Canoeing and Kayaking can be many things to many different people. You find some people counting the minutes until the weekend where they can forget about all their weekly worries by jumping in a kayak. Others might go paddling once a month whenever they have time to relax and enjoy nature. And then you have some people struggling with disease, disabilities and even war injuries or trauma — for these folks getting out on the water can be a powerful and empowering activity.

There are a number of organizations out there that employ paddling and other outdoor activities as a therapy technique. They provide opportunities for specific individuals to overcome adversity in their lives by doing something they never thought possible. We wanted to take the time to recognize a few of these great organizations:

First Descents –  Based on their website, First Descents’ mission is to “offer young adult cancer fighters and survivors (ages 18 to 39) a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer,reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.” They offer a wide range of programs all over the world, from surfing in Costa Rica to participating in a kayak expedition going into the Main Salmon River in Idaho.

Team River Runner – According to their ‘About Us’ page, Team River Runner was “initially established to help active duty military personally wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan who were recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. With the success there obvious and the opportunity elsewhere apparent, TRR expanded  to other Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs chapter sites in 2007.” They have local chapters in about half of the US states and offer unique programs designed to support the healing of service members and their families.

Wound Warrior Project –  The vision of the Wound Warrior Project is to “foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.” They have uniquely structured programs designed to nurture the mind and body, as well as encourage economic empowerment and engagement.

Heroes on the Water – Heroes on the Water, or HOW, is a program that serves as an outlet for military personnel to decompress from the stresses associated with combat and rehabilitation.  It introduces veterans to a number of components all centered around the calm and peaceful sport of kayak fishing ranging from basic instruction to guided fishing trips. Their motto? Healing wounded spirits and restoring warrior’s hearts through kayak fishing.

Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center –  The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center focuses on creating life changing outdoor experiences for individuals with special needs. According to their website, for over 30 years they have “provided a sense of freedom to those who are routinely excluded from activity due to a disability or special needs.” With a number of programs ranging from skiing, to kayaking, to mastering a their ropes course,  “BOEC inspires people of all abilities to discover new places, learn new skills and rekindle their spirit in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.”

Paddle for Peace – This organization was founded by an Iraqi War veteran who found tremendous healing benefits when solo-paddling the  Mississippi River from source to sea. By organizing river expeditions in West Virginia and Virginia, Paddle for Peace helps veterans engage in the benefits healing through outdoor wilderness therapy. paddle for peace

Kudos to these and all other organizations that are using the great outdoors as a way of lifting the spirits of many people. We encourage our readers to do your part and volunteer and help support these organization. Of course, these are just a few that we’ve listed, know of any others? Let us know by commenting below.

Joseph @ACK


  1. Thank you for this article! I am trying to find everyone who is using paddling for therapy after trauma and you have provided rich info. I am hoping to launch Wind In Water Healing by mid 2017. Our mission is to provide creative outdoor therapy for healing after trauma. The target group is survivors of sexual assault. Any tips, guidance, support or suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thank yo for your time!

    1. Hey Danielle,

      So good to hear from you! To add to this list, we met with the founders of the Flatwater Foundation this week to see how we could form a meaningful partnership with them – they’re an Austin-based non-profit that raises money to fund therapy for families affected by cancer. Mental health is crucial and often over-looked, so finding avenues that use the stillness of water/paddle therapy and connect it to a cause is important to us! Email me at and we can chat more about your project. Looking forward to hearing from you!