Keener Program

Keener Program

The 3 week Keener Program is WT’s top “youth development through kayaking”. Graduating fine young men and women all while producing world-class paddlers!

The Keener Program is Wilderness Tours’ top “youth development through kayaking” program focusing (in order of priority) on:

  • Graduating fine young men and women
  • Producing world class junior paddlers with the ability to compete and win internationally (the 2015 World Championships held here at Garberator 30 Keeners compete with 7 making the podium)
  • Providing Keeners with the skills (first aid, CPR, Swiftwater Rescue) to paddle safely
  • Prepare Keeners for future work in the whitewater industry as river guides, kayak instructors, video boaters etc.
  • Providing senior Keeners with an opportunity to earn compensation working part time within Wilderness Tours as they train

Keeners are under the daily supervision of the Keener Coach Stephen Wright and his assistants. Guest instructors are a big part of the training and include Tyler Curtis, Heidi Walsh, Luke Pomeroy, David Silk, Benny Marr, Clay Wright, etc. 

Keeners are encouraged to compete. Keeners are responsible for their own entry fees or have a credit card on file with Wilderness Tours (for Wilderness Tours to enter the Keener in the competition). Keeners run their own competition (with supervision) each week on the Ottawa. What if your long term kayaking plans don’t involve competing. No problem! The weekly competitions are friendly and serve the dual purpose of providing valued practice for those Keeners who plan to compete and valued training for those Keeners who don’t.

Keeners are supervised 24/7. Smoking, drinking, drug use, profanity, disrespect, and “conduct unbecoming” are grounds for immediate dismissal without refund. Off river supervision is provided by our Keener Coordinator, Savannah Westeinde.

Keeners are young people between the age of 12 and 17 who are “keen” about kayaking and have a positive attitude about life. Younger paddlers (age 12 and 13) are welcome provided they are mature and physically able to kayak. A strong whitewater kayak roll is required. Parents who are not sure their teens are “keen” on kayaking can put their child into Wilderness Tours’ Teen Resident Camp which is a week long kayak program starting Sunday evening and ending late Friday afternoon. Parents can then decide at that time whether to enroll their son or daughter into the Keener Program. Please keep in mind Keeners is not a traditional summer camp. It’s sole purpose is youth development through high-performance kayaking.

Keener Program focuses on the following:

  • Personal Demeanour, Attitude, Work Ethic, Conduct, Youth and Character Development
  • Leadership
  • Public speaking – ice breaker speeches on Sunday night and formal speeches every Monday
  • Written communication – Keeners must post at least weekly to weblog
  • Skill Development
  • Competitive Training – Keeners compete weekly
  • Cross-training
  • Kayak Swiftwater Rescue Training
  • First Aid, CPR Certification
  • All aspects of becoming a PRO Boater
  • Movie making – Keeners have access to movie-making equipment and cameras
  • Travel to other rivers (at extra cost)

Keener Program History
Wilderness Tours’ keener program was founded in the late 1980’s by paddling legend Jerry Marquis. Jerry was a high school teacher in Tupper Lake, New York (near Lake Placid). Jerry managed Wilderness Tours’ nearby Hudson River operation and spent his summers with Wilderness Tour’ as River Manager. Jerry loved kayaking and he would hand pick his best students to come to the Ottawa as “Jerry’s Kids” or “keeners” (for keen and enthusiastic). Originally, Keeners were Jerry’s students but the program expanded to include other applicants. Some of the best paddlers and skiers in the world were keeners – World kayak champion Ken Whiting, Wilderness Tours’ Kayak School Director James Roddick, extreme skiers extraordinaire Scott and Robb Gaffney and more. It was a great program but ended with Jerry’s death in 1994.

Because the legend of the Keeners still lived on, several years ago, parents of children in our Teen Resident Camp asked if we would bring back the program. In response to their request, we resurrected the program a few years ago. The program was a tremendous success in regard to youth development through kayaking. It is also a success on the river with Keeners dominating junior kayaking. In 2004, the top Canadian, American and Mexican junior kayakers were Keeners. In 2009 21 Keeners competed in the World Championships in Thun, Switzerland and 7 made their way to the podium. The goal of the program is to turn out fine young men and women. That they happen to dominate junior paddling is just a bonus

Keeners live in several cabins at the base of McCoy Chute, the best location on the Ottawa River. The cabins have bunk beds, mattresses, pillows and sheets. Keeners bring a sleeping bag. Keeners have Wifi access, telephone, TV and computer.

Sunday | arrival 3 pm; 6 pm dinner and meeting

Monday – Friday | Formal kayak training takes place Monday through Friday with about 6 hours on the river.

