal with emergencies without access to medical supplies or professional help. You’ll also learn how to properly assess medical conditions in the wilderness and safely manage exposure to the elements. First aid, CPR, and AED certification, also offered at the Whitewater Center, is recommended as a prerequisite.
Learn to Climb
If you’re new to climbing, start with a two-hour belay class for an introduction to gear, terminology, and climbing etiquette. You’ll review safe belaying techniques, then pass a belay test for access to more climbing routes, top-rope climbs, and auto belays on the Center’s 30-46-foot high outdoor climbing facility. Perfect your technique with lead climbing instruction, movement and technique sessions, and private instruction.
Become a Raft Guide
Fulfill your dreams of guiding rafts on natural rivers or at the USNWC by enrolling in the five-day Raft Guide School. Classes cover hydrology, paddle strokes, ropes and knots, and basic emergency and swift-water rescue techniques. You’ll practice flip drills and guide rafts on the class II-III Wilderness Channel before guiding on the class II-IV Competition Channel by the end of the course. There’s no prerequisite training, and all equipment is provided.
If you’re hired as a guide at the Whitewater Center, your full Raft Guide School tuition is reimbursed at the end of your first season. For a deep dive into whitewater navigation and safety, enroll in swiftwater rescue classes, paddle-boat operator courses, and the swiftwater rescue instructor certification program.
Try a New Sport
Change up your workout, and get an overview of sports and skills you’ve never experienced before at Friday night clinics. Novice mountain bikers will love the no-pressure beginner rides and skills clinics on easy singletrack trails. Bring your own bike and helmet or rent mountain-bike gear for your introduction to terminology and technique followed by a short ride. A similar hour-long clinic for beginner trail runners covers form, cadence, foot strike, and other trail-specific tips and there’s a short, no-drop group run at the end of the session.
Clinic topics vary each week, from running and biking to backcountry camping, map and compass skills, and youth and women-specific skills clinics. All events start an hour before the Friday night River Jam concert so you can go straight from class to the River Center for a bite to eat and live music as the stars come out.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with Gaston County Gov.