By Tim Fitzgerald
On the water, the Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club had another successful season.
The team dominated at the national championships in Ottawa in early September, with Brian Malfesi winning four medals, including gold alongside teammate Sebastian Sorescu in the junior K2 200 metre final.
Teammate Matthew Koehler cruised his way to gold in the under-17 men’s K-1 6,000 m final, winning by almost 10 seconds. Koehler also won five gold medals and nine overall at the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games in Woods Buffalo, Alta.
From a competition standpoint, the team is one of the best in the country.
The RCKC athletes won more medals in 2015 than all other paddling clubs in the province combined.
But out of the water, the club is struggling.
Mike Malfesi, Brian’s father and board member of the RCKC, said a number of factors have the club concerned for its future moving forward.
On the way to the national championships, an accident to the club’s trailer, just outside Thunder Bay, Ont., meant the team lost a number of team boats, as well as its trailer.
The four-man kayak boat is in front of an insurance adjuster, awaiting its fate. At a cost of more than $15,000, the loss would be crippling to the club, said Malfesi.
“Our boats are getting close to the end of the line as far as being able to be used for a competition standpoint,” he said. “It’s just normal wear and tear. Little dings and dents. Then to lose boats and our trailer has been hard.”
There’s also the new prospect of now having to pay rent at its club house at Whonnock Park.
Shortly after Whonnock Hall was built, the club raised the funds and built the extension onto the back of the hall that still serves as the RCKC clubhouse. The hall was turned over to the city of Maple Ridge a couple of years ago after the Whonnock Community Association no longer had the ability to manage it.
The club will pay $150 month rent for the fist year, then see an increase of 25 per cent a year over three years. Already running on a shoe-string budget, paying rent is just another obstacle for a club trying to keep its head above water.
Over the years, it has seen its grants from the provincial gaming dwindle.
At one time, the club received as much as $40,000 a year from the provincial gaming funds. Now that sits at $19,500.
Malfesi said the idea of the club having to pass on any additional costs to members is concerning.
“Our issue is we hate to raise the prices. I think we had more than 1,000 school kids last year because our price is too low,” he laughs.
He said, as it stands, the school kids can come to the paddling club for just $15 a day, including insurance. He said compared to other outings that can run as much as $75 a day, the value makes the RCKC a great draw.
He also said it’s great exposure for the sport, which struggles to get people through the door.
“I just know how hard it is to get people to spend money on this sport” he said. “ It’s expensive, I know. If your kids are going to pursue it at a high level, it’s going to set you back a lot of money. But we want to be able to keep the cost down for the beginners so they can experience it.”
The club also runs programs, like dragon boat racing, introductory kayak and canoe lessons, as well as programs for mentally and physically challenged youth.
He said the club is hosting a New Year’s Eve fundraiser at Whonnock Hall and looking for silent auction items to help offset the expected rising costs.
“Each year, it is a struggle to make ends meet,” said Malfesi.
New Year’s Eve fundraiser
The Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club is hosting a New Year’s Eve fundraiser at Whonnock Hall with live classic rock by the band Nightshift. Tickets are $50, available at the Whoonock Post Office or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or calling 778-288-9791.