Groms | Plastic Tides Juniors: Tales From The Erie Canal Expedition

A huge part of what we do at Plastic Tides involves engaging kids with conservation through SUP and adventure. After two years spent paddling the Erie Canal during the frigid months of November in 2014 and 2015, we decided we needed to try it in the summer. We teamed up with our local paddle shop Paddle-N-More to offer an adventure-conservation summer camp. We had an amazing first summer in 2015, and this year we saw our alumni week as a great opportunity to get back on The Canal. The last week of summer we hit the water with six Plastic Tides Junior Alumnis for five days and four nights. Upon finishing, we asked them to share their most memorable experiences from the trip. Here’s what they had to say. –Christian Shaw, Plastic Tides cofounder



One of my most striking memories from the trip was when we paddled back upstream. We had just gone through a lock a mile or so from where the canal splits. One side of the split went down a waterfall and some whitewater before meeting back up with the other side, which used the lock to facilitate the drop in elevation. After scouting out the area on our smartphones, we decided that we were going to paddle up the rough side of the divide, exploring islands along the way. We soon ran into thick aquatic plant life, clogging the river and dragging on our fins. This combined with unpredictable shallow spots and currents made progress difficult. At one point the flow of the river picked up immensely. Fighting the current and plants while trying to avoid shallow spots was impossible at times, and we had to get behind our boards and push. After getting to a relatively calm spot upstream, we decided to go around the far side of a long, thin island dividing the river, and return back downstream via that route. Little did we know that the return trip involved very shallow whitewater, which was perilous for our two brand new L2Fish boards. Since I was on an inflatable, I got to scout ahead and try to ride out the terrain. The paddlers on the more fragile boards and I worked together, relaying information about where it was safe to ride, and where it was too shallow to get through. The experience was stressful, but in the end we escaped with minimal damage to our equipment and our daily thirst for adventure fulfilled.

–Noah Klausner, Age 16


Inside Lock 17.

Inside Lock 17. Photo: Plastic Tides

Without a doubt, the highlight for me of this amazing SUP adventure has to be traveling on paddleboards through the largest lock on the Canal: Lock 17 in the town Little Falls. The feeling of being enclosed in the massive gates, slowly sinking down countless feet, is incomparable to any other experience I’ve ever had. It was so interesting going in at ground level, hearing water rush out of the 150-ton door in front of you until a few moments later, when you would suddenly be far below the ground, able to see the full extent of the gates. I had never felt so small. After we had been lowered to the right level, the gate would slowly and very loudly creek open into the next part of the canal. It felt so grand and majestic and was just entirely exciting. Once we made it out through the lock, we saw another boat travel through and noticed just how much water was rushing out of the lock at once; it looked like a tidal wave! Overall, this experience was fantastic, and opened my eyes to something I had no knowledge of before. It was a great way to mix adventure with science and activism, and it was just a ton of fun. Thanks to Christian Shaw and Gordon Middleton of Plastic Tides for making this experience possible!

–Natalie Boucher, Age 15 


Hammock time on the Eerie Canal. Photo: Plastic Tides

Hammock time on the Erie Canal. Photo: Plastic Tides

My favorite part of the trip was when Gordon, Christian and I all slept in hammocks. Every night we had to scout out a place to set up; some nights were harder than others. One night we had to suspend me off the ground with a short rope and a long rope that was about 7-8 meters long and when getting out of it the long rope would act like a spring and shoot me up. Another night we had to set up under a maps and information hut because we couldn't find any strong and firm tress. A hammock was one of the most comfortable places I've ever slept and I always woke up refreshed and full of energy (Well except for the last day). Next time I’d like to try stringing the hammocks off of the SUP’s!

Magnus Henneberger, Age 14


Paddling the Erie Canal is an experience we all miss now that we are back in school. My best memory is from one of the nights we were paddling into the lock quite late and the sun was setting. All of us were getting tired and ready to be done for the day. We kept each other going by singing ridiculous songs like “The SUPs go SUPing” to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching” and “99 pieces of plastic on the beach." Whenever we started to get tired or a little bored we sang to distract ourselves. It really is very special to constantly be on the water paddling for several days. As long as you have good company, it never gets old.

–Kayla Markwardt, Age 13 


Fishin' the Canal. Photo: Plastic Tides

fishin’ the Canal. Photo: Plastic Tides

I'm Carter, one of the Plastic Tides Junior Ambassadors. I’ve been working with the program just over a year and have been on two expeditions. In late-August, Plastic Tides and Plastic Tides Junior took an expedition on the Erie Canal. During the 5 days we traveled over 30 miles and on the last night I slept on one of the boards rather than in a tent. Although the night was cold, I used an emergency bivy over my sleeping bag and it was actually my warmest sleep yet and I stayed totally dry. The highlight of my trip was fishing off of my board almost the entire time. Though I didn’t land any fish, I had a huge bass on the first day that broke the line just before I got it in the fish box. While trawling close to shore I also counted the plastic water bottles I could see along the shoreline, we all worked together to get a total count for the trip of over 200.

–Carter Anderson, Age 14 


The rare opportunity for a downwinder on the Erie, albeit a wet one... Photo: Plastic Tides

The rare opportunity for a slight downwinder on the Erie, albeit a wet one… Photo: Plastic Tides

As a paddleboarder, there is nothing more exciting than hearing the word downwinder. It was 6am on Sunday morning, and the Plastic Tides Juniors didn't know it at the time, but we were about to have the paddle of our lives. Starting in Lansing, NY we were expected to make it to Union Springs, NY (about 18 miles) in just a few hours. Having never paddled even close to that far the crew was full of complaints, but we had no idea how much of a friend the wind would be. We are all used to paddling on glassy Cayuga Lake and waves were a battle we didn't quite know how to tackle. We ended up surfing on the waves and I fell off my board about 20 times, not to mention capsizing twice (with all my belongings strapped to my board). When we finally made it to Union Springs, it started to pour and we were all in harsh shape. I can say hot chocolate never tasted so good. However accomplishing such a challenge paddle has not only strengthened my love for paddleboarding, but has built lifetime friendships and my own character as a result.

–Chloe Cerione, Age 15

More on Plastic Tides.

See the first installment of Plastic Tides’ environmental column.