Former Whitman student Andrew Palim joins elite kayaking academy


Andrew Palim rides the rapids of the Mistassini river in Quebec, Canada. Palim joined the World Class Kayaking Academy in March 2018. Photo courtesy Andrew Palim.

By Isabelle van Nieuwkoop

Just four years ago, former Whitman student Andrew Palim had never competitively kayaked before. After participating in an intensive camp and honing his skills, his interest in kayaking continued to grow. So when his kayaking camp counselor told him about the World Class Kayaking Academy, a private high school that combines kayaking, traveling and academics, he was immediately interested. Three months later, Palim was kayaking on some of the biggest rivers in Quebec and Chile.

“I didn’t do any team sports and I knew some kids who signed up for lessons, and it turned into something really fun,” Palim said. “At the academy, we mostly just kayak, and it’s a great way to improve our kayaking skills.”

Palim was nervous to join the program at first because it meant leaving his family and friends behind. But the opportunity to travel outweighed his doubts, he said.

“It’s worrying being in a new place and being independent with your school work, but I am definitely glad I was able to come here,” Palim said. “To have some crazy new experience and get away from Whitman to do something new is exciting.”

Palim has competed in one competition at the program, but he mostly kayaks on his own and with coaches for fun, he said.

Based in White Salmon, Washington, the Academy also offers kiteboarding and climbing programs. All programs integrate regular high school courses—English, foreign language, science, history, math and other electives like SAT prep—with travel to different rivers and sports training.

All of the teachers at the Academy are professional kayakers that have a degree in the subject they teach. Palim says he admires his teachers because they all have a common interest in kayaking, which motivates him to train even harder.

The school’s head coach Kalob Grady joined the program this year but started kayaking when he was nine. For Grady, teaching students about kayaking is especially meaningful.

“The teachers are excited about their job, and you’re accountable for your own,” Palim said. “If I don’t do my school work, then I can’t kayak, so everyone is very motivated in school to get out to the water.”

At the Academy, the schedule varies from year-to-year. This year, the program traveled to Eastern Canada and Chile from Sept. 2 until winter break. After break, students will depart to Ecuador on Jan. 26 and kayak until graduation on May 18. Palim said the unique traveling experience convinced him to apply.

“The variety of cultures, people and rivers is amazing,” Palim said. “It’s crazy how big the world is.”

Because of the travel schedule, Palim usually has limited phone service to communicate with his family and friends. He comes home during fall, winter, spring and summer breaks.

“Whenever he goes down to a town in Chile he calls us twice a week,” Palim’s brother, Phillip, said. “He’s a lot of the noise and liveliness, so having him gone is like having seventy percent of the house gone. It makes a big difference, but he’s back often.”

Palim will graduate from the program next May. Despite his interest in kayaking, Palim doesn’t know if he’ll pursue the sport in college.

“It would be awesome to take a gap year, but if I want to kayak, this school definitely prepares me for it,” Palim said. “There’s more of a characteristic of college life.”