Seth Dow, a world-class kayaker who recently returned to Quincy, spent almost five months in Chile this past winter teaching with New River Academy, a high school that focuses on paddling whitewater around the world.
While in Chile from October to mid-March, Dow and his students traveled from Santiago all the way down to Futaleufú, which is in Patagonia.
The academy ran many different kinds of rivers, from big water to steep, technical creeks and even a 50-foot waterfall with most of the students.
“When I think of my experience there, the thing that shines out to me is the land,” said Dow. “It feels like it is overwhelming; there are so many volcanoes, such big waterfalls — the place makes you feel small.”
The academy spent much of its time in the mountains and small towns, staying in isolated hostels and with Chilean families who were always gracious hosts.
Castellano, the language of Chile, was difficult to understand, but when a few of the group worked together, they could have some good chats with the locals.
“One night, a student and I chose to help the women cooking for us,” said Dow. “They were making bread. After a while of chatting, I asked where the all the men were. All I had seen were the four generations of women in the family.
“She said that if she saw her baby’s father she would kill him. I think she was joking, but she was pissed at him. He had left her with her baby. She said that this is very typical of Chilean men. She went on to say that sex education in the country is not very good and that many women get pregnant very early. It turned into a big learning experience for me and my student, seeing the challenges of being a single mother at a young age.”
Dow, who earned a Master of Arts in math education from UC Santa Cruz, is the math instructor for New River Academy, as well as the residential life coordinator and an assistant coach.
After his family moved to Quincy almost 10 years ago, Dow discovered kayaking through the Outdoor Recreation Leadership program at Feather River College.
“Bryan Plocki taught me how to roll in Lake Almanor at the 2005 Paddlefest,” said Dow. “Edgar Vargas took up the job and taught me how to read water. Now I get to kayak with some of the best in the world.”
After falling in love with kayaking, Dow worked as a guide for four summers on the North Fork Payette River in Idaho, which has 18 miles of continuous class V whitewater.
Dow also interned at Feather River College as an assistant instructor in the ORL program, during which time he earned certifications for Wilderness First Responder, commercial driver and Swiftwater Rescue Technician.
This internship helped Dow realize his potential as an educator, and he gives much credit to ORL director Rick Stock for connecting him with opportunities.
“Rick gave me the contact which first gave me the job in Idaho, which led to my contact to this school,” explained Dow. “It all essentially stems from Rick and the ORL program. None of this would have happened without him and the great whitewater and the great program here.
“I want people to see that you can go anywhere from Quincy, that it is tied into a network as vast as the world and it also contains some of the best stuff in the world — people and whitewater. What we have in Plumas County is special and I think about it every day, no matter what country I am in, and I see that it is through Quincy and Plumas County that this life, this job, is possible.”
New River Academy starts the school year in Canada and then goes to West Virginia. During winter and spring quarters, the academy goes to destinations around the world such as Ecuador, Mexico, China, Chile, Nepal, India, New Zealand and Uganda.
This year, the academy went to Chile for both quarters, which created the unique opportunity to stay there over Christmas break.
“I will say that despite the amazing whitewater of Chile, the Feather River drainage is still my favorite place to be in the world,” said Dow. “The scenery is amazing, you can find some of the hardest rapids in the world, and the Middle Feather is just as mind blowing every time you do it.”