Whitewater Rescue student profiles

We interviewed some past students from our whitewater rescue courses. You'll learn more about what to expect and which course is right for you.  

Get in touch with us if you have questions. 

Name: Stephanie Hewson
Age: 29
Home: Toronto
Profession: Soon to be Lawyer (currently articling) 
Boreal course: Whitewater Rescue Technician

 

Why are you taking the course? 

I grew up going to camp in Georgian Bay. I did a 35-day river trip when I was 16 and it was the best thing ever. I fell in love with tripping. When I stopped working at camp I still went on trips with friends in the summer, but a few years ago we wound up in a pretty hairy situation and I realized I should take a course like this.  

What happened?  

We were on the Bonaventure River in the Gaspe, which you can only run in the spring. It was high that year. It’s a narrow river, and it rained 80 millimetres during our first two days on the river. 

We lost three out of four boats in the same s-curve. Luckily we recovered one right away, but two were swept down the river. We ended up spread across the river and a couple of kilometres apart. We managed to recover everything and everyone, but it was scary. 

How has that affected you?

As I’ve gotten older, I’m more scared and less inclined to take unnecessary risks. After that experience on the Bonaventure, I realized I needed to learn how to rescue people to be safe. I love rivers, but either I’m going to stop because I’m scared or I’m going to get better at whitewater safety. 

How did you hear about the course? 

I was looking for the swiftwater rescue technician course, but I couldn’t find it. I asked a friend of mine who had taken one of Danny’s (founder-owner of Boreal River) courses several years ago. She said he was excellent, so I registered.  

Was the course what you were expecting?

I didn’t realize how much swimming we’d do. It’s great, way more fun than I expected. Today we did the live-bait rescue. The waves were huge because of the high water. We had to jump off the rock, swim after a person and get pulled back in. I would’ve done that all day. It was so fun!

Another reason I took the course is because I’d really like to start kayaking. I thought this course would make me more comfortable in white water, and it has. Even from our first swim this morning to this evening I’m much more confident. 

Would you recommend the course? 

I’m not looking to become a guide, but I think it’s a great course for anyone who is interested in whitewater paddling. If you want to go swimming you should know how to swim. This is the same idea. It’s basic safety knowledge. 

Any upcoming trips panned?  

Yep! The Coulonge River in Quebec and hopefully the French River (Ontario) for a week as well. 

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Name: Jeff Wright
Age: 55 
Home: Ottawa
Profession: Retired teacher, professional podcaster 
Boreal course: Moving water tandem canoe paddling

 

Why are you taking this course? 

This is the sixth course my wife Jennifer and I have taken with Boreal River. We’ve done the 2-day wilderness first aid course twice, the 2-day whitewater rescue course twice and this is our 2nd time doing the tandem canoe course. We’re leaving on a trip down the Missinaibi River to James Bay in a few weeks. It’s about a 12-day trip, with a few extra days built in. It starts with rapids and then swift moving water for the last half of the trip. If we run those rapids it will depend on putting together all the experience we’ve learned in these courses. Of course, we may do the courageous thing and portage. 

Why do you keep coming back to Boreal River for courses?

My wife and I spend our summers wilderness tripping, and I suppose now we’re in a more responsible demographic where we are aware of our own mortality. We have kids that we worry about and parents that we worry about, so when we head off into the woods, what we really want to be able to do is ensure that we’ve stacked all the odds in our favour. It’s basically insurance. The wilderness first aid course is one of those things you hope you never need, but it’s the responsible thing to do. The river rescue course is the same thing. 

The other reason is that any good course costs money, and I hate it when my money is wasted. The Boreal River courses are top notch. They bring in really first rate instructors. I’ve been through six courses and haven’t even had a mediocre instructor yet, which is pretty shocking. So the quality is good; it’s money well spent. 

What do you like about the courses?

There are a couple of things. For starters, the value. You show up and the instructors have the day planned and thought through and the gear is ready and high quality. 

