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

Open Boating on the Severn River

I drove through snow covered hills early one morning to meet Phil and Dave for a little canoe trip. It was my first time in whitewater with an open boat, so I was a little nervous. We put in just above a class II rapid and the river got easier from there. It was all the wrong way around, but an exciting start! I has done a bit of research online the night before just so I knew what I was getting into (you can never trust whitewater boaters!) and I’d read about the “horrendous weir” on this stretch of river. Weirs are really common in the UK and can be deadly. In the states, they’re called low head dams and they are much less common (but just as deadly). Phil and Dave promised me it was impossible to miss the portage, but I kept reminding them it was coming up!
We played in some small riffles while I tried to figure out how to ferry, peel out, etc with just one blade. It was a fun new challenge. I was happy that our canoes were pretty standard touring canoes rather than the narrow, highly rockered type outfitted with thigh straps and things for running difficult rapids.

Finally Dave and Phil headed to the shore in a big calm pool and I could see the BIG horizon line made by the weir. We got out and had lunch in a bird watching blind. It was still pretty cold and damp so it was nice to have shelter! After lunch we dragged the canoes around the weir and it was indeed pretty horrendous! After 2 big man-made drops, the river gradually settled down again through some small rapids. Phil found a superb surf wave to play on.
It took me a few of tries and I had to watch Phil’s moves more than once, but I finally got on it. Phil’s analysis of my first attempt was that I wasn’t committing enough. “You’re just one stroke away from Nirvana. But when you get on it, it’s going to try to flip you!” Yeah, no shit. Maybe that’s why I’m not really sure I want to take that last stroke!! The picture below says it perfectly - my posture, the blade angle.....I'm definitely weighing the odds that I swim instead of surf! I finally did get on the wave though and it was excellent fun. I’m sorry we don’t have a little river close to home!

Phil scored me a cabin at his buddy’s outdoor center for a few nights and I got some work done on my laptop at the local coffee shop in the morning and the pub in the evening. It’s a shame to be wasting precious days in the UK working on my laptop, but I’ve got a very competitive proposal due when I get home. The proposal is for a permit to operate kayak tours in La Jolla – something Aqua Adventures has been doing for 20 years and we might not be able to do anymore. The request for proposals was announced the day before I left for the UK and the proposals are due a few days after I get home, hence all the work. I should know our fate in December or January so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recent travels - update from the UK

Sea Kayak Georgia was great fun. We had a few days with wind and some good conditions. These faded, but the fun continued and there were still some nice clean waves on the last day. Russell gave a presentation on the “Vacation To Hell” Arctic trip this summer that was excellent. He’ll be in San Diego in March sharing the adventure again. Bryan Smith gave a preview of his upcoming DVD “Eastern Horizons” which was beautiful! He covers the entire coast from Canada to Florida and the videography is superb. The DVD will release this spring. Everyone was jealous that I already had copies of “This Is The Sea 4”, but we got to see the premier cut there too!

The coaches all stayed in an enormous house right on the water with a pool, beautiful sunsets and dolphins swimming past the dock. It was such a treat to launch our kayaks from the house and meet our students just a few minutes away. We’d paddle back home to a hot shower and cold beer.
Things were really uneventful until the last day when one gentleman opted to go the hospital suffering from shortness of breath. They were worried about a blood clot or other arterial blockage. Not long after, we holed a boat in my surf session (but I’m happy to say I wasn’t driving either boat!) There was a big pop as the bow of one Explorer went through the stern of another. It’s not a proper symposium until a boat gets broken (sorry Ronnie and Marsha)!

I had a long flight to the UK and despite taking different routes from Georgia, arrived at the same time as Fiona. This was great because she drove me into Manchester to collect my rental van. The airline had lost a couple of my bags which included my road atlas of the UK, so Fi loaned me her navigation system and I’ve been very thankful. It’s enough of a challenge to drive a stick shift on the wrong side of the road without having to navigate as well!!

I’ve spent the last 3 days coaching at the 3rd annual Storm Gathering. An aptly named event hosted in a different location every year.

This year Mark Tozer, an L5 coach from Wales, hosted the event in familiar territory at the center Nigel Dennis used to own on Anglesey. I’m currently sitting in the on-site pub called the “Paddler’s Return”.

