A dreamy autumn evening

Posted by on Oct 15, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

It’s been an unusually warm and paddler-friendly fall in the midwest this year, but the days are getting shorter, and we’re starting to finish most of our after-work paddles in the dark. That was true last night when we got out with our friend and fellow coach Aaron Litchfield, visiting from Richmond, Virginia, and our friend and local coach Greg Anderson. We headed out to see what fun we could find and discovered a nice spot with some reflected waves on an otherwise flat evening. As the light waned, we captured these dreamy, long-exposure shots that reflect how it felt on the water.              ...

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The Gales Storm Gathering: five successful years

Posted by on Oct 12, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Five years ago, our friend Keith Wikle had an ambitious idea: Why not hold a rough-water symposium on the Great Lakes in October? Ambitious because the weather in October can be blustery or balmy, and the water can be challening or calm. You take your chances when you schedule a rough-water symposium on the Great Lakes. Conditions aren’t guaranteed. Keith teamed up with Ryan Rushton on the first Gales, which was held in Marquette, Michigan. The weather didn’t fully cooperate that year, but the coaches figured out how to challenge people anyway, and the participants demonstrated that there was room for another symposium in the midwest, and especially one geared toward intermediate paddlers. The second year, The Gales was held in Wawa, Ontario and lived up to its name, with horizontal snow squalls and rough seas. Participants who drove all the way to Canada for the event were amply rewarded. After Ryan moved on to other projects, Scott Fairty and we stepped in to help organize the event with Keith. It evolved over time as we discovered that the key quality for participants was simply a baseline of boat control and a desire to paddle in rough water. We also discovered that keeping it small — around 45 participants — was ideal, allowing a lot of personal attention for everyone. It enabled us to keep the class ratios at no more than four to one, and often three to one. It also made it easier for participants to connect with one other, creating paddling partnerships that continued long after the Gales was over. We are pretty proud of this five-year-old event. This year, it was held in Munising, and the weather cooperated again. Everyone was involved in the surf classes on the first day, which were offered in various places and on several levels. On the second day, there were classes in surfing, rock gardening and rescues. On both days, we also offered a Level 4 course for participants who were preparing for an instrutor certification or intending to increase their level of certification in the future. And on the last morning, we were able to rock garden along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Participants’ paddling experiences coming into the event ranged from a couple of years to a couple of decades; some were still working on their rolls, while others had completed expeditions and coach certifications. What they had in common was a love of rough water and an eagerness to learn. This event always has been, and continues to be, a great collaboration. These days, it’s between Go Kayak Now, Have Kayaks Will Travel, The Power of Water and Downwind Sports. And, of course, Mother...

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One of our favorite places: San Juan Islands

Posted by on Oct 10, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

Part 5 in the series “What a summer it’s been.” There are so many amazing places to paddle, it’s tempting to go someplace new every time we get the chance — much like it’s tempting to read a new book every time you have the opportunity, rather than return to one you’ve read and enjoyed before. And yet, we find ourselves returning again and again to certain places. The San Juan Islands in Washington is one of those spots. Why? It’s partly the environment: accessible ocean, stunning coastline, tidal currents, sea life, verdant hills (though somewhat less so this year, due to the drought). And it’s partly the people: our friends Shawna and Leon, Seth and Svet, John and Camille (and their amazing kids), and many others we’ve met through them. This place simply feels like home. We love the Washington State Department of Transportation ferry, with its communal jigsaw puzzles and open-air decks; the roads that wind past rabbit and alpaca farms; and the blackberry brambles that grow like weeds. But above all, we love getting out on the water with friends. The San Juan Islands are sheltered from the full force of the Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island, so although these waters are tidal, they generally aren’t terribly rough. We can and do find more dynamic waters in places where currents, winds and constrictions conspire to create tidal races and strong eddy lines, but we also enjoy the navigation challenges, the marine life, and the scenery. And because of what we’ve learned over the years — everything from paddling skills to seamanship — we’re able to enjoy paddling here all the more. In August, we were able to spend time paddling and coaching on Orcas, as well as working on Body Boat Blade‘s new shop space. During one paddle from Orcas to Friday Harbor, we saw a grey whale working its way through the strait. We also took a three-day trip to the mainland with Seth and Svet to kayak in and around Deception Pass, and paddled canoes on the the Skagit River with talented local coach and paddler Leslie Mix. There’s never enough time for all the great paddling and people in the San Juan Islands, on the water and off. We appreciate the Great Lakes and never take them for granted. But we especially appreciate being able to travel to places like this and connect with the people and the waters. We’ll be back in summer 2016, and we’re already looking forward to...