One of things that matters to me, and this has to do with my age, is that I have to trust the instructor. I’m willing to do things for an instructor I trust that I wouldn’t do on my own. The instructor told Jennifer and I to cross a section of white water and there was a whirlpool in the middle of it! There was no way in a million years that I would’ve done this without an instructor who had been working with me and knew me and knew that I could do that. That’s a huge confidence builder. It pushes me to do things I wouldn’t do on my own. 

Finally, one of the nice things about these courses is that they are tailored to your skill levels. This is the same course I took 2 years ago, the introduction to whitewater paddling course, but it’s much different. Much more challenging specific to my new skill set. So I like the courses because they’re safe, they improve my technique, and they’re a lot of fun. 

Who should take the white water tandem canoe paddling course?

I don’t think whitewater paddling is a self-taught thing unless you're 17 and invincible. For anyone sane and rational you should get a guide and course and do it properly from the start. Three years ago when we decided to go from flatwater paddling to whitewater tripping it was a whole new world. Boreal River’s course held our hands and taught us the basic paddling techniques. 

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Name: Frieda Hodgins
Age: 19
Home: Perth, Ontario 
Profession: Trip Leader at Camp Wanapitei
Course: Whitewater Rescue Technician

 

Why are you taking this course? 

It’s a required course to lead some whitewater trips at Camp Wanapitei. In the past I’ve only guided flatwater trips. This year I’ll be running rivers such as the Dumoine, the Coulonge and the Noire with 14-15 year olds. 

I could’ve just taken a staff whitewater course for this year, but I took this course because I was scared of it. I’ve never had a big whitewater incident, and I’ve never had a serious flip on any of my trips, and so going into to a position where I’d be leading whitewater, I thought this is something I should be prepared for. 

Are you happy you made that choice?

Yes. I feel much more confident now, and it’s actually so much more fun than I thought it would be. 

You didn’t think it would be fun!?

I was so nervous, but not for the work, but for the long days. There’s an opportunity for this type of course to be long, boring and drawn out. But it’s not! At least Boreal’s isn’t. It’s cold and buggy today, but still so much fun, which speaks to how good the course is. 

Who should take the course?

I’ve come across a lot of underprepared trips that were paddling rivers they shouldn’t have been. Our leaders would often have to rescue kids and people from other groups. Just a lot of situations that shouldn’t have happened. I think this type of course should be mandatory for any guide, but it’s also a good idea for people going on personal trips. You can’t be too safe. If you want to run bigger rivers, this should be a requirement. 

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Name: Katelyn Proulx
Hometown: Sioux Ste. Marie
Age: 33 
Profession: Teacher in Nunavut, former camp guide
Course: Whitewater Rescue Technician

 

Why are you taking this course? 

I wanted some river time before going on a longer trip this summer and my certification was going to expire, so I wanted to re-certify. I took my last re-cert 3 years ago on the Magnetawan River with Boreal River. 

Why did you choose Boreal River? 

My first swift water rescue technician course I did with another company. It was very theoretical. We went over all the skills, but might have only got 1 or 2 throw bag tosses in and 1 or 2 swims in. I remember doing the live bait once. 

When I re-certified that course with Boreal River, it was so much more fun. It was full on action. We were in the water all day with lots of drills, and way more practice time than with other companies, which is valuable because you don’t always get the time to practice when you’re on the river with kids. 

Have you had to use the skills? 

I’ve unwrapped a couple boats using z-drags and throw-bagged a couple of kids in precarious situations. I’ve used the northern rescue technique a lot too. 

Who should take the course?

I think everyone that’s on the river should take one of these course, maybe not the 4-day course, but at least the 2-day rescue course. Everyone who’s on the river should know how to throw a throw-bag and how to swim and be comfortable in white water. 

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Name: Russell Hanson
Age: 22
Profession: Trip leader at Camp Pathfinder.
Course: Whitewater Rescue Technician
 

Why are you taking this course?

I’m leading a trip this summer in Northern Quebec, and I need the certification. I’ve done a lot of whitewater in the past, but it’s definitely time to take a good rescue course. 

