Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium Review [Kayak Nerd Meeting]

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Keith Wikle helps launch a student during a surf clinic at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium

Last Sunday I got back from the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Maris, Michigan. The event is in its 26th years old but was organized for the first time by Down Wind Sports.

This was the first time that I had been to an American symposium and I got to honest, it really isn’t all that different from those back home. I don’t know what I was expecting but when you get down to it, it’s still groups of people getting out on the water matter what side of the border the event takes place on.

As you know, the kayaking world has some pretty prolific writers and bloggers and for some reason they all seemed to be in attendance at the symposium. It was fun to finally meet all the people I have known online for several years now. Some of the bloggers there included:

Keith Wikle from
Derek Mayoleth from
Freya Hoffmeister form
Sharon & Alec Bloyd-Peshkin from Have Kayaks, Will Travel
Dave St Anthony from The Lake is the Boss
Kelly Blades from, well his own site
Slibs from Slibs says...
Greg Maino from

At one point we were trying to organize a kayak blogger meet-up. In the end we ran out of time to make it happen but it might have been for the best because I’m pretty sure that putting all those super kayak nerds (including myself) in one room might have caused a rift in the spacetime continuum.

One of the many cliffs we encountered during our day trip.

The best part of the weekend of course was getting out and doing some teaching. After all, that is what I drove over to do. Throughout the weekend I taught a bunch of on-water clinics including kayak surfing, intro to rescues and fooling around in a boat (also taught by Derek). I was also very pleased to be asked to present an on-land talk on paddling in Georgian Bay. My goal was to sell that spectacular area of Canada and I think it worked out pretty good. If you haven’t been to Georgian Bay before, it’s totally beautiful and as a paddling destination, well worth the drive.

One thing I love about getting groups of instructors together is to sit and watch them actually teach. By doing that I always walk away with a pile of new ideas as well as different ways to phrase or explain a particular nuance of a kayak stroke. Sometimes I throw the idea away as it wouldn’t work for my teaching style but sometimes a light goes off in my head and I file away the gem.

One quick teaching gem I picked up when I was able to sit-in on the last ½ of a technical forward stroke clinic that was being run by Ben Lawry. Throughout the clinic he gave every student a keyword to remember that was focused around the key issue they needed to work on. At the very end of the clinic he went around the circle asking the 10-12 students what their keywords were. For example one student needed to work on more torso rotation so Ben gave her the keyword, "twist" while another student had, "extend". You get the idea. By reviewing the keywords at the end he was able to thread them all together into a nice wrap-up that pretty much covered all the key elements of the high angle racing stroke he was teaching. It’s a simple idea but it’s those little things that I love to steal and try to work into my own teaching style.

Over She Goes...

Anyways, I had a great time. There are already several reviews along with a huge pile of photos on most of the blogs listed above so take a read through them. Grand Maris is a gorgeous small town that even boasts its own micro brewery. If you happen to be running from the law or passing through peacefully, make sure you stop into the Lake Superior Brewing Company and check out their strange collection of stuffed animals that all seemed to be adorned with sunglasses. It’s all class up there…

Finally, if you are thinking of going next year, take Thursday off work and get signed up for one of their day paddling trips. The landscape is amazing and well work skipping work for.

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David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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