In China, Mixing Whitewater with Academics

By Beacon Staff

He said it’s just kind of something he does, and now kayaking is something 17-year-old Dave Meyers will just be doing in southern China.

“It’s gonna be crazy,” the Bigfork native said of his upcoming trip. “Definitely a lot of water that’s a lot bigger water than around here.”

For the second semester of his senior year, Meyers is enrolling in the World Class Kayak Academy. He and seven other students from Montana and across the country will depart Jan. 15.

The academy is based out of Alberton. It’s a traveling high school based on academics, traveling and kayaking.

Meyers’ older brother, Jon, went to the academy during the spring semester of his senior year. It was Jon who gave Dave the kayaking bug. Meyers started kayaking when he was 9 – spending a lot of river trips filming his older brother. About three years ago, at his brother’s urging, Meyers began tackling the “Wild Mile,” the last stretch of the Swan River before it enters Bigfork. Meyers, who now competes regularly in the annual Whitewater Festival, said the Mile was daunting at first.

“Once I got it down, I loved it,” he said. “(During spring runoff) I do it every day before school.”

Getting accepted to the academy required a three-part application, in addition to $16,614 to pay for tuition. Meyers had to provide character and kayaking references and a personal description: grades, goals and abilities. The academy requires students do certain key moves: roll – both left and right, ferry across a strong current, eddy turn, controlled front surf and controlled side surf.

“Kayakers, they’ve got to watch everybody,” Meyers said. “They’ve got to watch their buddies’ backs, too.”

By graduation on May 16th, the day Meyers turns 18, he’ll receive an official high school diploma. The academy teaches boating but also includes a daily class schedule.

“If boating works out on Wednesday, schooling’s on Thursday,” Meyers said.

A big part of the school is the cultural immersion. Meyers and his classmates will be in China from January until spring break, in March. During these months they’ll be involved in a community project started during the academy’s 2007 semester. Students will work with the Salween community in the Yunnan province on a litter initiative, cleaning up and providing a way for the community to collect and dispose of trash.

“See different cultures; learn through the eyes instead of a book, and hopefully get a lot better at kayaking,” Meyers says.

Raising the money to participate took several projects. Meyers worked at the Slethaug Tree Farm and El Topo Cantina, received scholarships from the academy and the Newport Mesa School Foundation, and held a garage sale in which people donated items for him to sell. All told, he raised enough money for tuition, the plane ticket, gear and school supplies.

After high school, Meyers plans to study hydrology. As a hydrologist, he would study how to clean water, how to use it to make energy, and continue to learn how to race down it in a kayak.

“There’s just a few things in my life that I won’t give up,” says Meyers. “Kayaking is definitely one of them. Hopefully I can keep doing it until my body gives up.”