Apply for the OARS and Pam & George Wendt Foundation Guide School Scholarship

3 Min. Read
A group of rafting guests and OARS guides stand ready for a rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River
A youth group joins OARS on the South Fork American River thanks to The Pam & George Wendt Foundation

In 2021, OARS, and the Pam & George Wendt Foundation, launched a fully-sponsored need-based whitewater guide school scholarship. The scholarship, now open to applicants for 2024, aims to help individuals with limited resources attend OARS’s highly sought-after guide training programs and improve access for anyone interested in a career in the whitewater rafting industry.

First established in 1979, OARS Guide School has set the industry standard for raft guide training programs, and teaches students the fundamentals of whitewater guiding like reading water, rope and boat rigging skills, swiftwater rescue, how to guide a paddle raft and food prep and packing. Other areas of focus include teamwork, leadership, river etiquette and Leave No Trace principles. OARS operates annual guide schools in the spring in California and Utah.

Floating with OARS on the South Fork of the American River

“Guide school is a full immersion course with the river as our moving classroom,” says Jess Wallstrom, OARS California operations manager. “Participants will learn from many of our top crew members who are excited to share their extensive experience. During guide school, students swim, paddle, push their limits and come away with new skills that will stay with them for life.”

OARS guide schools are taught by some of the company’s most experienced guides. Often with hundreds and sometimes thousands of river trips under their belts, instructors have extensive experience as well as formal swift-water rescue and wilderness first-aid training.

“I learned so much, from rigging the rafts, to reading the water, especially during a high water year, and most importantly safely taking down people on the river, while having an amazing time,” says 2023 scholarship recipient Emma Nance. “Being a full-time guide during the summer transition of my high school and college years was definitely a challenging adjustment but the welcoming and accommodating crew (other guides and management) that was working that year made it a lot easier. Another challenge that I overcame was learning how to work with customers and be able to provide a meaningful experience with them. With the help of other guides and their advice, I was able to make some good connections. I was only able to have this once in a lifetime experience because of the scholarship and am very thankful that it was available.”

A flipped raft floats down the Middle Fork of the American River

Preference for guide school scholarships will be given to individuals with financial need, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ candidates, and applicants seeking full-time work as a river guide. Those selected will receive mentorship, full tuition to attend an OARS guide school on the American River in California or the Split Mountain stretch of the Green River in Utah, as well as a gift card from NRS to help them purchase essential gear for the river once they’ve completed their training.

“As a leader in the whitewater community, it’s important we expand our outreach and help create opportunities for anyone who has an interest in working as a professional river guide,” says Steve Markle, vice president of sales and marketing for OARS.

While OARS does not guarantee employment after attending guide school, scholarship recipients who successfully complete guide school will be given priority. Finding talented, hard-working individuals who are seeking full-time work as river guides has been part of the company’s plan for these programs all along. The scholarship is an opportunity for the company to cast a wider net and attract a more diverse pool of future river guides. No experience is necessary to apply for the scholarship or to attend guide school.

The deadline to apply for The Pam & George Wendt Guide School scholarship is February 18, 2024. The application can be found HERE.

Go Behind-the-Scenes at “Guide School”

For a closer look at OARS whitewater guide school, check out the series “Guide School” at our YouTube Channel. Filmed during the 2022 American River program, each episode takes viewers a little further into the challenge of learning what it takes to become a river guide. From boat flips to swiftwater rescue, the series introduces a few of OARS’ most experienced guides, a handful of newcomers and some of the region’s most notorious whitewater.

Portrait of Dylan Silver

Dylan Silver

Dylan Silver is the digital marketing and foundation coordinator for OARS. He loves photography and exploring California's rivers and lakes.

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