Thinking back on three weeks in Wales

Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Part 2 in the series, “What a summer it’s been.” We began the summer with our second annual trip to Wales, a country that offers a wealth of paddling opportunities. Last year, we did a five-day four-star sea kayak training with Phil Clegg, followed by a four-star certification with Peter Jones and some hiking in the hills. This year, we had a different agenda: Five days of five-star sea kayak training with Olly Sanders, four days of four-star canoe training with Ray Goodwin, and two days of whitewater safety and rescue training with Ray and Dave Luke, as well as time for some personal paddling and exploring the countryside. This diversity of craft and water reflects the British Canoeing model, which is multi-paddlesport. In fact, we credit the BCU with getting us invested in and excited about canoeing. Initially, we wondered whether we could dedicate the time to becoming proficient at another craft. But we quickly realized that the effort we put into canoeing not only made us better sea kayakers and better coaches, but is rewarding in its own right. It was actually a relief to be training and not assessing. We had come to Wales purely to learn and improve. It was also a relief to begin with the four-star canoe training, which we anticipated being less physically and psychologically challenging that the five-star sea training would be. How wrong we were! Our first day was on Lake Tegid in the wind. It was sunny but cool, and Ray began as all good coaches do by assessing our fundamental canoe skills. We still paddle canoes as we speak a second language; we get the basic grammar, but we are sometimes at a loss for the right words or string them together awkwardly. Jet lag didn’t help. From there, we moved to the River Dee and the Try Weryn, whitewater rivers that provided challenge, excitement and plenty of honest and direct feedback. Just hauling the prospector canoes off of and back onto the trailer every day was a workout. After four days, we felt far more capable padding and leading in these waters and well aware of what we need to continue working on. Saying good-bye to Ray was made easy, however, by the fact that we’d soon be seeing him again. From there we headed to Plas y Brenin, the National Mountain Sports Centre, where people come to train in a variety of disciplines. We met coaches and students in mountaineering, kayaking, canoeing and skiing, as well as wilderness medicine. But we were there to work with Olly Sanders, a seasoned Level 5 sea kayak coach and expedition paddler who also runs mountain rescue classes. With Olly, we returned to the...

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Reflections on a summer well spent

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Part 1 in the series, “What a summer it’s been.” The more you learn, the more you can do. And the more you do, the more you learn. That was the theme of these past three months, during which we traveled to Wales to train; to Rhode Island, New York and Michigan to coach; and to Washington to play (and coach a bit). But that division is artificial. It suggests that we were learning in Wales; teaching in Rhode Island, New York and Michigan; and simply having fun in Washington, when in fact we were doing all three things all the time. We also took some excellent detours between those major summer benchmarks. We canoed in Wisconsin, coached at home, and even got our parents out on Lake Michigan for a picnic on a break wall. But more on all that in subsequent posts. Over the next few weeks, we plan to post about all of these adventures. These won’t simply be “what we did” posts. Rather, they’ll be reflections on how we grew as paddlers and coaches, with a heavy emphasis on what others can gain from our...

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What a difference a drysuit makes

Posted by on Aug 31, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

We’re accustomed to thinking about drysuits as garments that provide physical comfort. In fact, they also have a strong psychological effect. We saw this in action during a course this past weekend, when the water was cold and a little bit bumpy. One of our students had no drysuit, so we brought one for him and encouraged him to wear it. At first, this unfamiliar garment was a little bit uncomfortable, with its latex wrist and neck gaskets. But he got used to it and had a productive day on the water, including plenty of time in the water working on rescues. At the end of the day, he told us that knowing he wouldn’t get cold if he fell in the water enabled him to work on the rescues, and working on the rescues made him feel less fearful of capsizing. Feeling less fearful of capsizing allowed him to be looser in his boat and use more of an edge during his turns. In other words, the psychological comfort provided by the drysuit facilitated better performance. As coaches, we think about T-T-P-P every time we coach. Those letters stand for the technical, tactical, physical and psychological components of learning paddlesports, which are all essential and interrelated. It’s easy to focus too much on the technical (how to execute a stroke or maneuver), the tactical (how to vary it in response to conditions) and the physical (flexibility, stamina, strength) and overlook the psychological, but a student’s mental comfort and concentration are critical to their learning and...

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Boatless in Bellingham? Nope, thanks to WAKE

Posted by on Aug 10, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Before there was Meetup, before there were symposia, paddlers found one another through local paddling clubs. Early on, these clubs got together to build their own boats, sew their own skirts and teach one another to roll. They organized day outings and trips to distant rivers. For new paddlers, clubs offered opportunities to get a safe start in the sport. Lest this sound too idyllic, we’ll note that clubs also provided an alternative for people who didn’t want to pay to work with a trained coach. But some clubs included coaches or worked with coaches, providing another avenue for paddler development. (Both of these statements are still true today.) Which brings us to yesterday, when we could have been boatless in Bellingham. Water, water everywhere and not a kayak to paddle. So before we arrived, we contacted a local club, WAKE: Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts, to see if anyone would like to paddle with us and, oh yeah, could we borrow a couple of boats. Within 24 hours, club president Lori Stelter emailed us back and sent out a note to all club members introducing us. One newer member, Eric Ellingson, was unavailable to paddle but offered two boats and a car to transport them. Three other members, Ed and Bonnie Alm and Helene Zaslow, met us at Gooseberry Point. Ed had put considerable thought into where to take two out-of-town paddlers. And so we found ourselves paddling all afternoon with borrowed boats and newfound friends, once again. This is one of things we love about paddlesports. Wherever we go, we find people who generously share their time and equipment as well as their knowledge about their home waters. Yesterday we saw seals, a heron and a pileated woodpecker, and learned about local environmental concerns, including a proposed coal terminal in the area. And, of course, we had a good time on the water with lovely people. Thanks, WAKE!  ...