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Paddling on the Hudson River

Posted by on Sep 26, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Part 4 in the series, “What a summer it’s been.” When Bill Lozano invited us to coach at the Hudson River Kayak Weekend, we jumped at the chance to return to upstate New York, a place that holds special paddling memories for us. Sharon spent many summers camping in the Adirondacks with her family; when our kids were little, we returned several times with their grandparents. We’d drive to Saranac Lake, load everything into a couple of canoes, paddle out to Hocum Island, pitch out tents, and then spend days swimming, filtering water, foraging for mushrooms, reading books, chopping wood and talking around the fire. The upper reaches of the Hudson are more like the Adirondacks than they are like the portion of the river that defines the western side of Manhattan. The river — which is actually a tidal estuary, which means it ebbs and floods for more than 150 miles north of New York City — is wide and the shoreline is green. A train runs alongside the river. What a spectacular ride that would be! It reminded us of the trains wealthy New York City residents were able to take to the Adirondacks in the 1900s; though the Amtraks of today are far more affordable, they still provide access to the retreat upstate New York has always provided from hustle and bustle of downstate. The weekend itself featured sessions in kayaks and canoes as well as SUPs. There were instructional courses, assessments and journeys. And on Saturday evening, there was a dinner for everyone, where people shared stories of their day. Bill and Janice Lozano create one of the most inclusive atmospheres we’re experienced anywhere; no matter their role and no matter their paddling experience, everyone is comfortable and welcome. We love small symposia. They offer opportunities for people who might otherwise feel overlooked or underprepared to find a place in the paddling community. The Hudson River Kayak Weekend accomplishes this admirably, and we look forward to returning...

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How not to do a T-rescue

Posted by on Sep 22, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

Back in July, we spent some time with Scott Fairty and Trey Rouss of The Power of Water filming some assisted rescues. When Scott wanted to film the “bad rescue,” we hesitated. Was it a good idea to show the wrong way to do something? Might it be yanked out of context and confuse someone? But after Scott added a scrolling warning across the bottom, that seems unlikely. And it’s a great demonstration of the failures and dangers of a poorly executed T-rescue.   What’s wrong with this rescue? 1. The person in the water goes to the back of her boat and pushes down. This is unhelpful and dangerous; if she loses her grip on the boat, there is nothing the rescuer can do to recover her, and she risks being struck by the pointy end of her boat. It would be better if she were to turn her boat right-side up while waiting for the rescuer and position herself near her front hatch so that when the rescuer is near, she can hand off her boat and hold on to the rescuer’s decklines near his cockpit. 2. The rescuer lifts the boat by using his arms. This puts a strain on his body. It would be better if he were to edge away from the boat so that the raised edge of his own boat lifts the other boat and empties the water. 3. The person in the water swims boat to boat. Again, a swimmer can easily be lost. The person in the water should always hold on to something solid (perimeter deck lines, combing) on one boat or the other. 4. The person in the water holds on to the bow of the rescuer’s boat. The boat is bouncing up and down and can easily injure her. She should be near the rescuer’s cockpit. In fact, it wasn’t easy to do so many things wrong. But it’s a good visual demonstration of the reasons why those choices are unsafe and...

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Building ocean skills in Rhode Island

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Part 3 in the series, “What a summer it’s been.” In June, we teamed up with Bill Lozano of Atlantic Kayak Tours, and Scott Fairty and Trey Rouss of The Power of Water, to offer our second annual Ocean Skills Workshop in Rhode Island. (Yes, that link is to the 2016 workshop; it’s been so great, we’re offering it a third time in 2016.) We love everything about paddling on the ocean: tides, currents, swell, tide races, marine life, salt water…it’s endlessly dynamic and interesting. Coaching in this environment is like Great Lakes Coaching 2.0. Everything we work on in fresh water applies here, but we don’t have tides and currents at home, and our waves are reliant on wind. It’s like adding a fourth dimension. Rhode Island is especially interesting as a paddling environment because of the variety it offers. This tiny state has 384 miles of tidal shoreline and 35 islands. (It’s also home to the oldest pub in the United States.) One day, we can paddle in practice current in The Narrows and then rock garden along Thule Cove or land on Whale Rock. Another day we can (conditions permitting) plan and execute the tricky eight-mile crossing to Block Island. We can visit a tide race off Fisher’s Island, or surf at Matunuck Beach. And every day, we all return to a house we rent in Narragansett to eat amazing food, debrief from the day’s experiences and plan for the next day. It’s an intense learning opportunity for participants, and a terrific community builder. Friendships that form during this workshop enrich the workshop and lead to future trips as well as ongoing conversations. We love the way people bond with one another and support one another during and long after the workshop is over. The Ocean Skills Workshop is also special for us because we get to coach with two people we consider mentors: Scott Fairty and Bill Lozano. These two have been essential to making British Canoeing (formerly BCU) programming available in the United States, and they continue to help the nascent Paddlesports North America succeed as the Delivery Center for BCU trainings and assessments here. They’ve also played a huge role in our development as coaches, and we’re fortunate to call them friends. Being able to coach together with people you enjoy and admire makes this already terrific workshop even better....

