Adventure June 19, 2017

An Education on the Water

Valley student Miles Jones explores the world with a traveling kayak school

“Traveling and exploring all new areas and cultures with World Class Academy, we get to see some of the most beautiful and spectacular places in the world that not a lot of other people get to experience,” said 18-year-old Miles Jones with a wide smile.

Jones, born and raised in the Wood River Valley, has been attending a traveling whitewater kayak high school—that’s not something you hear every day. For Jones, who is racking up experiences on and off the river throughout Mexico, Ecuador, Canada, Nepal, and the U.S., it all started in Idaho.

“Like a lot of families, we call being out in nature ‘our religion,’” said Taryn Jones, Miles’ mother. Within five months of Miles’ being born, Taryn and Paul Jones brought their son to the banks of the world-renowned Payette River, just a couple of summits and turns northwest of the Wood River Valley. “Miles has been on the rivers and in the mountains since he was an infant, and it just happened that he loves them as much as we do,” said Taryn Jones.

The young Jones began learning how to kayak when he was 8 years old. Flooded with fond memories of going out on the river with his dad, Jones started by paddling around, learning how to roll, surfing waves, and river running.  In the beginning, he spent a lot of time on the day stretch of the Salmon River, just north of Stanley. Next, he progressed to the “canyon” and “staircase” sections of the Payette River near Banks, and to Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade.

During his high school sophomore summer, Jones met the director of World Class Academy (WCA), Capo Rettig. World Class had a booth at the North Fork Championships, the elite and extreme whitewater kayak competition held every June in Idaho on the North Fork of the Payette River. After meeting former students and learning more about the program, Jones applied and was off to Canada and Mexico for his high school junior year.

“We have to keep our academics in line,” said Jones. “World Class has a really good balance of teaching their students and then making them some of the best paddlers in the world.”

Jones’ coaches, teachers and peers consistently describe him as a young leader, on and off the water, who is enthusiastic, but casual. Nicole Mansfield, a professional kayaker and World Class Academy’s math and science teacher, noted, “Miles is a natural leader and innately cool, but he appreciates good times and laid-back chats with everyone and anyone. At school and beyond, this quickly and justifiably earns him respect and admiration from all.”

World Class’s head kayak coach Brian Burger affirmed Jones’ laid-back and positive demeanor. Challenging himself with harder and harder whitewater over the past couple of years, Jones has continued to grow and stand out as an extremely accomplished young athlete in the whitewater world. Simultaneously, he continues to exhibit and develop the characteristics of an individual who is always looking out for his team, especially with whomever he happens to be on the river, no matter who or where.

After a lap on the Bhote Kosi River in Nepal, Jones and classmates stroll through a small town nearby.

Jones’ experiences at “kayak high school” aren’t limited to academics and kayaking.  Recounting the integration of community service into his travels, Jones explained: “We try to benefit community wherever we go. In Nepal last fall, we did a town pick-up in Besisahar. Our team walked through the main streets and picked up a bunch of trash with the local people. Also, for the kayak competitions and events we participate in, we try to help out with organization to make the event run smoother and provide services for everyone when needed.”

Miles was accepted into the three colleges he applied to, but, on the immediate horizon, there are more kayaking adventures. He aims to work on the day stretch of the Salmon River this summer for White Otter Outdoor Adventures and then move to the state of Washington, where it is possible to kayak year-round.

“I want to share kayaking with more people in the Valley. While kayaking is an individual sport, I have some of my best times on the river with friends and simply being outside,” said Jones. And, finally, “I love the water.”

Lucky for Jones, he was born and raised in the whitewater state of Idaho. And while he may not know exactly where the flow will take him, it’s bound to be an adventure.

This article appears in the Summer 2017 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.