That’s why Tom Potter, president of Brooklyn Kayak Guides and kayaking instructor for the last 13 years, has brought his training program to the newly designed swimming pool at the Variety Boys and Girls Club at 21-12 30th Road in Long Island City.
“There’s a lot of advantages to learning to kayak in a pool,” Potter said at one of the group’s youth lessons last week. “Even when I’m teaching adults, I like to start out in a pool because people just seem to feel much more comfortable.”
Groups like North Brooklyn Boat Club, Long Island City Community Boat House, the Red Hook Boat Club and Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse all offer programs to get people out on the open water. However, getting kids in on the fun has been a challenge.
According to Potter, the youth group pilot program that began at the Boys and Girls Club in April is one of the first of its kind.
“There are some not-for-profit boat houses up and down the East River now that welcome people into it, but we have not yet figured out how to get kids into it,” he explained. “That’s my mission.”
Kids from ages 11 to 15 meet at the club every Thursday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and depending on the group’s progress, he plans to take them to the East River in Astoria’s Hallets Cove sometime in early June.
“That’s what Brooklyn Kayak Guides is for, and that’s why we offer this,” he said.
Potter, who is also a co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery and Brooklyn Roasting Company, has also set up classes for adults at the club from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., just after the kids finish up.
Trainees learn the physics of kayak paddling, the mechanics of boating and the different types of kayaking, eventually leading to kayak polo.
Group instructor Margaret Mann played the sport – popular in Europe and Australia - for the U.S.A. Canoe/Kayak Team in 2004 and 2006, and looks at this experience as a way to get kids playing at a younger age.
“Right now we’re nowhere near getting close to kids participating in kayak polo in a truly competitive way, but in a year of two, maybe,” Mann said. “Most of my experience with kayaking is with adults, so it is very exciting to work with kids and getting them into the fold.”
Mann said that because of parental waivers, it has been a difficult task getting kids in the water, and that often times people who start out in the sport begin in their 30’s, making it difficult to compete on the international level.
“What would be really exciting here is if we gained some momentum with kids who know what it feels like to flip upside down and are more comfortable and excited about doing new things in kayaks,” she said.
Terry Hughes, executive director of the Variety Boys and Girls Club, is also on board with the program and finding additional uses for the pool.
“We’ve got classrooms, theaters and a gym, and we don’t always have the ways to get it all out there,” Hughes said. “There’s this beautiful pool in the community, and we know that not everybody knows about it.”
He added that the partnership with the Brooklyn Kayak Guides has become another way to keep kids involved and active.
“The more we an expose our club kids to different opportunities, the more it shows that it is a benefit of being a member of the Boys and Girls Club,” he said.