Wednesday, May 20, 2009

UK spring, 2009

I made my usual spring trip to the UK, primarily to hang out at Nigel Dennis' sea kayak symposium on Anglesey. It was a great event as always and I got to do some fun paddling, coach a lot, and catch up with friends from all over! I rarely take photos at these events - it's usually blowing too hard to take your hand off the paddle - and I alway regret it!

Nigel Dennis about to head out with a bunch of 5* hopefuls. Saddly, the Force 8 wind that had been blowing for days and was forecast to continue throughout this day, unexpectedly and suddenly vanished, making it impossible to complete the assessment.

I did take photos during a memorable day canoeing with Phil Hadley....
We paddled a section of the Dee in northern Wales. The shuttle is excellent - you simply park at the bottom and paddle up the canal that runs along side the river! Old steam engines run along the river and dappled sunlight streamed through the trees. We passed a barge being towed by a big draft horse and waved at the tourists onboard. At the put-in, you climb over the bank and off you go downstream. It was a fun little stretch of river - nothing too tough for my second ever whitewater run in an open canoe....except for the Serpent's Tail! It was a proper class III+ rapid with undercuts and holes. I wouldn't have thought twice about it in my kayak, but a canoe was a different matter. We had a good water level and it was a pretty straight shot, super fun, and I didn't flip! Phil went first and made it look easy.
My run was a bit less graceful....
After finishing the whitewater run, Phil had a surprise.....

We drove a few miles and stopped at another access point to the same canal. Here, there were lots of canal boats - 7 feet wide and up to 70 feet long - that are used as "holiday cottages". People drive them around the canals by day, and tie up along the banks at night. That was pretty cool, but then the canal narrowed down to a single boat width and headed out into thin air - 173 feet above the river valley! It was extremely cool to paddle across a Victorian era aqueduct!

Southwest Kayak Symposium 2009

Everyone kept telling me this was the best year ever. At first I took it personally, then I decided that Jake can run it every year from now on! A few months earlier, I'd decided that I was going to run a BCU Level 1 coaching course at the symposium - 4 whole days worth. It kept me busy Thursday -Sunday which meant that I was unavailable to help with the set-up, actual event itself, or the tear-down. I worried about this a lot, but it turns out that for all these years I've just been getting in everyone's way! Jake, Matt, and a slew of fabulous helpers including Amy, Dan, Onalea, and Gary (the "Grunts") from SUNY Plattsburgh did a fabulous job with the whole event while Phil Hadley and I molded 11 new BCU paddlesports coaches.
You can see lots of photos at

Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium

Ok, this is going back a while, but it's worth mentioning the fantastic weekend we spent in San Francisco in January. Sean Morley, Matt Palmariello and I organized a 3 day sea kayak symposium geared for the advanced conditions one usually finds during spring tides, in the middle of winter, in San Francisco Bay. It could have been epic: gnarly winds, huge surf, fast tide races, and pouring rain.....and we would have loved it. Instead, it was paradise and it we loved it twice as much! We had beautiful sunny skies, moderate swell, and enough tidal current to make things interesting, but none of the wind and horrible weather that SF can dish out. You can see for yourself in the photos what a spectacular weekend we had in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! If you missed it this year, we're doing it again Jan 29-31, 2010. You can learn more at

The organizers at morning briefing.
The event proudly boasted an array of talented coaches from the US and abroad including Nigel Dennis, Nigel Robinson, Jim Kennedy, Sean Morley, Steve Maynard, Tom Bergh, Tom Pogson, Ben Lawry, Matt Nelson, Djuna Mascall, Marce Wise, Roger Schumann, Dave White, Rob Avery and a host of local talent.
While some locals slept in their own beds and a few opted for nice hotels, the rest of us bunked at the Marin Headlands Hostel - a set of huge old officers' houses just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. A 5 minute drive could get us to either Horseshoe Cove on the Bay, or Rodeo Beach on the Pacific. The digs were comfortable and inexpensive and ideally located for this event. We could be in either Sausalito or Fisherman's Wharf for sight seeing or a nice meal in less than 20 minutes. I absolutely LOVE this city! I took a couple of the visiting coaches into town for a little sightseeing: the wharf, street cars, the crookedest road in the world, etc. Letting Nigel Dennis drive my truck in San Francisco was about as exciting as following him around in a sea kayak!

Our view of the city from Yellow Bluff. What an amazing backdrop for kayaking!

Dave White shredding it up.

Glassy waves as the ebb begins with San Francisco as a backdrop!

That's Alcatraz in the background! The 5 Star night navigation group attempted to paddle to the island and bust onto The Rock.