The bunk houses are just a hundred yards away and the sea is a 5 minute walk. From there, the famous tide race Penrhyn Mawr is about a 20 minute paddle. It’s heaven. Over the weekend, the small pub was packed with paddlers telling tales from the day. Old kayaks, retired from amazing expeditions to cold and brutal places, used to hang upside down from the ceiling of the pub and in the good old days, these were used by drunken paddlers to demonstrate re-entry techniques. These days, it’s a little tamer, but still good fun. Above the taps is a row of caps from paddling shops around the globe – Body Boat Blade and Sweetwater and about 2 dozen others. The back wall is similarly adorned with paddling-themed stickers and one battered kayak remains above the pool table. The owner, Jim, always welcomes me warmly like a regular customer, despite the fact that I only appear every six or nine months. He asked me to pass on his regards to Shawna and Leon and others back in the States that have enjoyed his pub.

I’ve had 3 good days out on the water. Very appropriately, the Storm Gathering began with a tremendous storm. It was forecast to blow a force 9 (45+ mph) from the SW and it rained heavily. To use a british phrase, it was barking mad to go paddling, but we did anyway. We hid from the wind and swell in the Menai Straits, a narrow, river-like body of water that separates Anglesey from the mainland. The tide cranks through here and makes some good rapids over a rocky stretch. We paddled into the wind about as long as we could, but when we came around a corner and took a full 40 knots in the face, we decided to turn around and play on some eddy lines for a bit. It’s all a bit shocking to the system of a southern California girl, but so much fun! When the gusts came through, they tugged hard on my paddle blades and blew the rain horizontally. I could only put my head down and grin! The photo below does poor justice!

Things calmed down on the second day and the wind switched direction. I went out along the north coast with Aled Williams – a well known kayak designer and local paddler of amazing talent. Taino, a kayak coach from New York, was working with us. We had a somewhat mixed ability group who wanted to get a bit of rough water experience. We had that, and then some! It turned into the kind of day that reminds you why we train and practice and makes you vow to practice twice as much from now on!

Aled was more than happy to show our group some rough water and at the first cave, we quickly had a swimmer. It was still blowing over 20 knots and the water was confused and lumpy, making many in our group a bit wobbly. The group quickly began to drift apart as I towed Aled away from the cave while he got Phil back in his kayak. Once they were upright and safely away from the rocks, I left a capable paddler named Mike with them and gathered the group with Taino to move them upwind to a bit of shelter. I had no doubt that Aled and the others would quickly catch up and we’d carry on.
Many long minutes ticked by and we could see Aled, Phil, and Mike but no sign of progress. We eventually saw one of the kayaks separated from the other two and upside down. It was time to go back and see what the problem was. I dreaded turning the group around because the wobbly ones would be much more unstable heading downwind and their steering difficulties would only get worse, but it was clear Aled had his hands full. When we caught up with them, Aled was right-side-up but the other two were swimming and one of the empty kayaks was just drifting away beyond Aled’s reach and picking up speed fast. Nevertheless, Aled was smiling and said “I’m just going to fetch that boat back and we’ll be fine.” I hung around for a moment and decided he really did have the situation under control, so I carried on to a safe and comfortable place to park the group. We had a nerve wracking bit of water to paddle through to get there and I knew one more capsize was going to be one problem too many. Luckily, everyone did a fabulous job and we got to a sheltered cove where everyone could relax. I bolted back to Aled but he had the other 2 in a rafted tow and was making good progress. I chatted to the 2 towees while we paddled towards the cove and learned the details. It had taken a while to sort Phil out from his first capsize and Mike had clipped in to tow them off the rocky shore again. As he tried to re-stow his tow line, he capsized in the rough water and, wrapped in line, failed to roll. Phil was too unstable to leave unattended, so Aled had to do a contact tow to get to Mike but then promptly got him back in the boat. He then attempted a rafted tow with Mike stabilizing Phil, but the wind and waves split the boats apart and they both capsized. This time Phil became entrapped, having come part way out of his kayak on a roll attempt and then finding he couldn’t release his skirt. Luckily, Mike was now swimming beside him and freed him, letting go of his boat in the process! That’s the moment I arrived to find the 2 swimmers and the boat floating away!
Reunited, we headed back to the car park as a group, had a lunch, and decided to try again! We skipped the tour of the caves this time and had an easier time of it, although the tide had turned and at a rocky outcropping, the force of the headwind, combined with the tidal current, brought a few in the group to a virtual standstill. I clipped in a tow line and we started making slow but steady progress into a pretty bay with old brickworks on the hillside. We had one more capsize on the way home, but it was quickly sorted.

