STONINGTON — A group of kayaking and paddleboarding middle-schoolers took to the Wequetequock River Wednesday for a morning of aquatic adventures, camaraderie and exercise.
The outing was part of the town’s Middle School Camp, which students and their families sign up for by the week. Usually it’s an eight-week program, but this year it’s seven weeks, and the marine outing was in the sixth week, which began June 26 and will end on Aug. 10.
For the second year in a row, Stonington Marina, at 926 Stonington Road, supplied the kayaks, paddleboards, paddles and life jackets free of charge.
Standing on the dock, Courtney Labbe, 12, said she hadn’t kayaked before, but thought it would be fun.
“It seems like a good experience because if someone is teaching you how to do something before you’re going to do it, you get to see if you are actually going to like it,” she said.
Labbe had chosen a tandem kayak with Miranda Carlson, 11, who had some kayaking experience.
“My parents kayak a lot, so I just kind of wanted to learn how to do it so I could kayak with them,” said Carlson, “I think it will be fun.”
Waiting nearby was Labbe’s twin sister, Addison Labbe, 12, who said kayaking was cool and had also chosen a tandem kayak with a friend.
“I’ve never been kayaking and it seems interesting,” she said. “I’m going with a partner, it makes it more fun.”
Her paddling partner was Leah Cleary, 11, who already had some kayaking experience.
“We go up to Maine and we kayak while we’re there on the lake,” she said.
After most of the kayakers were launched, the paddleboarders lined up for instructions and their boards and paddles.
Dane Yawlrsky, 12, who had done some paddleboarding before, said he liked spending time on the water with his friends.
“It’s more fun with a group, because you get to talk with your friends and play games with them and stuff,” he said. “And I like jumping in the water.”
Dylan Cimini, 12, said he’d paddleboarded a few times before and he also enjoyed being on the water.
“It’s fun because you can jump in,” he said.
The event was beneficial for the kids because it allowed them to go on field trip with their peers, said Hannah Garvey, of Stonington, who is in her second year as a camp counselor.
“They get to be outside the whole day and they get to be active and it’s just the middle school kids, which they like a lot,” she said. “They are definitely chatterboxes, they definitely love to talk to each other. They’re pretty much all really good friends, which makes it easy for us.”
Ryan Francis, of Stonington, in his sixth year as a camp counselor, said the middle-schoolers are at an age where activities can be loosely scheduled.
“The middle school camp is kind of unique, they don’t have much structure. We give them more free time, they’re older, they’re more independent and they can choose activities that they like to do instead of being told what to do,” he said. “But, we like to do at least one or two activities a day where it’s kind of a team-building or problem-solving thing so that they interact with each other more than just hanging out on the playground.”
Francis, a recent graduate of Springfield College who plans to become a physical education teacher, said kayaking and paddleboarding were useful skills children can learn for lifelong fitness.
“It’s a good thing to learn and practice because it’s something you can do for the rest of your life,” he said. “They can stay active with family and friends through water sports like this. If you can expose it to them early, then they’re more likely to continue it later on.”
The middle-schoolers will have another day of kayaking and paddleboarding next Wednesday, said Paul Kirrane, general manager of Stonington Marina.
“We started last year and we invited the kids to come. It’s all about giving back to the community and exposing the kids to something they might not have experienced before,” he said. “Next week we’ll do it again, and next year, too. We’ll do it as long as we can.”