The paddling conditions were excellent and the scenery was just awesome! Urban paddling at it's finest!

Two groups getting ready for a day on the water.

After a long day of paddling in the roughest water we could find, we returned to the calm of Horseshoe Cove and one of San Francisco's little-known gems - The Presidio Yacht Club. After changing and loading kayaks onto cars, happy paddlers retired to the cozy comfort of the yacht club's bar. Reclined in comfy chairs, cold beers in hand, we told stories and made up lies and enjoyed this view through the picture windows.

A group paddling in under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Djuna in the Yellow Bluff tide race on a spring ebb.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proctor Academy

I've been working with a private high school from New Hampshire for the past few years and they want to go kayaking in Baja again this February. I pulled out some photos from 2006 while thinking about the itinerary and thought I'd post them. Proctor Academy has a 10 wwek program they call the "Mountain Classroom". A group of about 10 students and 2 teachers travel the US and Baja in a small bus and learn by being out there in the world. It's very cool and the kids and teachers are pretty awesome. It's an amazing trip and I have loved working with them. Here's the 2006 trip.....

We drove to Bahia de los Angeles (about 12 hours south) in Baja and paddled for 5 days. Most of the kids had paddled a bit before, but not much. We loaded all our camping gear and set off into the desert paradise that coastal Baja is. We paddled among volcanoes, sea lions, and dolphin. On shore, we hiked, cooked, studied, relaxed, and played. I've been to LA Bay a dozen times, but every experience is magnified by the enthusiasm of youth and this was the best trip there I've ever had. Axel Shoevers, a good friend from the Netherlands went with us and contributed so much to making it a magic trip. In addition, Proctor instructors Tom and Molly invited their frinds and experienced wilderness/NOLS guides (Ely and Erin) to join us. It was amazing to work with such a diversely experienced group.
This is our bus - the kids and instructors live out of this and a gear trailer for 10 weeks! It's got a library of books in the back and is comfortable enough. It brought back lots of fond memories from my college days as a geology student on field trips around the desert southwest.

What an amazing classroom! It was windy this day so they were hiding from the wind. I think this was English class....maybe Social Studies. Whatever it was, I would have liked school a lot more if this was MY classroom!

"It was this big...." I begged to teach an "Intertidal Biology" session and the kids loved flipping over rocks and checking out all the oogie creatures. Biology was my first love - I had "worm farms" as a kid and an amazing high school biology teacher invited me to splice genes (I'm not kidding) on a grant he got when I was 15. We played God with E.coli bacteria and created things that didn't exist. We separated the DNA using powerful centrifuges, chopped it up using enzymes, and put it back together in a new way. We proved it by running the DNA molecules through gel using electrophlorisis (sp?). I'm sure this is all standard practice in Biology 101 these days, but it was pretty cutting edge when I was a kid. Anyway, the shoreline in many parts of Baja looks like plain old rocks.....until you start flipping them over. The intertidal world is truely a miraculous array of adaptations to incredibly difficult conditions. The next time you're on a rocky beach, flip 'em!
A resident of the intertidal zone...a brittle star.
Other residents of the intertidal zone turned out to be tasty! We camped at the end of a little bay (I'm sorry, but the name has to remain known only to the trip participants), and scooped clams by the handful. We let most of these return to the sea - our eyes were bigger than our stomaches.

For the rest, we made a fire below high tide line with drift wood and cooked our clams on the embers. Yummy. A real Clam Bake!

One of our camps.

Camp life.

Food was a big part of the trip. The kids were divided into cook groups and with a bit of advise, were more or less left to their own devises when it came to shopping and cooking. This led to some interesting choices and meals. Ely was an extraoridary fisherman and we ate a lot of fish, including some of the prettiest and tastiest sushi I've ever had (and I love sushi!),

Ely the fisherman, always provided! Some of the kids learned how to filet like pros!

Susji in the middle of nowhere!

The Sea of Cortez is a magic place to paddle! Check out the volcanic cone in the background - what a view from up there!

We learned a lot of kayaking skills on this trip - mostly by playing!
There were some roll classes too in the tourquoise water!

Relaxing in camp.
Biology "in-your-face"! These beautiful squid committed suicide in front of us! They squirted ink and jet-propelled themselves onto shore. When we tried to return them to deep water like beached whales, they simply aimed again and rammed themselves into the rocky shore. They cut their flesh open against the jagged volcanic rock and refused to be steered into open water. I read about this phenomenom later back home - it's common, like salmon dying after they breed.
These kids had so much confidence and style of their own by this point in the trip - I loved their attitudes! Every night, they had a "debrief" session and said some pretty frank things to each other. Yet they took the good and the bad onboard with an amazing amount of grace, self-confidence, and humility. I've seen many adults do worse and I'm impressed with the skills that this program gives the students - much more than "book" learning!

