The First Surf School Experience for Pittsburgh's East End

There's nothing like the feeling of your first time on a board or wave.

Nestled in the urban sprawl of Pittsburgh’s East End, The Mount Ararat Community Activity Center provides innovative programs and experiential learning to the area’s families and youth.  Earlier this summer, the Center debuted a new program for a select group of students, part of which involved teaching them to surf in whitewater rivers.  While surfing might be the last thing many think of in this landlocked region of Pittsburgh, that is exactly what Mentorship Director, Dr. Charles Howell, has brought to the Center through partnership with a local organization called, First Waves.  The importance and impact of the program, however, goes far deeper than just riding waves.

Youth participants learned the fundamentals of photography and practiced using DSLR cameras around the campus of Mount Ararat before employing their skills on the water.

Despite being touted as the city of three rivers, most of Pittsburgh’s youth have little or no knowledge about its waterways and the watersheds that create them.  This disconnect fosters a lack of understanding about how clean water is a vital resource for the community’s health and wellbeing.  After completing a successful standup paddleboarding program with Mount Ararat youth at Moraine State Park in 2016, SurfSUP Adventures founder, Ian Smith, and Dr. Charles Howell began planning an intensive program that would fuse an education about watersheds with engaging experiences in river surfing and whitewater rapids.  The program’s concept was to cultivate an understanding about how water connects all of us, what we can do to protect it, and how to safely enjoy them.  Youth participants would also be challenged to work as a team, understand dynamic environments, and overcome their fears to succeed.

The team prepares to board the SSS SUPSQUATCH, an 18 - foot team paddleboard that they would paddle through the rapids of the Stonycreek River!

Mount Ararat Surf and Film School - Class of 2017

Participants learned what watershed they lived in through an online mapping system.

In addition, the program teamed up with Phillip Thompson of 33 and 1/3 Media to introduce filmmaking, photography, and digital media education so youth participants could document their experiences both in the classroom and on the water.  Youth participants received instruction and guidance from the First Waves team over the course of three days.  They would trade cameras for paddles, learn to balance on boards, and even identify what watershed they live in through an online mapping system.  The result was the first ever Mount Ararat Surf and Film School. 

You can view the video chronicling the experiences at the link below!