The river wave at Greenhouse Park is little more than a pile of foam during the hot month of July in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The Stonycreek River is the tamest version of itself and instead of whitewater enthusiasts, the park attracts sunbathers, tubers, and swimmers to its shores. What most have overlooked, however, is this wave’s potential as a training ground for the area’s youth to become river enthusiasts. When presented in the right way, the wave can capture the attention of teenagers better than the latest X-box and carve a path for outdoor recreation and education that is widely available but pervasively ignored. This is exactly what the First Waves Johnstown Program is able to provide to underserved youth in the area.
The program trains volunteers from the Benscreek Canoe Club to become mentors and instructors while sharing their passion for the rivers. First Waves founder, Ian Smith of SurfSUP Adventures is the head guide and orchestrates a curriculum of standup paddleboarding, river surfing, and conservation that he has been refining for half a decade. Lastly, the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Group provides a hands-on education in filmmaking and documentary making so participants can record what they have learned and inspire others to enjoy and take care of the region’s waterways. The inaugural First Waves Johnstown video produced in 2015 entitled, “River of Change,” can be viewed HERE.
To add an element of teamwork to the program in 2016, First Waves worked with the San Diego SUP manufacturer, ULI Boards, to produce a one-of-a-kind, 18-feet long, paddleboard. On its maiden voyage, the Johnstown crew succeeded in surfing the Greenhouse Park Wave with 9-passengers in tow. What ensued was a mix of enthusiasm, excitement, and dash of carnage. First Wave’s vision is that these experiences cultivate a sense of camaraderie between the mentors and youth, and inspires the community to indulge in the recreation and stewardship of the area’s rivers.
This program is made possible in part by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Additional thanks to our equipment sponsors: ULI Boards, Werner Paddles, REI, G-Form, and Body Glove.