Tuesday, July 12, 2011

River Leaders of the Month July 2011: Kristin and Sean Bierle

Here at NOC we're looking forward to the Camp Cup Challenge next Monday and Tuesday. The Camp Cup is an exciting youth paddling event that gets a dozen summer camps and about 150 kids on the water for a slalom competition and a downriver race. It's likely the biggest kids whitewater paddling event anywhere. And though we enjoy, welcome and support the event here at NOC, the fact is it wouldn't be happening without two motivated and committed volunteers: Kristin and Sean Bierle. They come all the way from Boise to put this amazing event together for the campers. Why? According to them, "It's one of the highlights of our year."

Sean, Pebbles and Kristin paddling on one of the Alzar School's recent sessions.

Kristin and Sean spend most of their time supporting the Alzar School, a non-profit school that currently runs three-week programs focused on cultural exchange, service learning, leadership training and outdoor adventures. Between these programs the couple is devoted to building the foundation for the school's first full academic year in Fall 2012. Kristin works as the school's Executive Director and Sean is the school's Head Teacher overseeing curriculum development and implementation. The school's main campus will be near Boise, and students will get to embark on two international adventures a year. It is a really cool organization, and it's going to be even better when it goes year-round.

So why do these educators from Boise want to put on a race in North Carolina? Well, Kristin is a Tar Heel from Cornelius, NC who grew up paddling and going on outdoor adventures with her father. When she was 13, her father bought her a kayak, and she took a few lessons from NOC's Paddling School. She further developed her paddling with Gordon Grant at Camp Green Cove, and also at Green Cove she participated in the Camp Cup Challenge as a racer. Back then the race was organized by the Nantahala Racing Club with sponsorship from the American Canoe Association.

Though Kristin moved on to bigger rivers and now has her own kayaking students, the "Camp Cup" stuck in her memory as a wonderful event, and when she learned that the event stalled out in the early/mid 00's she decided to bring it back, which she and Sean did in 2008. Besides just executing on the event, the couple has rallied a strong coalition of manufacturers, instructors and outfitters for support, and the Camp Cup has grown very strong again over the past three years. The expectation is for another 150 kids to hit the water again in 2011.

Racers pose on the banks of the Nantahala before a run through the Camp Cup Challenge slalom course.

The event allows kids and teenagers to compete in a low-stress, supportive environment; they paddle one-person kayak (K-1), one-person canoe (C-1), open-canoe (OC-1) and two-person open canoes (OC-2). Racers get paddling experience, but also get to meet new paddling friends and practice leadership skills by rallying their camp teams.

The camp cup even brings together paddlers who already knew each other: more than once Kristin and Sean have seen kids who attend the same high school "back home" discover that they both like paddling, but they've been at different summer camps. Our hope at NOC is that the race participants will form lifelong paddling friendships and become the future leaders of paddling in the Southeast.

A Camp Cup Challenge downriver racer punches through the bottom of Nantahala Falls.

In the meantime though, we're looking forward to the riverside cheers, exciting gate runs, downriver sprints and, yes, even some of the "carnage" these boaters will provide early next week as they push and expand their abilities on the water. These guys and gals go all out.

So if you happen to be here Monday or Tuesday of next week, stop and thank Kristin and Sean for their meaningful impact on whitewater recreation and their extra effort to make an impact on the water and in the racers' lives.


  1. are there results from the Camp Cup Challenge anywhere on the web? My son is at Camp Wayfarer and we heard on their page he got third place in his event, but would like to see the results if possible!


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