Great American Paddle-In

By Pete Williams

Talking paddling and writing

I love the Great American Teach-In, where parents come to school and talk with their kids’ classes about what they do for a living.

As a writer, though, it’s a challenge to compete with brave people in uniform: cops, firefighters, military. They have cool stories and even better props.

I did my first Teach-In in 2008 and back then I thought kids might find my sportswriter perspective interesting. After all, my kids go to a school adjacent to the Toronto Blue Jays spring training site. Tampa Bay is a sports crazed market. Surely, they’d find it cool that I go to sports events, interview athletes, and write about it.

What I found, however, is kids weren’t that interested, which should trouble those who run professional sports teams. When I was 8 years old, I could rattle off every player on the Blue Jays – at the time a two-year-old expansion franchise – and I lived in Virginia.

These days, I wonder what would happen if Jose Bautista walked behind the outfield wall during spring training, strolled through the school courtyard and into the lunchroom in uniform. How many kids would know who he was?

I gave my same sportswriter spiel in 2009 and 2010. I brought a DVD of my television appearances talking sports and kids found that slightly more interesting.

Today I took a different approach, bringing in a stand-up paddleboard and an iPad, which I used to show off Paddle Fit, the “vook” (video book) on stand-up paddleboarding I had the honor of writing with SUP guru Brody Welte, who recently moved from the Tampa Bay area to San Diego.

Even though I only brought an 8-foot kids paddleboard, as opposed to my 12-foot-6 board, that was enough to draw oohs and ahs the moment I walked in the door. I demonstrated how to size a paddle and proper paddling technique. The vook helped a lot.

The third graders and first graders asked a lot of great questions about writing and paddleboarding, though the first graders seemed much more concerned about encountering sharks.

Why didn’t I take this approach earlier for the Great American Teach-In? After all, the media world I’ve worked in over the last 20 years is unrecognizable today. Who knows what it will look like in five years?

Last week, I spoke to a feature writing class at the University of South Florida, a group composed of communications majors. I couldn’t help but wonder what these kids planned to do with their degrees.

Go into journalism? Really?

The first graders and third graders are passionate about writing. They asked what I like to write about and I stressed how it’s a lot easier to write about things that interest you. For me, that’s been sports, business, fitness, and now endurance sports. Adapt to new technologies – like the iPad and vook – and you can keep writing forever, at least I hope.

After speaking to my second class, I packed up the paddles and board and headed out. I’m not doing noble work like the folks in uniform, but at least I could hold my own at The Great American Teach-In.

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