Training and assessing: 2013 Cumberland Island

"Blind" rescuer being guided by "sighted"  victim"

“Blind” rescuer being guided by “sighted” victim”

Learning safety in Sea Kayaking comes in many forms: science (understanding the physics of weather, waves, tides and currents), reading material (trade magazines,  books on a wide variety of topics or specific in nature), word of mouth (social media, friends), formal training from qualified persons (first aid, CPR, kayaking courses and curriculum established by reputed and recognized agencies), and informal training (experiential, mentoring, friends sharing and showing). Because kayaking is an “inherently dangerous sport”, we can (and should) use all these different methods of utilizing key factors for increasing our chances of survival and enjoyment. As we all know from our formal and informal learning experiences, the key to the best learning is having FUN.

Here is a review of a recent trip to the Coast of Georgia (U.S.) and a message of how all of these components come together to form a rewarding learning experience. [Continued] [Photos]

“Where Water Meets Land” class


This summer, Michelle and I taught 2 classes that are new to our local club (Inland Sea Kayakers): “Where Water Meets Land” , or as we nickname it: WWML and look forward to doing it again. A total of 12 students went through these classes and had a lot of fun. Besides learning the new skills of paddling close to rocks along with rescue strategies, we also journeyed to an inland lake and the Susie Islands to work on navigation skills.

WWML (Where Water Meets Land)



“Thanks a ton for a great weekend up north.  I had a blast weaving between the rocks and watching the group get more confident.  Thank you for leading and teaching!  Well done. ” S.G.


Review by Deb Strike:

Wow this class was serious FUN.   It could also be named where skills meet reality.  Lots of things to learn and do, it was the kind of class a paddler could take many times and always be challenged.   The instructors have kept the class small so each participant gets challenged within their comfort level.

The first day was a quick review of strokes that would be useful as we moved closer and closer to the rocks.  Eventually playing “pat the walrus” with our new confidence and skills.  OK,  so some of us left a little gel coat here and there, but nothing serious.

We learned different kinds of rocks form different kinds of water patterns.  Overfalls can be fun, but watch out or you might get parked on a rock. Experiencial learning was going on all the time.  As a group we decided to do some contact rescues near the rocks and we each got several attempts to clean up our strokes to get close enough to rescue someone.

Clean strokes and manuevers were a goal and the water quickly instructed us on technique.  We learned why you don’t want your paddle at too much of an angle or out too far when doing a bow rudder. It also helps to be decisive, but that is a work in progress.  A longer term goal would be to link the strokes and have them become unconcious or automatic. We each set individual goals and got individual coaching.

Day two was a paddle to the Susie Islands to do some distance, navigate and practice what we learned on day 1.   The weather and the lake provided ongoing teaching.  The fog rolled in and the weather changed, so the instructors changed the curriculum.  We paddled out quickly and safely by handrailing.

Day three the wind and waves dictated the schedule.  Instead of paddling to the Palisades and practicing amoung the rocks, we did launching and landing in waves, turning in waves and around rocks in the swells.   Who knew we were too slow putting on our spray skirts. This is something calmer conditions don’t reveal.   We had races putting on spray skirts using gloves and keeping track of paddles.   It was the little things that became important.

The town of Grand Marais puts on some mighty fine fireworks and if it is raining you can just head into town and eat at one of the very good restaurants there.  We all enjoyed that.

If you want to move out of practicing on flat water to learn and apply some of the strokes and manuevers you have learned take this class.  It is just too much fun to pass up.

Many thanks to Jeff and Michelle for the superb coaching.


Train for the worst; Hope for the best.

Lightning Safety Awareness Week: June 24-30, 2012

The National Weather Service is bringing the dangers of lightning to our attention again this  year with their Lightning Awareness Week .

We like to paddle; paddle in the sun, paddle in the cold, paddle in the rain, and sometimes, we don’t know when to stop. As people who spend a lot of time in the outdoors, we need to be aware of the dangers of lightning and the precautions we need to take to protect ourselves.

I love a lightening storm…when it’s clearly visible 30 miles see caption belowaway. That night I was on Magnet Island. A friend and I had paddled from Rossport, Ontario and we were quite tired. After we made our camp and cooked our meal it was time to crash. But in view beyond Black Bay Peninsula and off in the distance across Black Bay, there was a show that was unbelievable. The thunderstorm raged over a large distance, a huge field of view. Lightning was piercing the sky towards the ground and illuminating the vast thunderclouds. Thunder was like a continuous artillery barrage.  I fought the heavy eye lids and stayed up for a couple hours. It was spectacular; a night I’ll never forget.

That was a far cry from the night a storm raged over head. I was leading a group of boys from a juvenile training center in Detroit on a Boundary Waters trip. During the evening, it was becoming apparent that a big storm was brewing up. I talked to the campers about what our plan of action would be if things got bad; if lightning was nearby. They scoffed at my sincerity.

Our tents back then were canvas (yes, it actually dripped if you touched it during the rain), suspended between two trees and had a separate plastic sheet for a floor. It was primitive by today’s standard, but a good guide could make it dry and comfortable. There were six of us in each of the two tents and we were stacked like cord wood.

