With summer slowly winding to a close is it time to put your sea kayak away for the season? Heaven's no! In fact, I would argue that early fall is one of the best times of the year to get out kayaking. Sure, the air is cooler (but you can dress for that) but there are less power boaters out on the water and with the fall winds blowing you will find waves and surf (if that’s your thing).

For those who do love getting out in rough water (or those who aspire to) make sure that you get yourself registered for the Gales Storm Gathering taking place October 3-5 taking place in Munising, Michigan.

Now in its 4th year, the Gales Storm Gathering has proven to be one of the premier rough-water paddling events in North America drawing paddlers from all over the country.

Registration is filling fast so get on it pronto. Everything you need to know can be found here.

Sadly I can't attend this year due to a new boss who has decided to follow HR's rules and actually keep track of staff vacation days but it's on my schedule next year for sure. Booo to following work rules...

Photo credit: Gales Storm Gathering

Published in Events

This past weekend I was invited to teach at the 2nd annual Pacific Paddling Symposium which took at Pearson College place just outside of Victoria, British Columbia and boy did I have a good time.

With just a few work vacation days left (it was poor planning as I have used up almost the entire years' worth already...) I flew into Victoria on Wednesday night with the plan to get together with some friends on Thursday afternoon and do some paddling in the tidal currents off Trial Island (map link).

Matt Nelson playing in the currents at Trial Island, BC.

Even though the locals said the currents were not as fast and gnarly as they often are, the 3.5-4 foot high surf waves were perfectly fun with lots of hoots and hollering from all 10 of us out playing in it.

The event started on Friday morning with an instructor training day for the coaches working the event. This year's guests included former Olympian coach, Dan Henderson who did a forward stroke clinic as well as Nigel Foster who ran a clinic in the afternoon on messing around in kayaks with weird and silly strokes.

The main part of the symposium itself took place Saturday and Sunday and attracted about 80-90 local, mainly intermediate paddlers who attended a wide variety of clinics covering everything from coastal exploration, paddling in currents, surfing, fitness paddling, Greenland rolling, and rough water paddling plus many more.

This year I was able to work with a pretty top-notch group of instructors including an introduction currents class with Kate Hives (from The Hurricane Riders), boat control with Nigel Foster and bracing and edging with one of the event organizers, Gary Doran.

I really enjoyed working with Kate's intro to currents class as she is a pretty fantastic instructor. She has a good ability to read nervous paddlers and make them feel like they shouldn't be worried and just give the activity a try.

Kate Hives planning out the afternoon with the group at the Pacific Paddling Symposium.

Since we had a full day to work with, we were able to get out of the bay and work our way up the coast with the students looking for current and eddies to play in. The class was scheduled to take advantage of the slack tide so it was probably 2 knots at the time we were out playing in it. It wasn't anything major so it was perfect for beginners. Later in the afternoon the same current was traveling along at a much more respectable 4-5 knots but we were back home by then.

The coaching list this year was a really fun group of people to work and hang out with including Matt Nelson, Blair Doyle, Erik Ogaard, Michael Pardy, James Roberts, Dympna Hayes, Rowan Gloag, Meaghan Hennessy, James Manke and my buddy, Costain Leonard.

You know what's also cool about British Columbia? It has a whole pile of nature and it's happy to shove it right in your face. I guess there is nature everywhere but let's be honest, I get excited at home if I see a perch in the water at home. Over the weekend we saw Bald Eagles, jellyfish, starfish, 7 deer, a huge number of seals, a mink and a military submarine. The sub was awesome to watch getting towed out to sea presumably on its way to attach some bad guys or to sneak a world-class spy into a foreign country.

Submarine at the Pacific Paddling Symposium

So, what are you doing this time next year? Make sure your calendar is clear and keep an eye out for registration dates. Did you know that the entire event sold out in 26 hours? Yes it did. Paddlers around here don't mess around when it comes to registration dates so make sure you register early.

More info: pacificpaddlingsymposium.ca


Published in Events

This past weekend I had the immense pleasure to be invited to teach at the 6th annual Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in San Francisco.

