As the wind whipped the current along the Potomac River, about 20 GW students grabbed paddles and headed for the docks Saturday. The less experienced jumped into ocean kayaks, while those ready to paddle through the water like gymnasts on balance beams tucked themselves into less stable kayaks that were level to the water.
Leading the group were two world-ranked kayakers: senior Ann Hollingshead, and freshman Maia Farrar-Wellman.
Hollingshead and Farrar-Wellman said they started GW Aquatics and Kayaking for Entertainment, commonly known as GWAKE, to bring their love of kayaking to the GW community.
“I’m really excited because kayaking has been a really large part of my life for the last 10 years and it’s always been a dream of mine to get other people involved in the sport,” Hollingshead said.
Hollingshead has been coaching development teams of 8-to-14 year – olds for the last few years so she knows how to coach a team and explain the different skills and steps needed in simple terms, but this will be the first time she will be coaching a group of her peers.
“It’s a totally different dynamic to coach people my own age, but it makes me so excited to see GW people wanting to get involved in flatwater kayaking,” she said.
Flatwater kayaking is like rowing, but you are in a single boat, facing the right direction, and there is no one sitting at the front yelling at you, Hollingshead said. It can also be called “sprint kayaking” and uses a specially designed kayak for extra power and ease. The paddles are about seven-feet long and are curved on the wing blades, which makes for a more efficient way to move through the water. Flatwater kayaking can be done on just about any body of water and with a little coaching and practice can be picked up in no time. For those not interested in competition, it’s a great way to stay in shape and enjoy the outdoors.
A native of the Washington area, Farrar-Wellman has been kayaking since she was 10. By 2005, she was in Hungary for the Junior World Championships, followed by a summer spent on the Junior European Tour Team where she toured the continent. In January of this year, she and her teammates finished fourth in the Junior Olympics held in Australia.
Hollingshead also began her kayaking career at 10, eventually moving from Pittsburgh, where she grew up, to Lake Placid, N.Y., where she lived at the Olympic Training Center – the premier winter sports training facility in the country. In 2003, she was a top finisher in the Junior World Championships in Japan. Then she joined the Junior European Tour Team in 2004. In 2005 she returned to the Junior World Championships in Hungary. That same year she competed in the Pan-American championships, placing first in all three of her two-person kayak races and making her a part of the only American boat to get three gold medals.
Both Farrar-Wellman and Hollingshead have a strong relationship with the Washington Canoe Club, which is the oldest club in the country and the location of GWAKE practices. The club is a 105-year-old building that sits at the end of Water Street in Georgetown and boasts several Olympians as alumni. With the help of the club, GWAKE is able to offer deep discounts for its members.
This year GWAKE is focused on gaining an interest among GW students. Eventually Hollingshead and Farrar-Wellman said they hope to gain enough of a following to make a competitive collegiate team.
Although GWAKE is currently acting as an independent organization, the ultimate goal is to gain enough interest in it to petition the Student Association for student organization membership next fall, Farrar-Wellman said. Being an official student organization would help in raising funds and recruiting people to join the club, she said.
Kendrick Kuo, a freshman who kayaked for the first time, said that he decided to join GWAKE after the first practice.
“I went with a group of friends so it was fun, and I think it’s important to go out and exercise.”
It was also the first time that Liz Kingsley, a junior and whitewater kayaker, tried flatwater kayaking. She said she plans to come to GWAKE practices twice a week because it is good cross-training for whitewater kayaking.
This fall there will be three water practice sessions a week for one-and-a-half hours each on Monday mornings, Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. The membership fees will be $20 for an unlimited month of rentals and $5 for a drop-in session.