CHARLES CITY, Iowa — It was all smiles and waves for the students at Charles City High School.
Students in Rob Pittman’s Expedition class recently had the opportunity to learn the basics of river surfing at the town’s whitewater course. It’s just one of many adventures students experience while learning outdoors.
“Just about every single kid said to me, ‘I want to do that again, Mr. Pittman,’ and so did I. I wanted people to be excited and want to come here and do different things,” Pittman said.
Pittman and other instructors learned how to surf the river from local instructors that summer. These lessons taught him the basics. Equipment is available to anyone at the Charles City Parks and Recreation Department.
When the school year started again, he told his students about river surfing.
“It was kind of surprising because it’s closer to autumn so it seems really cold. I had never heard of river surfing, only surfing surfing,” said Senior Tawny Ebel.
The Expeditions course, an elective, Pittman says is designed to get students to shut down technology and turn to nature for learning. Other outdoor learning opportunities include exploring the local state park, rock climbing, and learning how to build shelters.
Twenty-four Expedition students had the opportunity to take part in river surfing, with half learning the basics one day and half the next. Those who chose not to, and continued to tend the river, cleaned up the trash along the banks and cleared the undergrowth.
“Everyone in the class is involved in some way,” Pittman said.
Charles City Parks and Recreation provided the equipment, a lifeguard was on duty, and several experienced members of the river surfing community were there to teach the kids. The students equipped themselves with helmets and life jackets to go into the water with their boards. One by one, the novice surfers paddled out to try and hit the sweet spot where the water would carry them.
“To be able to surf you have to be able to swim, you have to go down the river properly, you basically have to be able to go from your stomach to your knees and stand up, and you have to know how to fall off the board ‘ said Pittman.
“It was like a water slide, but one where you actually have to be in the water at one point and the slide just keeps going,” said Ebel.
Over time, students gained confidence on the board and attempted to surf on their knees or standing up. Classmates and Pittman would cheer loudly if someone succeeded.
“I knew because they did it, I knew they had words of encouragement. If they could do it, everyone else could too,” said Ebel.
Pittman hopes to see more use of the whitewater course by young members of the community and more surfing on the river. He has written three different grant proposals for more surf gear to one day turn the activity into a community event.
He’s hoping for $7,000 in funding.
“I have children from a higher socioeconomic background to children who need help. To get these scholarships I can make this an opportunity for everyone and that is my big goal. I want justice in sport,” Pittman said.
Besides getting students outside, another goal is to get kids out of their comfort zone.
“With this experience, I would 100 percent do it again. I want Pittman to find us more things to do because I’d like to try that as a hobby in the future,” Ebel said.
“Their safety net is what they can and can’t do,” Pittman said. “The more you have little challenges, the better off they will be. I just want to offer them challenges in a controlled space that will help them grow as people.”
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