I have been an avid whitewater kayaker since I was nine years old, and I have always been passionate about sharing my love of paddling and whitewater with others, particularly other BIPOC. Diversify Whitewater holds community paddling events that provide boats, equipment, and instruction at no cost to participants.

We hold two types of events: whitewater river floats, where participants get to try guided rafting or inflatable kayaking on beginner-friendly class I-II rapids, and paddling skills days, where participants learn the basics of kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) on calm water lakes and rivers. Summer 2023 was our fourth summer of holding events like these all over the country — our events are wildly popular, often supporting more than 50 participants at a time, and provide a safe and inclusive space for participants to learn new skills. Here are five tips Diversify Whitewater has developed for holding a free paddling event in your community.

  1. Remove barriers for accessing the event. Diversify Whitewater events are free and run by volunteers, and they provide all gear and equipment necessary to participate, including boats, paddles, and life jackets (PFDs). We also cover park or natural area access fees and provide water and snacks or lunch for all participants and volunteers.
  2. Partner with local BIPOC organizations. We always get asked “how do you find participants to attend your events?” It is not hard! There are likely already organizations or chapters of nonprofits like Outdoor Afro or Outdoor Asian that support BIPOC or other underrepresented communities in your area. Inviting members of local orgs to attend together helps make sure no single person feel like the “only one.”
  3. Acknowledge Native Land, always. Your land acknowledgement should be sincere and accurate and delivered before the event begins. Visit native-land.ca for more information.
  4. Support participants who are interested in continuing to paddle on their own. Diversify Whitewater events almost always end with a free gear giveaway sponsored by top paddling brands. Giving away gear (like PFDs) and technical apparel (like neoprene shirts and gloves) gets participants excited about paddling and gives them a little something they can use when paddling outside of our events. At the end of each year, we also award five participants — who demonstrate passion and need their own stand up paddleboards — gift certificates to purchase their own paddling gear as part of our Paddling Dream Package giveaway. We also fund BIPOC scholarship opportunities for paddling lessons or raft trips through outfitters, which we give away at the end of our events and also fund directly through our Scholarship program (see below!).
  5. You can apply for funding for your event or a scholarship opportunity through Diversify Whitewater. Follow us on Instagram and check out our website for more information! Keep an eye out for a call for submissions for our Events & Scholarship Application in early December 2023.

This blog is sponsored by Chaco.  Chaco is passionate about keeping everyone fit for adventure and adding to our growing diverse #ChacoNation community. Our partnership with Diversify Whitewater is an important part of making outdoor water sports accessible for all.

About the Author
Lily Durkee is the president and cofounder of Diversify Whitewater and is currently a PhD student in Ecology at Colorado State University and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Diversify Whitewater is a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can make a donation by visiting our website. All donations will support our free community paddling events!

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