Organized by Matt Palmariello and Sean Morley, GGSKS is aimed at advanced beginners and intermediate paddlers who want to push the envelope and paddle in rougher waters in a welcoming and controlled environment.

Published in Events

Hey all you paddling dames,

Looks like it could be the last year for the infamous (it's not just famous, it's IN-famous) Ladies of the Lake symposium. A note was posted on the organizers website (Down Wind Sports) that due to dwindling participation and rising costs, it's proving to be a difficult event to run.

Gladly they announced that they are going to give it another kick at the can for its 10th anniversary but for it to run it's going to need 100 registrants for their deadline of June 1.

This year the Ladies of the Lake Symposium will be taking place in Munising, Michigan on August 14-17.

If you have never attended before (and you are a lady) you really need to add it to your calendar. Over the weekend they offer a huge boat-load of kayak instructional clinics for beginners to experts in a super low-pressure environment. Ladies of the Lake is perfect if you are the type of person who gets intimidated by the macho-man image that sometimes comes along with the sport or even these types of events.

The pirates of the ladies of the lake.

This year they are doing some sort of cowboy theme and they should have more details shortly on their website. I know last year it was all about pirates and I have a foggy memory of seeing photos of some sort of 1930's flapper dinner party a couple of years ago.

Though it is titled, "Ladies of the Lake", you are welcome to drag your man along. To keep him from getting bored, there is a separate Man Camp program taking place on Saturday. The website describes it as, "Man Camp gives those without the proper gender specific equipment needed to attend Ladies of the Lake a way to have some fun on the water and fine-tune their own paddling skills."

Ladies of the Lake is one of the very few woman-specific kayak symposiums taking place in North America so if you have considered it in the past, show your support and get yourself registered early. Remember, the deadline is June 1.

More info: downwindsports.com/lol/

Flickr photo credits: bill_yumi

Published in Events

The Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium is looking for coaches for the weekend so if that tweaks your interest read the email and apply pronto:

The Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium is currently building their coaching team for the 2014 event to be held September 12-15, 2014 in Argyle, Nova Scotia, Canada. The process is open to Paddle Canada, BCU and ACA sea kayak coaches. There is an application to be filled out and submitted by prospective coaches. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Application deadline is January 15, 2014.

Application can be downloaded here.

If you have never paddled the Bay of Fundy in Atlantic Canada before you need to consider attending this year for sure. It's a beautiful place and last year's event was very well received. Justine Curgenven attended last year and recently posted this teaser trailer for her new short film, Fundy Fun.

Published in Events

There is a new rough-water sea kayaking symposium taking place this coming September in the Maritimes that you should plan to attend. The Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium will be a 3-day paddling event that combines world class coaching with paddlers in one of the most spectacular coastal setting in eastern North America, The Bay of Fundy.

Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium Logo

I just got an email from one of the event organizers, Christopher Lockyer who mentioned that they are looking for coaches for the event. If you are interested in teaching you should apply [pdf link]. The application deadline is February 1, 2013.

Check out their website for more info.

Top photo credit: BOFSKS

Published in Events
Tuesday, 12 June 2012 11:16

2012 MEC Toronto Paddlefest Round-up

This past weekend was the annual MEC Toronto Paddlefest and once again it was a hugely successful event with over 618 people pre-registered and approximately 120 people walking in and registering on the spot. That doesn’t include the 60 or so instructors, boat helpers and staff running around keeping the machine running smooth. With those numbers, it’s easily one of the biggest events of its kind in North America.

This year I had the pleasure to teach a bit on the water but to also teach a bunch of on-land sessions including weather, navigation and technology in the wilderness. Over the years I have taught lots of symposium kayak sessions so it’s sometimes a nice change for me to get out and stand on dry-land every once in a while.

Rolling Lesson

This was the first time that I was asked to run a session on technology in the wilderness and they wanted me to talk about personal locator beacons as well as more recreational focused devices like the SPOT or the Delorme inReach. I decided to expand the session topic a bit and try to put this technology in a bit more context by also exploring the Canadian Search and Rescue (SAR) system and explain to people how that monster works and what exactly happens when you hit that SOS button or activate your PLB. It made it a bit more interesting then just listening to a sales pitch about gear as you could get that by going to your local store and talking to the sales lady.

