Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Storm Gathering USA

Over the weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to teach at the first Storm Gathering USA put on by my good friends Helen Wilson and Mark Tozer of Greenland or Bust in Trinidad, CA. When you go to the first time of anything, you're never quite sure what to expect. But Mark and Helen have put on other symposiums before, including the Storm Gathering UK, and Trinidad is their home base, so I expected they'd have everything dialed in pretty well - and I was right.

I've talked before about what makes symposiums so fun in general, but what I really liked about the Storm Gathering was how local it seemed. While the coaches and the participants came from all over, everyone involved in putting on the event was a local. From Mark and Helen, to the many safety boaters from the local paddling club (Explore North Coast), to the caterers, to the sponsors (Kokatat is based a few minutes away in Arcata), it was put on by a bunch of people who knew the area and knew each other.

So not only did we all get great local information to help decide where to take our classes, but we also got great recommendations on where family members could go play, or how late the local shops were open. The truth is we didn't need much because everything was provided for us, from great accommodations for the coaches within walking distance of the launch site AND the dining hall, to fresh, organic meals that were some of the best food I've ever eaten, to free boat rentals from P&H (Thanks Jaimie!). It was all so easy and so fun.

I also liked that a number of the classes, especially the ones I got to teach, focused a little more on the mental side of things. As a coach, I find that teaching skills is fine but very transitory. People learn physical things through repetition, and technique really comes down to practice more than instruction. But I like to share a mindset, the things worth thinking about that can be hard to come to on your own. Some things it's far better to learn from others' experience than having to go through the hard knocks yourself.

I started with a class on Practical Leadership with Rob Avery. I've known Rob for years and he used to work for California Canoe & Kayak (but way before my time), but he now lives and works out of the Seattle area. We had a quick chat and exchange of ideas before meeting our students and it felt like we were on the same page, each with different ideas for the particulars but ones that blended together nicely. Among the exercises that Rob came up with was a variation on the 'leading the blind' that I hadn't seen before and it was a highlight of the class for lots of the students. It's so fun when you can teach and learn at the same time!

The next day I taught a great class on Incident Management with Cate Hawthorne of Liquid Fusion Kayaking and I really like how we laid out a simple framework to get people thinking (CLAP) and then did a number of scenarios to have them use it. We found a good balance of realistic situations and then twisted things a bit to make them harder and more complicated. It seemed like everyone got something new out of the class, even though it was a very experienced and skillful bunch.

I ended up with the afternoon off and got in a little paddle with my wife, who was volunteering with the ground crew and did a lot of cleaning up and sorting out over the weekend (the volunteers for this even were AMAZING and did so much hard work. Thank you all so much!). While it's always nice to get out on the water with my honey, we were joined by some migrating Grey whales, including a mother and pup. It's always great to see this giant creatures up close and at water level.

And after that great display, we got another one when the CoastGuard arrived to give a rescue demonstration (take home lesson was that rescue swimmers are seriously bad-ass). Then we had permission to fire off any expired flares on hand - with this group that ended up being quite the fireworks show. No one was harmed in the making of this picture :)

On the final day I got to go on a Coastal Journey with none other than Justine Curgenven of This Is The Sea fame. I've met Justine before and know she's great fun, but never had the chance to work with her. For someone who's always smiling, laughing, and joking, it's great to see how she works in lots of really solid concepts of tons of great wisdom learned from more time in a kayak than even most die hard instructors can dream of. We also got treated to a presentation on her latest DVD, Kayaking the Aleutians, which was once again super entertaining and very educational. If you ever get the chance to hear Justine present, don't miss it!

And no symposium would be complete with an after event pub dinner with whatever coaches were able to stick around. It was fun catching up with old friends and new, and I only wish more people had had the time to stay.

Once again, if you ever get a chance to go to one of these events, make sure you revel in all the people and the time spent off the water. Sure, you'll learn a lot in the classes, but it's the time in the community that makes the sport great and worth more than any individual skill.

More pictures on my Picasa page.

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