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Our appearance on Chicago Tonight

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Jay Shefsky, producer and reporter for WTTW Chicago (public television) and host of Jay’s Chicago, recently approached us about doing a story about things you can only see from a small boat on the water. The product of his work was broadcast last night, and it’s wonderful. We love Jay’s curiosity about all things Chicago, as well as his generosity and enthusiasm about the city and its people. Here’s the eight-minute...

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Paddling adventures on screens big and small

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

A week from tonight, we’re sponsoring the screening in Chicago of two terrific paddling films: Kayaking the Aleutians by Justine Curgenven, and Greenland Bound by James Manke and James Roberts. Not only are local audiences fortunate to see both films on the big screen; they also get to meet Justine and James Roberts, who will be on hand to offer insights and answer questions. By now, both films have received plenty of well-deserved positive reviews. In addition, Kayaking the Aleutians won “Best Film” at the German Kayak Film Festival, and Greenland Bound won 2015 Sea Kayak Film of the Year at the Reel Paddle Film Festival. So rather than piling on with yet another synopsis of the films and even more positive commentary, we’ll just give you four reasons to come see them on Monday, March 16 in Chicago. 1. You’ll be transported to two spectacular paddling destinations. Kayaking the Aleutians takes you on a 2,500 kilometer journey along the chain of islands between Russia and Alaska, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Bering Sea. It’s all the more riveting a story as Justine guides accomplished athlete but newer paddler Sarah Outen through some truly treacherous conditions. Greenland Bound invites you along on a pilgrimage to Qaqortoq for the 2014 National Greenland Kayaking Championships. In both cases, you’ll see gorgeous scenery, meet local people who are protecting their land and preserving their traditions, and have as your guides two paddlers who have sacrificed time and creature comforts to experience these places and share them with you. 2. You’ll be able to ask questions of the filmmakers. How scary were those bears? Did you really think  you’d be swept out to sea? Was that a real walrus? How did you get that shot? Come to this screening and you can get the answers. 3. You’ll be able to purchase your own copies of these films. OK, Greenland Bound is free online, thanks to those who supported the project, but you can purchase your own copy of Kayaking the Aleutians and get it autographed by Justine. Then you can take it home and watch it on a small screen, too. 4. Lots of local paddlers will be there. It will be like a family reunion without the baggage! If you’re in the Chicago area, join us on Monday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at 600 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago for this special event. If you aren’t local, check out the other places on Justine’s tour. And if coming to a screening isn’t an option, you can purchase a copy of Kayaking the Aleutians...

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Kokatat Poseidon PFD: Initial impressions

Posted by on Mar 8, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

For years, we’ve hunted for the perfect PFD. “Perfect” depends on your size and body shape, of course, as well as the type of paddling you do, so we resigned ourselves to the idea that we might have to own more than one. We have long used the Kokatat MsFit Tour for sea kayaking. It fits our smaller frames better than most PFDs and has enough pockets to store the essential kit we want when we coach or guide. Last year we started wearing the Kokatat Maximus Prime Rescue PFD for our river paddling. We really like the interlocking, moveable floatation panels that tighten down to conform to our bodies, an even more unrestricted cutout for our arms, and the padded shoulder straps that make carrying a boat on your own as comfortable as it could ever be. This ultra-comfortable PFD is designed for whitewater and has a single generous chest pocket. We wondered if we could use it for sea kayaking. Disappointingly, no. There just isn’t enough pocket space for the essentials needed for coastal paddling. So when we heard that Kokakat had developed a new PFD with many of the same features as the Maximus series, but for sea kayakers, we had to check it out. (In full disclosure, we are Kokatat ambassadors, but we use and recommend what really works best for us and our students.) What follows is our initial impression based on using the Poseidon in pool sessions. We intend to give it a thorough trial in open water when our ice melts this spring and will update this review. The vest is compact and can be cinched down horizontally with three straps on the right and left, and vertically with two straps at your stomach. It has the arm clearance of the Maximus, along with the foam that wraps around the side, providing added protection. The wide shoulder straps have neoprene padding. It fits smaller torsos well and is very comfortable. Probably the most innovative aspect of the Poseidon is its modular design, which allows you to customize it in numerous ways. A series of straps across the front allows you to attach three zippered pockets, a radio holder and a quick release belt. On the back, you can attach the traditional tributary hydration system or the new tactic pack (more on that later), or you can simply stow the 1.5 liter Hydrapak in a built-in sleeve in the PFD. You can use the whitewater-style quick-release belt, or add a tow tether. All front pockets are attached with “slick clip” connectors on one side, which are designed to release under 75 pounds of force (so you can’t get entrapped if a pocket snags on something, for example during a rescue ). The other side of each pocket uses Fastex connectors to allow you to quickly detach one side...

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Poem of the week

Posted by on Feb 22, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

First Winter Sonnet (Charlie’s Arboretum) Wearing clothing warm, stocking cap and gloves, left home Walking snowy streets in wool socks and freshly oiled boots A storm, a day off work, heading for the arboretum to roam Arriving at this Paradise white, the first soul here to set foot A few tiny birds silent fly as the snowflakes abundant in air Around vacant trees, the deadfall, great and small, shrouded The snow drapes evergreens, majestic and humble, so fair Weaves intricate lace-like patterns upon ice of the little pond As I do explore fingers begin to ache from a frostbitten past Thoughts turn to men who left home braving the Arctic cold For nation’s pride, duty, bonus pay, fame, achievement to last In ships built strong not stronger than that sea of endless ice Final breath drawn on ice floe, rocky shore and snowy land The warmth of home in aching heart, frozen hands and eyes –Mark...

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