Sometimes in the midst of a busy event season, those of us who live and work here can forget that Three Rivers — especially when we have a flowing river — is truly one the planet’s ecological wonders. This week, there are again 13 high school students here solely to meet the challenge of the Kaweah River’s most extreme kayaking.
The World Class Academy, which first came to Three Rivers in 2009, has undergone some changes, but remains an alternative curriculum for exceptional students who don’t mind studying but want to also kayak some epic whitewater.
Known formerly as the World Class Kayak Academy, a change in ownership in 2010 called for a name change to “World Class Academy.” The former owner was headquartered in Missoula, Mont.; the new owner, Capo Rettig, and his academy are now based in the White Salmon and Trout Lake areas of Washington.
White Salmon, the same size in year-round population as Three Rivers, is situated in the Columbia Gorge on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River. It looks out over a stretch of river that is one of the world’s epicenters of kiteboarding so expansion to more sports was part of Rettig’s business plan.
The World Class Kiteboard Academy is already in session, and the World Class Climbing Academy is now taking applications for its inaugural fall semester.
A student doesn’t have to be an expert but a willingness to learn is a prerequisite. Each of the curriculums are part of an accredited high school that combines academics, athletics, travel, and cultural immersion with an extreme sport. The school recognizes that learning and passion complement each other.
World Class pushes alternative education to new heights, rooted in the belief that quality education comes from interacting with the world around us. These extreme sports academies are for motivated students who want to learn outside the classroom.
The emphasis is on the “outside.” The sport for which the student has a passion takes each participant to new boundaries of discovery. World Class Academies appeal to exceptional students of means, many who go on to careers in the burgeoning outdoor travel industry.
Although World Class does offer scholarships, the cost of a school year — with travel to places like Mexico, South America, and Nepal — is comparable in cost to a year at a four-year university. For those who experience the school year, it’s a small price to pay.
Four students with local ties have already participated in a year or two at the kayaking academy.
When Chase Hauber went down to Chile with the World Class Academy in 2012-2013, it was just too much for his father, Mike Hauber of Three Rivers, to bear. An avid kayaker himself, Mike journeyed to Chile in the winter portion of the semester to do some world-class kayaking of his own.
The year Chase attended, so did Logan Marlow of Three Rivers. Both students returned home and graduated a year later from Woodlake High School.
This year, Leeland Gentry, the son of Chris Gentry, who was raised in Three Rivers, is completing his junior year of high school with the academy. Miriam Gentry, Leeland’s grandmother, still lives in the Three Rivers home along the banks of the Kaweah River where father Chris grew up.
Chris Gentry’s older son, Tristan, attended the kayaking academy for two years.
“It’s great for me when we come to Three Rivers,” Leeland said. “I get to visit my grandmother!”
Another difference in the Academy is that in 2009 all the students came from the U.S. This year, there are students, including two girls, from five countries: U.S., Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, and the Netherlands.
The prime Kaweah River kayaking is following stops near Ottawa, Canada; Northern California; Veracruz, Mexico; and Chile. In the fall, Academy students will be kayaking the rivers of Nepal.
Thomas Kolmanes, a 16-year-old senior from Tilburg, Netherlands, said this semester he has experienced some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
“Kayaking at Hospital Rock and at the [Sequoia] park boundary is as good as it gets,” Thomas said. “It was cold while we were here but we have to be prepared to go anywhere and kayak in all conditions.”