How do you like it?

I knew what I was in for, but I’ve really loved it. The most interesting part has been learning all the techniques on the river, such as live bait rescues, and realizing how well you can swim in whitewater if you know the angles. You can tear through the river once you know how, and it’s cool to learn that.

So you’ve learned new things about whitewater?

I’ve got about 8 years of experience in whitewater, and after taking this course I’m looking at a river differently than I have before. Not how I would paddle it, but how I look at it and think of potential problems. I now know how I would swim through it, or set up live bait rescue. It broadens your scope and gives you a deeper understanding of whitewater safety. 

Who should take it?

If you’re spending a lot of time on the river, you should have a course like this. A lot of the people that were here for the 2 day one work with outdoor clubs. You really should know how to tie the knots and handle yourself on the river if you want to paddle whitewater. 

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Name: Emily Beirnes
Age: 20
Profession: Student and kayak guide. 
Course: Whitewater Rescue Level I and II

 

Why did you enroll in the course? 

I’ve been sea kayaking and a sea kayak guide and instructor for 5 years now, and I’ve been slowly getting into whitewater for the past 3 years. I wanted to take the course to improve my river rescue skills. I want to be able to keep my friends safe and keep myself safe too. 

Was the course what you expected? 

The instructors were wonderful and their style was great. Relaxed but always on top of what was next and briefing everybody about what was next so everyone was on the same page. The course itself went above and beyond what I expected. 

What did you like best? 

I liked the scenarios. I liked how hands-on they were and the problem-solving challenge. They’re a good way to mix up the drills. It’s something I’m going to bring into my own instruction on my Paddle Canada courses.   

Who should take the course?

I would recommend it to anyone who is even remotely thinking about getting into whitewater. It’s smart to start by having safety skills rather than just jumping. 

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Name: Jeffery Smith
Age: 18
Profession: Camp counsellor at Camp Kanawana.
Course: Whitewater Rescue Technician

 

How did you become a camp counsellor? 

I started going to the camp 5 years ago. The first year I went I didn’t do any trips. But I grew up going on trips with my parents, so I’d get the tripping experience with my parents, and the camp life, which I loved, at camp. Now that I’m working there I want to get the best of both worlds.  

Are you enjoying the course? 

It’s been great. It’s hard work, but it’s fun hard work. It’s more hands on than I expected. I brought a note book to write stuff down, but I never ended up writing anything down because it’s so hands on. 

Is it what you expected?

It’s less theory and more active than I thought it would be. I love working by hands-on experience so it’s definitely working for me. I’m learning a lot, but it’s also just more fun to be doing things, like live bait rescues on the river than sitting around taking notes. 

Would you recommend Boreal River to friends? 

My camp uses them all the time. I’d recommend it to any counsellor, and, if I could go back in time, I’d tell my parents to take the course so they could’ve been as safe as possible on trips.  

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Name: Mathea Stevens
Age: 25
Profession: Not-for-profit communications specialist
Course: Whitewater Rescue Level I and II

 

Why did you take course? 

I’ve done some flatwater backcountry trips, but my partner wants to do some river trips. I’ve only done a little bit of whitewater and he thought it would be good if I did the course. 

What were you hoping to get out of it? 

I was hoping to become more comfortable around rapids. I had never spent any time around them, so I wanted to feel confident and safe around them. 

Did it work?

Before the course I would’ve panicked if the canoe flipped in whitewater. I’m not saying I would be happy if it happened now, but I’d feel a lot better now that I’ve swum in rapids and practiced throw bagging. The repetition during the course and the confidence the Boreal team give you, really helps to conquer any fears.  

Favourite part of the course? 

I really liked learning about the z-drag and how it works. And then I really liked the simulation at the end of the course where we had to put everything together. There wasn’t any instruction, just a problem that we had to solve by putting the skills we learned to use. I thought that was great. 

As a novice white water paddler, would you recommended the course?

Definitely. If you’re new to whitewater and want to feel more comfortable, you should take a course like this.  

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