These San Diego Girl Scouts Get Solid Canoe Experience

4-minute read

Kristen Elgo has been a volunteer with Girl Scouts San Diego for more than a decade. She and other adult volunteers have gotten ACA certified so they can pass on their love of canoeing and kayaking to the girls they serve.

Girl Scouts San Diego troop and volunteers line up on shore, ready to canoe the Black Canyon

Girl Scout troop ready for their Black Canyon canoe trip (All photos courtesy of Kristen Elgo)

We were happy to hear of Kristen’s love for our canoe paddles and how she and others use them as they work with the area Girl Scouts. She told us about her paddling background and how many of the Scout programs near her have incorporated canoeing and kayaking.

Kristen began her canoeing journey about five years ago when one of their service units offered an adult-only canoe trip. She’d never canoed before, but her love of outdoor adventure spurred her to jump in with the other area Girl Scout leaders. Little did she know how those three days on the Colorado River would steer her life in a new direction.

“I just loved it!” she said. “Then a couple of months later they offered a three-day training for ACA certification (American Canoe Association). It was an investment, but I knew it was something I wanted to bring back to the girls.”

They average 150 Girl Scouts each year in Kristen’s community, with half of them being older, 12-17 years old. She’s excited to be one of the several volunteers to introduce the paddling world to as many of them as are interested.

Kristen Elgo (right) with another Girl Scouts volunteer, standing with their Bending Branches paddles in front of canoes and next to the Colorado River

ACA Certified Instructors and Girl Scout volunteers Margo Redford (left) and Kristen Elgo (right)

Canoeing Challenges in Southern California

One of the biggest challenges for the leaders and the girls they work with is their proximity to ideal canoeing environments—or rather lack of proximity. Girls Scouts San Diego owns two camp properties in the mountains, and one of them has a lake. They take full advantage of that by offering plenty of canoeing and kayaking, starting with first and second-graders on up.

“We’ll have the girls out on the water for 60-90 minutes to learn basic strokes, play games and just have fun,” Kristen said. “As we get ready for trips we plan for more progression—a half day or full day on the lake to get in all the strokes and work on proficiency.”

But when it comes to training for an overnight trip it’s not easy to find the right local waterways. Kayaks are more common for paddling San Diego Bay, although the leaders will take canoes out in the right conditions so older girls can face more challenging paddling experiences.

Otherwise, it’s a 4-6 hour drive from their area to get to canoeable rivers. Their favorite destination is the Black Canyon area of the Colorado River, just below Hoover Dam. It’s a 14-mile trip down the river with camping opportunities on the way, gorgeous scenery, wildlife, history and fascinating geography.

Girl Scouts receive canoe training on shore from adult volunteers

San Diego Girl Scouts getting ready to get on the water

That leads to the second biggest challenge: It’s too hot to do these trips in the summer, with temperatures well above 100º being common. That leaves the fall, winter and spring months—when the girls are in school. But because Black Canyon is 6-7 hours away, they need at least a three-day weekend to give them enough time for the trip.

It can be a challenge to get a three or four-day weekend on the calendar that works with the girls’ school schedule but doesn’t coincide with busy motorboat traffic in the same area.

Despite the challenges, Kristen and the other volunteer leaders have been able to offer these canoeing experiences to dozens of local girls. “Not everybody wants to do these kinds of things,” she said, “but what’s exciting for me is being able to provide these opportunities for those girls who say yes.”

Life Lessons from Canoe Trips and Paddling

Kristen is a firm believer in the power of outdoor adventure to teach the girls how to face challenges and succeed. “It’s empowering them to show them what they’re capable of doing, to build mental fortitude. Then in real life when they come across projects at school or work that are challenging, they can tap into these experiences and say, ‘This is just another hard thing in my bucket. I can do this.’

“And it’s giving them an appreciation for their environment, for nature and where they live. It’s great to get them out and away from electronics, to see what they’re capable of. To have to take care of themselves, cook for themselves, plan ahead and figure things out.

“There’s just something about being on the water that allows you to see things from a new perspective. Even in San Diego getting out on the bay and seeing it from the water instead of the shore. Everything looks different. These girls don’t ever have to do a canoe or kayak trip again, but maybe they’ll find a passion for it like I did.”

Kristen Elgo with a teen girl, standing in front of other girls and canoes along the Black Canyon shore

Kristen (left) has found joy in helping the girls in her area experience canoeing

Thank you to Kristen for her time with us, and to her and her fellow canoe volunteers for how they’re inspiring the girls of Girl Scouts San Diego in paddlesports!

Kristen uses our Java canoe paddle, available in straight shaft or bent shaft.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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