Just as we were tucked in for the night, the rain began to fall, and I had a feeling it was going to be a bad one. In no time, it was raining hard and the weight of the heavy wet canvas began to reduce the space of our domain. Lightning was illuminating our world and the thunder starting to crash regular and nearer with each strike. When one camper expressed an unusual tingling sensation, we conducted the exercise we had talked about earlier. The urgency in my was able to get this band of misfits moving in a fashion no one had ever seen.

The drill for lightning protection in the wilderness really hasn’t changed very much from the mid 70’s: 1) keep your eye on the sky, 2) if it starts looking bad, scout for a place away from the tallest trees and in a  low area, 3) scatter your group around within voice range, and 4) asume the (lightning) position. The dangers haven’t really changed that much either, but our chances of survival have been improving as much as 26% in the last 12 years. The bad news: there’s a 62% chance it’s going to happen while you’re out having a good time. The odds of men getting hit before women are horrible: 81%. So what can we do to improve our chances of survival? I, for one, am not going to change gender and stay at work through the weekend.

The National Lightning Safety Institute  rightfully says that there is no safe place outside during a lightning storm and still advocates the 30/30 rule . See the lightning, count the number of seconds. If the period is 30 seconds or less, then it is time to cease outdoor activity. Activity may resume 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning. Simple, huh?

One interesting change I’ve notice from last year to this is the 30/30 rule is no longer advocated by the NWS. Now, when we hear thunder, it’s close enough for us to cease activity, only to resume 30 minutes after the last thunder or lightning. That means that the lightning could be within a ten mile range – still close enough to be a threat. Even more simple!

There have been discussions in the paddling community about finding a safe place on the water near shore. The truth is you are vulnerable on the water. Find a place where you’re not the high point to attract the lightning. The cone of protection is a myth.

Most of the time though, we paddle near where we leave our car. How about this for simple: 1) listen to the weather radio before you launch, 2) keep your eye on the sky, 3) go back to your car when it might lightning. Some communities have lightning detection sirens; sirens that alert the locals to an impending lightning possibility. While I was in Yorkville, Illinois, paddling the whitewater park, the siren went off several times during the weekend. Although it’s meant primarily for little league ball teams and junior soccer teams, the paddlers would come off the water until the alarm sounded the all clear. There are even personal lightning protectors you can wear.

The link to the National Weather Service’s lightening offers many ideas for lightning safety. PLEASE, take the time to peruse the website.

If you’re a hardcore outdoor person, The NOLS reference is a VERY IMPORTANT piece of information.

The biggest take away should be:

  • listen to the  weather radio and avoid outdoor activity when thunderstorms are eminant
  • know where the safe locations are
  • know the drill for backcountry lightning safety

Train for the worst; Hope for the best.

Surge in Kayak Training Opportunities in the Twin Cities

Have you noticed it too? There seems to be a huge amount of kayak training going on in the twin cities area lately.

This past weekend, SKOAC, a local kayak club, conducted an Intro to Sea Kayaking class for 15 students. Another local kayak club, Inland Sea Kayakers, hosted the same class last weekend – twice! – putting 20 people through, with yet another class scheduled for August 18 with openings for 12 students.

"T" RescueThis past Saturday, ISK held one of the regular Saturday sessions, where they extemporaneously  worked on skills, led by ACA Instructors. This time the session focused solely on rescues, with 14 people in attendance.

At the end of June SKOAC will host an Introductory Apostles Islands trip where they will “learn how to trip, pack your boat, safety skills while paddling with experienced paddlers and ACA instructors”. This is an extension of their Intro to Sea Kayaking class, an opportunity for new kayakers to fulfill their dream of paddling in this great destination.

Only a few weeks ago, ISK had the first of three classes this summer on ACA  Strokes and Maneuvers classes, which will ulimately put 21 students through the paces of a multitude of way of moving you kayak.

Ben LawryISK is also bringing in world renown coach, Ben Lawry for fives days of a variety of trainings from Rescues & Incident management, Forward Strokes I and II, Moving Water, Core Paddling and Trip Ladership (whew!).

In August, ISK also brings another world renown coach, Mark Tozer in for  three days of BCU 3 Star Training.Mark Tozer

So what seems to be going on in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul? Why does there seem to be a huge surge in classes and learning opportunities? What is causing this demand for instruction?

It may be the surge in popularity. Kayaking has taken up a large interest in the U.S.; an interest that is gaining ground with the U.K. where many babies seem to be born in kayaks. So in that sense, more folks are getting on board with a fad.

But here in the midwest, we don’t have an ocean (so to speak), we don’t have tides and the only currents we do have are in rivers, so why do we seek our jollies in sea
kayaks and plunk down good dough to become better? In part it’s because it’s fun: it’s fun to explore new places, it’s fun to go further each time we go out, it’s fun to paddle larger waves and be in stronger winds, and it’s fun to do it together. More people are realizing the  “fun factor” of sea kayaking.

I also think it’s because there has been an increase in the quantity, quality and availability of instructors in the area; people who are passionate about the sport and want to share what they have. These are people who are your friends and have your interest in mind when they teach you to go further, faster and safer. They also take classes.Classroom work Classes where they learn to bring the quality information and skills to you. Classes where they learn how to be safe, teach safe and teach you about your safety. They train and practice, hoping to set good examples and high standards. The instructors have the passion  to share this cool sport, and bring it to you, and it’s becoming contagious.