I have been canoeing my entire life, a journey concluding at Junior World Championships in the Olympic sport of slalom which showed how multiple countries could come together under a common passion. That said, when I joined eNRG Kayaking four years ago, I realized I had stepped into an entirely new world. I had no experience kayaking, rafting, answering phone calls, or working with kids. However, I did have a dream; a dream that sought to answer the question – how many ways can you bring a community of paddlers together?
On my first day of whitewater rafting for eNRG Kayaking, the guides braved an adrenalin-pumping adventure under the blanket of night ripped wide open by a bright full moon. We startled the beavers as the rocks startled us, when in this darkness there came a spark, an idea for an event – The Full Moon Paddle. This idea flowed from the Santiam River and into the Willamette onwards until reaching our flatwater shop in Oregon City. Joining this idea were people of all ages, all abilities – sharing a guided glowstick paddle under city lights and celestial skies. The Full Moon Paddle gradually expanded to include potluck snacks, costumes, and live music – the event taking a life of its own, shaping the community as much as they have shaped it. However, the dream to find new ways to indulge the kayaking world continued to resurface, swirling in my mind like water behind a rock.
I remembered my past life training, sometimes six hours a day. I remembered being awakened by the exercise that is paddling. A coincidental conversation with the amazing Holly Fidanzo reintroduced this tranquil idea of workouts on the water. Holly started as one of our guests but became something so much more. She teaches PiYo, which infuses Pilates and yoga through powerful music to revitalize body and mind.
“When I think of kayaking or PiYo, my shoulders relax, and I find myself taking a deep breath…. The fact that I had happened into eNRG Kayaking for my birthday and fell into conversation with Jacob and other staff members about possible ways to bring the community together was perfectly serendipitous,” stated Holly.
Holly and I realized that while the night was filled with the Full Moon Paddle, the morning still had ventures yet to be offered. Holly was integral to the creation of Morning Kayak and Coffee through initially volunteering her time at the crack of dawn to let others appreciate PiYo and kayaking, or, as she calls it, Piyaking. When asked about her reasoning behind this commitment, Holly said she did this to “…carve out time without cell phones… as a way to bring health, vitality, and new experiences to people who may or may not know that what they are missing is just this kind of community. Thirty minutes of PiYo on the docks followed by a kayak adventure? It’s a recipe for bone deep, refreshing, JOY.” As the event grew, she went from a customer, to a staff member, to a friend. Every week, people would wake up with the wildlife to start the day their way. Whether it be for the PiYo, the kayaking, or the coffee – Holly summed up the motivations behind taking this class with the following words: “Working out on the DOCKS is an incredible experience unlike any other class I’ve ever taken or taught. Diving into a kayak and creating a deeper bond with those who are now becoming more friends than class participants? Even better. Topping it off with conversation and coffee? This is community.”
Music became a staple at our events with Holly’s daughter, Alaina, playing in the shop at our Full Moon Paddles. “The atmosphere was perfect, the staff were super helpful, and above all, the participants were always a great group,” stated Alaina, delighted in the sense of inclusivity the event offered. “It was refreshing to see a community come together quite like they did at the Full Moon Paddle.” Local musician Dustin Sciaraffo provided a means to move the music away from dry land and out into the open water. Sitting on the dock, I would hear his melodic country twang booming from his motorboat – sound waves like water rippling towards me. I was not only moved by the river, but by his music as well. It brought an image of a leisurely float, paddles up, back arched with face basking in the sun, cradled by the currents in a musical lullaby. After hearing him play on multiple occasions, I walked up to Dustin and asked him, stranger to stranger, if he wanted to play for us. He said yes to Live Music on the Water and brought his audience and friends with him to the river. We all listened to songs with the waterfall as our backdrop, its rumbling beat accompanying guitar and voice in natural harmony. Slowly we meandered back, riding the current with music in tow, daydreaming atop the riverbed while drifting off into the sunset. Although the light would disappear, the initial dream never left – always growing into something bigger than before. We, the community, are fulfilling this dream of finding as many ways as possible to bring people together. You can do all the planning in the world, but sometimes it is the people you meet in the moment that make all the difference. Coordination with these local figures such as Holly, Alaina, and Dustin provided new ways to let others expand their horizons and create not just a paddling community – but a Portland community.