Who would have thought that the San Antonio River Walk had a secret life beyond the colorful boats full of raucous tourists?
Steven Schauer knew.
The documentary Paddling Lessons, written and directed by Schauer, who serves as director of external communications at the San Antonio River Authority, is a 260-mile journey on the San Antonio River.
Yes, the San Antonio River.
From the River Walk we all know and love to an unknown territory where wilderness and hidden life replace the tourists, boats, and margaritas, Paddling Lessons recalls a landscape that predates anything we dare call San Antonio. A land of birds and reptiles, old trees, and sadly, plastic pollution. An unknown river for most of us that flows across the land seeking, like most rivers, the embrace of the ocean. For the San Antonio River, that embrace awaits in the small town of Seadrift on San Antonio Bay.
The film opens with Schauer and his wife Ashley looking at a map on their kitchen table, getting ready to “go.” We can see the journey on paper, 260 miles of somehow familiar territory-at least to those of us who live in South Texas and have driven to the coast.
“When thinking of the San Antonio River, most folks think of the River Walk. And that’s all right here, 15 miles in the heart of downtown,” says Schauer. At this point, we realize he does not intend to share a serene trip of the world famous River Walk. He’s taking us to “untraveled territory.”
The manmade portion of the San Antonio River known as the San Antonio River Walk is one of the most instagrammed places in Texas. It creates an illusion that we know the actual river. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we’re about to see why.
Paddling Lessons provides a 50-minute glimpse of extraordinary and unrevealed life. Miles of serene landscape where blue herons fly over the kayakers, turtles seem to come out and say “Hi!,” alligators surface and old cypress trees observe the scene from the banks. But rapids, muddy sections, sunken trees, and plenty of obstacles also riddle the voyage–and sadly, islands of trash and plastic. This reminds us that few places remain unspoiled by the human touch.
In Paddling Lessons, Schauer and company are not trying to teach us how to kayak the river, although the movie does include some great paddling tips. The lessons aren’t about how to become a kayaking master but rather about discovering community, and as in the words of Jarrod Stringer, one of the many friends with whom Schauer this journey: “An opportunity to reconnect with the natural world and realize how much we are part of it.”
NOTE: Paddling Lessons will be available for FREE online streaming throughout the month of October as part of the 2020 Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival. Register here for the access code.
Writer Alfredo Avalos was born and raised in Mexico, where he completed studies in law, becoming an attorney at age 24. His literary work has been published in anthologies, newspapers, magazines, and websites. He is the author of Voyeur, a collection of short stories (Contacto Latino 2012). He currently serves as the Community and Cultural Coordinator at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in San Antonio. More about Avalos.
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