LEWISTON - The job at the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours that Julia Kling got in high school led her to six summers of work, a swim through the Devil's Hole rapids below Niagara Falls and to discover how much she enjoys talking with people.
"When I started - when I was 15 or 16 - I was super quiet," said Kling, 21, a guest services supervisor at the Lewiston office dock. "You have to deal with thousands of people. Being a trip leader, it just makes you 100 percent comfortable in your skin."
Kling is one of the roughly 150 staffers who work with the approximately 100,000 people who come for rides during April-to-October season at one of the three Jet Boat locations that include two in Ontario: Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
An estimated 1.5 million have taken rides in the last 20 years since the Jet Boat company began taking tourists through the Niagara River's rapids.
"The rapids are different every time you go through them," she said. "You're never seeing the exact same thing when you're standing at the back of the boat. You can see how waves pop up in certain places and build in certain places."
The Canadian-based firm that employs her was founded by owners and operators of the white-water rafting company Wilderness Tours. Training for boat trip leaders includes first aid and a water-rescue swim in the rapids.
"You go up above Devil's Hole, they drop off a couple of us, we swim through the rapids, and they pick us up at the bottom," Kling said. "When we do this training, we have all sorts of staff up there in kayaks and jet skis. We have all sorts of people ready to quickly get you out of the water. So the white water up there is not something to be messed around with."
Kling had left for the day when, earlier this month, three teenage riders fell out of a boat and into the swift water. She and Jet Boat owner and president John Kinney credited training for the safe rescue.
"I never want to minimize the apprehension that these guests had by finding themselves in the Niagara River, but all the procedures and protocols worked as they were supposed to, and the good news was that everyone was back in the boat ..." Kinney told a reporter.
Kling put it this way: "White water is sometimes unpredictable so you like to be prepared for anything."
How did you feel as you were about to swim the rapids? How do you do it?
It was a little bit nerve-racking, but it was a really cool experience because it's something nobody really actually gets to do. It's some big water. I'm not gong to lie. I was nervous. It's a rush. You have to swim the current and get back in the boat, and you can say that you've done it.
When you're swimming in rapids like that you're supposed to be aggressively swimming - toward the boat, but with the current. You're learning in the water how to deal with currents and such. The staff on the boat is learning the techniques for getting people back into the boat.
How did they train you before you went in?
We got instructions from the owner of the company. A lot of the company came from Wilderness Tours. So they're all very familiar with white water and give really good instructions on how you should be swimming.
Were you a strong swimmer to begin with?
I've taken Red Cross swimming. We have a cottage on the lake. It's Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario. It's like an island in the middle of Lake Huron. I've pretty much grown up in water my whole life.
What do you like about your job?
The thing that's coolest about working at Jet Boat's is, actually, the number of people that come through. We get a good number of Korean tour groups. Because of that, I've learned some Korean words. I can say, "Hi, my name is Julia." That's pretty much it.
Tell me about someone interesting you met.
She was from India. She's traveled across the globe and is a travel writer, I think. After being on my trip, she told me that was the most fun she's ever had in her life. That was just really cool.
The Devil's Hole rapids are not the usual white water kind that crash over rocks?
What we have in Devil's Hole are compression rapids. So these rapids are created by the water squeezing through a very narrow spot in the river and crashing on top of each other. That's why we can run those rapids. The water there is actually 75 feet deep.
The senior project you did as a communications major at Allegheny College was about Niagara Falls?
I made a documentary about Niagara falls tourism. It was called, "To Realize Niagara." It was about taking time when you visit Niagara falls to sit back and appreciate the natural beauty that's there.
It was just saying so many of the people who come to Niagara Falls, go to Clifton Hill, the casino, instead of the natural part, which is why everything is here.
You need the businesses to make the money to keep Niagara Falls up. You can do both. Spend a little more time appreciating what's around you. Put your cell phones down.
It never stops taking my breath away how incredible and powerful the water is.
Now that you've graduated, what's next?
If I could continue working in this area and maybe use my video and communications skills to do more of, like, the marketing end, that would be really cool.
I've been applying for some jobs. I'm going to work as long as I can at Jet Boats and see what happens, see where life takes me.
Jet Boats has made me into the person I am today so I'm incredibly grateful.
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