The Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais, MI is beginning its final day. This is my favorite symposium for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that zero driving is required. The launch, the campground, the motels, the community center home base, and yes, the brewpub, are all within easy walking distance of one another. Other than driving a car full of paddles, pfd's, and other gear down to the beach there is really no reason to jump in the vehicle. The instructors are world class and the harbor of Grand Marais is very nicely sheltered for beginner classes. A sheltered harbor generally infers the presence of big water close by and this lineup of instructors, combined with a cooperative lineup of 1'-3', 2'-4', and for awhile 3'-5' waves right outside the breakwater over the course of the day made for some excellent learning.
I did some excellent learning myself even though I was there as an instructor. My first assignment was Paddling the Bumps, a course on boat control in bumpy water. My 'partner' was Ben Lawry, a situation that I thought was similar to a new high school coach at a football camp being assigned to work with Brett Favre on teaching students to throw the ball. I just kept my mouth shut and helped the students refine the things they were learning. The next day I was assigned to coach with Steve Scherer, who designs boats for Wilderness Systems (you may have heard of the Tsunami) and travels the country teaching with wife Cindy. Then I figured it out. The inimitable Mr. Kelly Blades must be a basketball fan. He was pairing instructors just like the seed the NCAA basketball tournament where #1 plays #64 and being a newbie, I was definitely in the #64 category.
The weather and waves cooperated perfectly for teaching. We could work on and demo skills in the sheltered area and then head out, or maybe just stick our noses out, into what at times was 3-5 footers with waves refracting and growing as they swept around the breakwater with the northwest wind. There was trepidation at first and then the adrenaline rush and exhilaration as folks realized that the edging and bracing skills they practiced in the calmer water worked the same way in the bumpy stuff. Everyone I talked to was excited about their new acquired skills and I saw several practicing on their own between sessions. We received a number of 'thank yous' as people visibly gained skills and confidence in Gitchee Gumee.
It was a great weekend to run into old friends and meet new ones as you can see from the above shot of the VOR sandwiched between Silbs and FivePieceRoy like a rose between two thorns. The venue was great, they brewed my favorite beer style, ESB, at the brewpub, and the fresh whitefish was wonderful. I will post a bit more on the symposium but at present I'm on vacation with a half dozen cronies and will be playing in the Munising area. The decision today: paddle Grand Island or Pictured Rocks. It will be decided over coffee in a couple minutes and I suspect we all win either way we go.