Each evening there is an activity session. Sometimes it’s kayaking related, sometimes just going to the movies. Depending on water levels and features, training can be at 6 am or after dark with glow sticks on helmets. Keeners have high speed internet access as well as movie making equipment for video analysis.

Another weekly highlight is the Friday afternoon “Keener Competition” where the Keeners organize, judge, scribe, time and compete.

Saturday | departure day – free paddling/chores

During the three week Keener Program, we offer two safety/first aid courses which are mandatory for Keeners not possessing these certifications. Each class costs $249 CAD plus tax.

The first of these certifications is a 2 day First Aid/CPR Red Cross Certification Program, typically held on the first weekend.

The certification is valid for 3 years and is required for all river guides and kayak instructors.

The second certification is a Swiftwater Rescue Course which is offered usually in the second week.

With written parental permission and head coach permission, Keeners can “paddle on their own” under certain conditions.

No one leaves the Keener area without signing out and back in
Keeners “paddling on their own” follow a safety protocol from the head coach

Keeners will be accommodated at “Keener Heaven” at the base of McCoy Chute and in cabins at Wilderness Tour’s when appropriate. The program operates June through Labor Day Weekend. We prefer Keeners to arrive Sunday afternoon and depart on Saturday morning but we can be flexible.

The program includes instruction, coaching, competition training, supervision, meals, cabin, bedding, local transportation, and traveling to other rivers (shared expense). Keeners are also required to purchase the clothing/gear package.

A minimum of three weeks stay is required for the keener program.

A 50% deposit is due at the time of booking, 85% is refundable up to 120 days prior to the trip date. At 120 days prior the balance payment is taken automatically from the card on file and the total becomes non-refundable.

We strongly recommend the purchase of cancellation insurance outlined on the application.

Can be arrange, please contact Ottawa Kayak School via e-mail at [email protected]

Training involves traveling to other rivers. Keeners must have a credit card on file to cover the cost of the trip. Trip cost is approximately $50 – $95/trip depending on distance and time away. The trip schedule is tentative based on water levels on other rivers.

Keeners are well fed with a vegetarian alternative at every meal. Keeners share household chores including dishes, house cleaning, bathrooms, grass cutting, etc. Any allergies or special requirements should be included in the notes on the application or provided to the Keener supervisors on arrival.

A goal of the keener program is to graduate kayak professionals ready for work in the paddle sports industry as river guides, kayak instructors and video/photo boaters. Keeners progress to Senior Keeners and Keener Instructors. Senior Keeners are compensated if appropriate and Keener Instructors are compensated less room and board.

While little is required, parents can provide money to their children by emailing Joe with the amount. Wilderness Tours’ accounting department will advance the money and the amount will be debited to the parents on file credit card. We also have a new RFID wristband program, you can authorize a specific amount available to spend on the wristband, monitor it online from home and increase the limit if required from your login. This should be set up in advance if you prefer this option.


  • Keeners can add sessions on site if space is available
  • Parents who are unsure about their child’s enthusiasm for kayaking can enroll their child in the Teen Resident Camp. If the child is “Keen”, he or she can then be booked into the Keener Program (if space is available)
  • Space for the Keener Program is limited and is on a first come, first served basis with reservations required
  • Cabins include mattress, sheets and pillow (bring a sleeping bag)
  • Parents are welcome to visit and may rent a cabin or campsite at Wilderness Tours.

Contact keener coordinator Joe Kowalski [email protected] for information and request a keener application form to make your reservation or use the online application on this page.

Session Dates Rates Availbility
Big Water Week
Jun 16th - 22nd, 2024
still some space but reserve now to avoid disappointment
Session 1
Jun 23rd - Jul 13th, 2024
still some space but reserve now to avoid disappointment
Session 2
Jul 14th - Aug 3rd, 2024
still some space but reserve now to avoid disappointment
Session 3
Aug 4th - 24th, 2024
still some space but reserve now to avoid disappointment
Competition Week
Aug 25th - 31st, 2024
still some space but reserve now to avoid disappointment

Note: For Big Water Week or Competition Week the rate is $995 if combined with another session or $1,195 as a single week

*Price is subject to 13% HST & $15/day/person

  • Big Water Week

    Sun, June 16 – Sat June 22, 2024

  • Session 1

    Sun, June 23 – Sat, July 13, 2024

  • Session 2

    Sun, July 14 – Sat, August 3, 2024

  • Session 3

    Sun, August 4 – Sat, August 24, 2024

  • Competition Week

    August 25 – 31, 2024