Summer reeding: Paddle camp revives ancient Washoe, Hawaiian traditions
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – “You can make a boat out of that?” asked 15-year-old Cloud Mitchell, skeptically looking at a pile of tule reeds on the beach at Meeks Bay Resort and Marina on Thursday morning.
“Yes. Yes, you can,” came the answer.
Mitchell is one of nine Washoe youth participating in the Da’ow Youth Paddle Camp, which started Monday and continues through the weekend.
The camp is in its first year and teaches adolescents paddling skills in modern kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. Kids participating in the camp also get a taste of traditional watercraft from both the Washoe and Hawaiian cultures.
On Thursday, camp participants sanded traditional Koa wood surfboards with the help of Tom “Pohaku” Stone and built a small model of a Washoe tule boat with the help of Tom Dayberry, who helped organize the camp with the Washoe Tribe’s Project Venture, a community service and outdoor skills program for at-risk youth.
Once used by the Washoe for transportation, fishing and gathering bird eggs, members of the tribe have not built a tule reed boat in decades, maybe even 100 years, Dayberry said.
The model version of the Washoe’s blunt-backed tule reed boat successfully set sail in about six inches of Lake Tahoe water on Thursday. Construction of a full size tule reed boat is scheduled for Saturday at El Dorado Beach in South Lake Tahoe as part of the 2nd Annual Lake Tahoe Paddle Festival, which Dayberry also organizes.
The camp is an extension of the paddle festival’s theme of “ancient art to state of the art,” Dayberry said.
The goal is to teach kids marketable skills in the recreation industry, as well as preserve part of the Washoe heritage that is in danger of being lost forever, Dayberry said.
“I wanted to have the kids participate in the traditional watercraft building,” Dayberry said.
“But rather than just stay with the ancient style, we can get them into the new stuff as well,” Dayberry added later.
The prospect of floating around on Lake Tahoe’s frigid waters suspended solely by twisted and bound reeds drew mixed reactions from camp participants Thursday.
Christina Moore, 11, spent much of Thursday morning touring practicing skills on a stand up paddle board. Despite her diminutive stature, she said she probably wouldn’t try out the full size tule reed boat because there is probably a “weight limit.”
Lulu Street, also 11, enthusiastically took to building the model tule reed boat on Thursday and said she wouldn’t hesitate to try the full size version on Saturday.
Dayberry said he hopes to grow the camp in coming years, extending the program to include more regional tribes, native Hawaiians and any local youth who want to participate.
He said the camp, the paddle festival, and several maps his company, Native Elements, is working on that replace the European names of local landmarks with their traditional tribal names are examples of the “geotourism” concept that has been discussed for the region in recent years.
Geotourism aims to attract visitors to an area based on it’s historical, cultural and environmental uniqueness.
For more information on the Lake Tahoe Paddle Festival, visit: http://www.laketahoepaddlefestival.com
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