March 11, 2004 11:00 pm
Class instructor Robin Carleton helps Ariana Snow, 12, pull the spray skirt on tight around her kayak. Spray skirts are used to teach students how to exit from kayak underwater. ().
Class instructor Robin Carleton helps Ariana Snow, 12, pull the spray skirt on tight around her kayak. Spray skirts are used to teach students how to exit from kayak underwater. ().

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

hese youths are not rollin' on a river, but they are rocking the waters of Veterans Memorial Pool.

They are the youngsters creating turbulence in two kayaking classes offered by the City of La Grande and taught by Robin Carleton of La Grande.

Carleton, an experienced kayaker and instructor, enjoys the challenge of teaching children and teenagers.

"Kids have more energy. It is more fun teaching them,'' Carleton said. "Sometimes, however, you have to be more patient.''

Carleton started kayaking when he was about 10 and has been taken by the sport ever since.

"I love it, ‘' Carleton said.

Today Carleton wants to plant seeds of interest that will continue growing indefinitely.

"It is something you can do your whole life,'' Carleton said.

He never tires of kayaking because there are so many aspects to it. People can do everything from traverse ocean waters to negotiate rapids. Every encounter is different.

"The waves (on rivers) are endless.,'' Carleton said.

Carleton also enjoys snow boarding but prefers kayaking more because of its more fluid environment.

"Snow does not move,'' he said.

Throughout his classes Carleton gives his students waves of encouragement.

"I want to make it fun for them. It is not about how good you are. It is about having fun,'' Carleton said.

Youths in Carleton's classes are taught about everything from paddle strokes to how to respond to dangerous situations. One of the first things Carleton does in his classes is have his students flip their kayaks over and then get out of them. It is critical that people know how to get out of their kayaks in all kinds of situations, the instructor said.

Kayakers encounter danger on rivers but not in Veterans' Memorial Pool

Carleton said that most pools are perfect environments for teaching kayaking. By comparison it is difficult to teach beginning kayaking in rivers because of cold water temperatures and currents.

"(A pool) is an awesome learning environment,'' said Carleton, who also teaches kayaking classes at Eastern Oregon University's Quinn Coliseum pool.

Carleton warns the youngsters in his classes never to go out on rivers or lakes unless they are with an experienced adult.

The nine students in Carleton's two youth classes are ages 10-16 and are learning almost everything about kayaking except the art of executing 360-degree rolls. Kayakers are upside down and submerged when performing rolls. Kayakers need to roll when on a river in order to avoid having to exit their boat in difficult


Carleton does not spend a lot of time teaching children and young teenagers to roll because he uses adult-sized kayaks. These are harder for smaller youngsters to roll.

Carleton, who grew up in New York, has taught kayaking since he was 16. He said it is enormously satisfying to see students years later paddling on a river.

"It's a great feeling. It is very rewarding,'' said Carleton, who teaches kayaking year round. In the summer he teaches in Watertown, N.Y., where he also is a raft guide.

Many of the people Carleton teaches are probably discovering the same thing that keeps Carleton coming back for more experiences.

"Kayaking takes you places you might never get to,'' he said.

These include the Grand Canyon, which in December Carleton spent 21 days kayaking through on the Colorado River.

For information on the kayaking classes Carleton teaches call Veterans Memorial Pool, 962-1367 or Eastern's Outdoor Program, 962-3621.