Of course teaching and running clinics are fun; but for me the real attraction of the weekend is hanging out with the other instructors who come into Toronto for the event. This year we had a bunch of out-of-towners including my podcast partner-in-crime, Kelly Blades, Michael Pardy, Sharon and Alec Bloyd-Peshkin, Paul Mason as well as my local Ontario friends who are always supportive and make their way south to Toronto.

Kids Canoeing

Special thanks for Mountain Equipment Co-Op for putting on the event once again.

Here is a mini slideshow of some of the photos I took over the weekend:

Published in Events
Thursday, 26 January 2012 11:51

Vancouver Island Paddlefest Announces Closure

Vancouver Island Paddlefest Website

I just heard the news that Vancouver Island Paddlefest has decided to take a year off from their long running event.

Here is part of the statement from their website:

The Vancouver Island Paddlefest Society will not be hosting a Paddlefest Event in 2012. The Society will use this hiatus to develop a strategic plan to potentially continue with a new mandate.

The Society recognizes the paddlesport industry has evolved greatly over the past 14 years and it is time to look at re-structuring the volunteer/business model to develop a new mandate which will accommodate the needs of the public as well as the contributing partners.

This isn’t the first long running paddling symposiums to shut down on the West Coast over the past couple of years. Back in 2010 the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium also closed up after 26 years.

Hopefully Paddlefest will return in 2013.

Thanks to @kayakyak for the heads up.

Published in Industry Stuff

Surf Clinic Beach Talk

An incident happened recently at the latest Lumpy Waters Sea Kayaking Symposium in Pacific City, Oregon. You can read the very detailed first person account by one of the session leaders, Mark Whitaker here. Lumpy Waters is one of an increasing number of intermediate to advanced sea kayaking training events sprouting up all over the country. Participants are hungry for this type of training event where they can work on their skills in wind, wave and current with great talented coaches. With this type of event comes the potential for greater exposure to risk and incident.  

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The incident at the Lumpy Water event took place during a sea kayak surfing clinic at Netart’s Bay in Oregon. Out of 4 instructors and 12 students (16 total kayakers) nine people ended up swimming in an ebb tide near a swift river mouth. There were larger then expected waves due to the tide and river conditions compiled with the larger than anticipated swell from the open ocean. Gear and boats were pulled out to sea. These conditions resulted in multiple local rescue services being involved in the retrieval of one member of the class.

Determining the cause of any incident can be tricky. That’s because there are always lots of pieces to the puzzle making it difficult to find the smoking gun. In this case it looks like communication, the need, or feeling to rush to get the session started, and lack of local knowledge were some (but not all) of contributing factors in this case.

The incident at the Lumpy Waters Symposium reminded me of three other incidents that have happened over the past couple of years (thankfully nothing big) and got me thinking about risk management and organization specifically at symposiums.

I feel that that when it comes to risk management, organizers and instructors at symposiums sometimes treat it differently than if they were teaching courses on their own. For example, when preparing for a course, the instructor(s) will spend a lot of time making sure every element of the day is planned. Everything from teaching locations, lesson plans, participant’s medical information, to risk management, are all carefully organized.

On the other hand, symposiums are sometimes quite different in a couple different ways. Showing up at these events I have often been paired up with instructors whom I met for the first time 10 minutes before with a quick conversation that starts with, “What do you want to do?” Instructors might also be out of town guests with very little local knowledge of the area. Finally, I rarely know if my participants have any medical conditions as I never get to see medical forms as I would usually during registration of a course.

Normally, those issues haven’t mattered much because within the last 30 years, symposiums have taken place on sheltered water. These training events aimed specifically to teach beginner or budding intermediate paddlers. If you are only playing around on the local pond teaching beginners, do you really need a lesson plan or an extensive risk management plan for one hour clinics? They are good to have, but the consequences are really not very high.

Symposiums across North America and the UK have changed considerably over the past 4-5 years. For the first time, organized events are targeting intermediate/advanced paddlers with a strong focus on rough water paddling. My concern is that some organizers (and some instructors) are still thinking and planning out logistics as if the participants were still introductory level paddlers on the back pond in calm conditions.