There's no better place to learn about natural history than in the middle of nature! baja is almost like an island and has numerous endemic species that are so different from New Hampshire! What an experience!

Below is Baja at it's most classic. A "loncheria" on HWY 1. We had tacos here. Cultural and gastronomic education at it's most pure.
A beautiful sunset to end the story.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


My trip to the UK ended almost exactly as it began – hiding from crazy winds in the Menai Straits in the rain and cold! I spent the last 2 days attending a” 4 Star Assessor training” weekend so I can train and assess the new 4 Star award. It was very productive course. I had a warm bed and cold beer each night with good friends Phil and Joan Eccles, and it was a great way to end the trip. Every time I go back, there are a few new friends made and old relationships made stronger. There really is a world-wide tribe of kayakers and Anglesey is a common meeting ground. I highly recommend attending the symposium there in May sponsored by Nigel Dennis and Sea Kayaking UK.
I returned home to spectacular hot weather. Everyone says this has been one of the best falls here in San Diego – warm,sunny, and very clear water with active marine life.
Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw were here as part of their premier tour for “This Is The Sea 4”. We had a good turn-out with almost 100 people who appreciated the film and cheered heartily for my segment - thanks, guys! Justine and Barry stayed long enough to enjoy some southern CA surf, but had to hurry on to their other stops.
My employee Suzy has moved on with the goal of going back to MIT next year. Jake is spending over a month back in the mid-west with his family and left last week. If you check out the SPOT location, that's him freezing his ass off in WI. It’ll just be me, Mike, and Eddy for a while!

Coaching course in Devon, England

I spent one more day in Anglesey tagging along on a BCU 4 Star assessment. We had spectacular weather for a change and proper conditions were a bit hard to find. It was a good day on the water in any case.
I met up wit Phil again when he picked me up at the outdoor center and we headed down to Bicton College in Devon where he was running a BCU Level 1 Course with Matt Blue for 10 young coach candidates. 7 of them were enrolled on a 9 month outdoor instructor course and were traveling all over Europe together learning about and doing outdoor activities. They were very cool kids and it was a fun few days.
I wanted to observe the course so I can deliver them in the US myself. I’m offering one in the spring at my symposium and Phil will come over to run it with me. It’s a really great course that is much better than the “old” BCU Level 2 course was. The 4 days go by quickly and include a lot of hands on coaching for the candidates. At the end of the course, candidates either get an “action plan” which they need to complete before getting their certification, or they simply get their certification. For people who work in the industry or are actively involved with clubs, the Level 1 certification combined with the new 4 Star Award are really useful qualifications.

Tar Barrels of Ottery

Phil and I had an exciting night out in Devon when we went to the “Tar Barrels of Ottery” festival in a nearby tiny village. According to Phil, this event is on some list of "100 Things to do Before You Die". It’s not an easy thing to describe, but I'll try. All afternoon and into the night, the locals light big barrels on fire, hoist them on their shoulders with big asbestos mitts to protect their hands (but nothing visible to protect anything else), and run around the village with them. The barrels are well coated with tar to ensure that they burn vigorously. They get passed around to the lucky “barrel rollers” until they are completely burned. From time to time, they’ll set them down and pour wax in them to get them flaming better. Only one barrel is burned at a time. So picture this: the old village square is packed with people shoulder to shoulder. There’s a guy with a barrel on his back with flames shooting out the ends. He’s running (not walking, but running) around the square and the crowd parts around him. There’s no predicting which way he’ll go. He has a few “blockers” running with him trying to keep people from tapping the barrel (I guess they do this for luck????) or otherwise hurting either themselves or the barrel roller. We watched people literally get run over by the barrel dude and got way closer to the action than I needed to!
The barrel burning starts with the kids (that's right) in the afternoon. I guess they get the little barrels. The women start later and the men get the biggest barrels. Nobody is exactly sure how this tradition began or why (or if they are, they're not saying), but I have to think that there wasn't a single sober participant nor spectator on that first night of barrel burning or surely someone would have put the drunken fools to bed. It's not surprising that drinking remains a big part of the event (as if the hazards aren't significant enough!). There is also a giant bonfire, some amusement rides, and lots of food stands - a proper festival for the whole family!
On our way out through the crowd, I noticed that we were following a path of glowing embers where the barrel had just been. And then I noticed a glowing ember on the back of the rugby shirt of the guy I was squeezing past. I brushed him out as we went by. I’m sure he had no idea he was smoldering. Crazy. You can check it out at