Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Feeling the Love at Paddle Golden Gate

It's been a couple weeks since the event but I've been on vacation and just found the time to sort through pictures and put some thoughts together. Paddle Golden Gate is an amazing sea kayak symposium put on by my old employer California Canoe & Kayak and my good friend Sean Morley. It's functionally the heir to the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium which was the same basic event run by mostly the same people but under different auspices. Whatever you call it, the event is a gathering of some of the best instructors in the world, some of the most eager and dedicated students, in one of the most spectacular urban paddling environments at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I've taught at the event since the first one back in 2009, and going back each year is like a class reunion - but with only the good people you used to hang out with, none of the annoying folks who you always tried to avoid. Since I moved to the Mendocino Coast a few years ago I teach less often and see my fellow instructors even less frequently, so it was great when I arrived at the Marin Headlands Hostel the night before classes started and I was stopped to get a hug or handshake five times before I could make it the twenty feet to check in and register. Some folks I hadn't seen in months, some in years, but everyone was happy and I spent the next two hours catching up with people before retiring to a surprisingly quiet room (dorm sleeping is all fine and dandy until you get one loud snorer in there).

The first day I got to lead a tour to Angel Island with Sean Finigan. Sean's from my old stomping grounds in Sacramento and we've paddled together a few times but never taught together. We had a class full of folks who, more than anything else, wanted to enjoy a day paddling on San Francisco Bay, most of them for the first time. We had to fight against the current and make a hard ferry across Raccoon Strait, but we were rewarded with a sunny, relaxing lunch in the middle of the Bay - California winter can be grand! After we rode the current back home we had a nice meal at the yacht club and more catching up with old friends and new. Couldn't have been easier.

Day two brought even warmer and sunnier weather, if that was possible. I was scheduled to lead one section of the combat rolling class and traveling instructor extraordinaire Ben Lawry another. We joined forces in the morning to assess and divide up the students which lead to groups divided out by interest and ability, which allowed each of us to really address the needs of our students and everyone seemed to get what they needed out of the day. I got help from another new instructor - Mike Kowalsky. Sometimes it can be a little awkward working with someone you don't know - you step on each other's words, use different sequencing or progressions, etc. - but the whole day went smooth, trading off topics and letting one idea flow into the next. Another great day in the books.

The Saturday evening presentation was at the Bay Model (a very cool place in it's own right). More great food provided by CCK, free beer provided by Ninkasi, and an amazing slideshow and story from Jaime Sharp on his circumnavigation of Svalbard. Brief summary: lots of icebergs, polar bears, and stunning beauty.

The final day was Incident Management, always a fun one. And yet another new instructor for me to meet and work with, this time Martini Ploug from Denmark who was paddling a brand new kayak model from Current Designs. Once again we worked together seamlessly and even had the treat of the Coast Guard joining us for a scenario - pulling an injured kayaker on board their forty-three foot lifeboat. The participants really appreciated the chance to actually make the radio call for help instead of pretending like you do in most classes. And even though the rescue was fairly quick and straightforward, it bought up a lot of thinking points for us to discuss afterward. A great way to round out three days of classes.

Overall it was a great weekend. The classes were fun to teach and the students always eager and ready to soak up more. But what really makes symposiums like this so special is the mood that pervades everything. It's the joy of hanging out with old friends, seeing everyone gear up for their various adventures and then catching up over a beer at the end of the day. It's learning new tricks and tools to better do my job and getting feedback that it is working. It's an immersion in the sport that makes the whole larger than the parts. While Paddle Golden Gate is going to be a biennial event (next one in 2018), I look forward to Oregon's Lumpy Waters in the fall, the ACA PaddleSports Coference here in California, and the Storm Gathering U.S. next year. And wherever you are, look around for opportunities in your neighborhood - Florida, Seattle, Great Lakes, British Columbia, Georgia, Nova Scotia, Israel, Baja, the U.K., and many more. Thanks again to California Canoe & Kayak - it takes a lot of work to make these things happen but it is so worth it!

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