With that in mind, here are a couple of ideas planners might want to consider when organizing an event that includes rough water or conditions with medium-high consequences for participants. They are in no particular order:

Local Knowledge is Key
Local knowledge is super critical when dealing with any type of current, surf zone or point break. When planning your locations, talk to somebody who can give you honest advice of the best places to go for intermediate paddlers. If the wind isn’t blowing in the right direction where do you go next?

Breaking for Lunch

Get Phone Numbers
If your event has a remote meeting location, make sure that instructors can reach anybody who is driving by cell phone. That way if students don’t show up or the meeting location changes then everybody can still be reached.

Logistically, cell phone numbers are easy information to acquire if you work it into your registration process. Just make sure you add it to the session participant list for the instructors benefit.

At the Lumpy Waters Symposium it’s mentioned that once everybody took off in their cars, it was next to impossible to change locations as they were not able to reach some people.

Slow Things Down
The start of a symposium clinic always feels like a runaway train. Everybody races down the road to the meeting location, grabs their gear and runs straight to the water. You would never do that on a course or with your buddies so why do symposiums always have that rushed feeling? It’s understandable to want to give participant’s their money’s worth. We often want to give everyone an unforgettable day on the water. But what participants are also paying for is someone who understands the risks and plans accordingly, don’t be rushed into skipping that key insight.

Slow things down and make sure everybody (both staff and students) are all on the same page. Everybody have their gear? What about first aid and rescue options? It all needs to be discussed.

If you are responsible for the event schedule, consider extending the session length. That will leave plenty of breathing room for your staff. It also has the added benefit that if you had to change locations due to an unforeseen reason, you still have time to put on a decent clinic after the switch.

Also, if participants are driving to a location, make sure you plan enough time to actually get there. Remember that if it takes 20 minutes for you to drive there, it takes 40 minutes for strangers to first get lost, then finally arrive.

Get Instructors to Meet
When organizing, figure out some type of way to get instructors to meet either online before the event or at the very start of the symposium. Encourage them to work out lesson plans and safety equipment before the symposium starts. It will make a difference on the water for sure.

The lack of developing a solid lesson plan for the clinic is probably the most common mistake I see at symposiums. I’m not completely sure why but it might because it’s often a group of strangers teaching together for the first time and nobody wants to be the heavy handed one demanding that they follow their plan only.

The thing to remember is that you might be the superstar flown in to teach a clinic and you have taught it a hundred times before. That doesn’t mean that the rest of your team have. You need to make sure that everybody is on the same page and knows exactly what is going on. This will allow them to provide suggestions and changes based on local conditions or participant needs.

Beach Launch

Take time to observe the conditions from shore
Before anyone unstraps a boat from the car, and suits up tell everyone to walk down to the beach observe the conditions, then come back to tell you something they noticed about the environment. Do a bit of guided discovery around this activity. How high were the waves? Were there any rip currents at the beach? What was the tide doing? Is there a larger than normal set that comes in at unusual intervals? Make that part of your risk assessment before leaving shore.

Observe participants while getting ready.
Do they seem capable? Do they seem rushed or nervous?

Ask yourself, “does it look like any participants underestimated the risks or overestimated their skills?”

Start small and do a warm up exercise
Don’t introduce the students to a risky environment all at once if possible. Warm them up on flat water and then introduce them to more and more challenging water, and see where shit breaks.

Risk Assessment, Risk Assessment, Risk Assessment,
Continue to do this each time the difficulty ratchets up a notch.

Continue to communicate with participants and fellow instructors about the conditions, and how everyone is coping. If it is too much, you have to retreat and regroup.


- Special thanks to Keith Wikle and Conor Mihell for their help putting this article together.

Published in General News

The Hurry up and Wait Game

I just got back from teaching at the Atlantic Paddling Symposium in Newfoundland this past weekend and had an absolute blast. If you didn’t go then you really should consider getting your butt off to the Atlantic Provinces next year and participate.

Published in Events
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