Written by Peter MacMillan
Typically when Canoemobile rolls into a portage, we are, at least in the paddle category, the big boys on the block. Often times, we are working to reconnect individuals with their local waterways and introduce them to water-based education and recreation. San Francisco, with its historic bays and bridges, is a city with a plethora of paddling. There are outrigger canoe clubs, sea kayak clubs, dragon boat clubs, and more than a few serious rowing clubs. As we put into Lake Merced, sleek eights whisper past us in a blink. A moment later we are bombarded by the enthusiasm of twenty dragon boat rowers pulling to the beat. How cool is it to have a forty-foot canoe that is shaped and painted like a dragon? Our subtle, well loved, and varnished Voyagers seem subdued in comparison.
So you may ask, why is it important for Canoemobile to include programming in San Francisco? After all, this is a city that passed a “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights’” that includes the requirement that all children have access and experiences with the Pacific coastline. What does Canoemobile add? I would argue that Canoemobile adds opportunity. At the core of Canoemobile is the essential belief that there should be no discrimination between the joy, learning, and growth of one individual compared to another. In a world full of standards and categorizations, we truly believe that everyone’s experience on the boat is equally important no matter what that may encompass. So now you ask, why does this need to happen in a canoe?
Obviously, it does not. However, I would have to argue that the Voyageur canoe works magic. Our canoes are well engineered, built from wood and varnished. The simply evoke a feeling of something that has passed the test of time. Each has a name and each differs in the patterns of its wood. They are a blast from the past and somehow, once safely seated, people seem to relax away from our modern hectic pace. Many people, especially children, seem to learn better when moving. For most of our participants, paddling is new and the act of paddling requires some attention. They are already mentally engaged as they start to stroke. Fusing together movement and attention seems to open individuals and groups to new experiences and learning. With minds open and engaged out on the waterline, new perspectives are formed. Canoembile is certainly an effective learning tool. It just comes with a side of joy and smiles. So, the real question is not, why is Canoemobile in San Francisco, but rather, where else should Canoemobile be?