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It’s a buoy! Chicago gets a new data station

Posted by on Sep 17, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

There’s no substitute for real data when we are trying to anticipate conditions out on Lake Michigan, or when we are seeking to square what we’ve experienced with actual wave heights and wind speeds. Without data, the stories paddlers tell about the waves they battled can be no more accurate than fish tales (“You should have seen the one that got away!”). More importantly, without data, we don’t learn as much from our experiences because we can’t connect the conditions we were in with future forecasts. We’ve long relied on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s buoy 45007, located 43 nautical miles ESE of Milwaukee, as one of our prime data points for wave heights and wind speeds, but that’s a long way from the Chicago shore. A local anemometer, located on one of Chicago’s offshore water intake cribs, provides us with accurate wind speeds. We had to extrapolate from Milwaukee wave data and Chicago wind data to figure out what to expect here. (Data from the Michigan City buoy also can be useful, depending on the direction of the wind and waves.) So you can imagine our excitement when we learned of a new buoy far closer to home: buoy 45174, located about five miles east of Wilmette. It was installed last month, and it has a beautiful website with lovely graphs. One recent evening, when the marine forecast (which is updated only four times every 24 hours) called for waves of 4 to 7 feet, we were able to confirm that the wave height at the Wilmette buoy was 5.9 feet. That meant we really knew what to expect before going out on the lake, and we could authoritatively connect the experience we had with actual wave heights and periods. During a time of diminished funding for public services, we were especially excited about the existence of a new buoy. So we contacted Jay Beugly, aquatic ecology specialist at Perdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who works with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program on research, outreach and education. “We already had a buoy in Michigan City that a lot of boaters use, as well as the DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association] to update weather forecasts, and we knew that the Chicago region was kind of lacking offshore information,” he explains. Last year, when he attended the Chicago Boat, RV & Strictly Sail Show, he connected with others who shared his interest in increasing offshore data and were willing to help make it happen. Kayakers expressed a preference for buoys close to shore, weather forecasters a little further out, and fishermen further still. “It was a compromise between them,” he says of the buoy’s placement. The challenge of placing the buoy, with its 2,200-pound cement anchor, was...

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How to improve your forward stroke

Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

The forward stroke is deceptively simple, at least at the beginning. Most people, given a paddle, can make a kayak move forward. But after that initial success, there’s a lot to learn to make the forward stroke efficient. And efficiency is the key to being able to paddle with speed over distance. The key, of course, is employing our larger muscle groups. This, in turn, requires us to generate power starting at our feet, use full torso rotation, extend our arms and fully immerse each paddle blades before we drive our boat past it. It also requires us to eliminate inefficiencies, such as lifting water and rocking the boat as we paddle. Not so simple after all! What does this look like when done well? We recently discovered a video of competitive kayak sprinters on the website Sportsscene Paddle Sports. We appreciate the clear verbal and visual descriptions. Some of it is specific to sprint kayaks and wing paddles, but most of it applies to sea kayaks. too....

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Our poet-in-residence lives to write another day

Posted by on Sep 13, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

The water has been pretty rough the past several days. We did go out paddling on Lake Michigan with a capable group, but we have chosen, at times, not to paddle on days when the risks outweighed the rewards. We were thinking about this as we listened to other people make the choice of whether and where to paddle this past weekend. So we were delighted when Mark Hochmuth, our poet-in-residence, sent us the following poem with this note: “Sharon & Alec – Decided not to paddle from Holland to Saugatuck yesterday after arriving at the lake. Well prepared this time, but after assessing many things, particularly the weather, changed my plans and it turned out to be the right choice. The weather moved in sooner than predicted, and I was out of the water by then.” Water Wind (Saugatuck) Neither gentle nor fresh from southwest The breeze, moderate and hot Full of water as Lake Michigan below Swelling up to touch it Amid mist, the cool water falls down The wind blows, wet and hot Mingling with water from within Rolling down skin Kayak and paddle know Hot above, cool below Neoprene wet with sweat Clammy handed grip Here, I feel all, without and within Water, fresh and of salt Soft in drops like tears from above Moments borne on the wind –Mark...

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