All in all, it was a pretty exciting day that kept me on my toes every second! It wasn’t exactly the day we had planned, but hopefully everyone learned a bit and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment after a difficult challenge.

The last day I found myself leading a group with Warren, another New Yorker. We had charge of a group of 10 who were pretty sure, but not entirely sure, that they wanted to experienced some rough water. Again, it was a pretty mixed bag of confidence levels but the conditions permitted a few more options than the previous day. We traveled along the west coast to Penrhyn Mawr and played among the rocky outcroppings along the way.

When the tide began flooding, the tide race began to develop and some members of the group were loving playing in it while others were a bit nervous. The waves were quite big in places, but very manageable in others. The huge challenge when playing in a tide race is simply keeping track of 10 people! With the current running fast, a capsized paddler can vanish out of sight among the waves very quickly! We had one swimmer, but I was close by and sorted it out quickly. Roz had a dramatic ride on a big wave that ended with her boat vertical and half out of the water. She rolled up though and went back for more!

We ended the day tuning up Eskimo rolls and Rebecca was chuffed to get 6 or 7 rolls in a row. She told me she’d been working on it all summer and had stumped every coach in her club. I’m pleased to say it took me 5 minutes to sort her out! I had the easy part though - the other coaches did all the hard work, but it earned me a pint in the pub!

Today I’m catching up on some work that’s been piling up. It’s rainy again and very cold – snow and a downpour of hail this morning. It’s nice to be warm and dry today!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

20th Anniversary of Aqua Adventures!

No, I haven't been working for Aqua Adventures for 20 years! That would have made me about 12 when I started (close enough!). But Aqua Adventures turns 20 this fall and it's worth pausing to take note and recall all the fun! I've put together a timeline and it's fun to see the evolution - some things have changed a lot, others have stayed remarkably the same! The founder, Eric Hanscom and I share some surprising similarities - Eric and I both have undergraduate degrees in science. We both started graduate school programs in science, but left only to spend our lives kayaking. We both hold BCU 5 Star awards (me for sea kayaking, Eric for surf kayaking). Eric met his first wife when she attended a Kern River class he was teaching. A few months later she moved from Orange County to San Diego and started working for Aqua Adventures. Many of you know that Jake and I first met 2 years ago when he was a student on a Kern River class. 4 months later I'd conned him into moving from Ventura to San Diego to work for me. He hasn't had a day off since, but it's been the best 2 years Aqua Adventures has ever had (and not bad for me too!).

We threw a party to celebrate the event and my Dad surprised me by showing up completely unannounced from clear across the country! I wouldn't own Aqua Adventures if not for the generous support of my parents and it was really fun to have him here! Thanks to everyone who came to celebrate with us!

Here's a quick history of the milestones in the evolution of Aqua Adventures
Eric Hanscom quits grad school to compete internationally at kayak surfing
(Jen graduates high school)

Eric wins his first World Championship title and decides to try to make a living at his passion.

Eric opens Aqua Adventures with $3,000 and "six very, very old kayaks"
(Jen attends Colorado College, studying geology)

Eric's philosophy is to guide where he wants to paddle. An enormous variety of trips appear in newsletters as experiments. The core lessons and trips appear early, prove their value and last for decades. More ambitious trips appear and dissappear just as fast. destinations include Big Sur, Kauai, Nepal, Tetons, Merced River, Kern River, Costa Rica, Baja, Lake Powell, Vancouver Island.

The Perception Dancer XS is considered "the hottest surfing kayak around"

A 2 hour private roll class in a pool cost $70 and a 3 hour tour of Mission Bay cost $45

Kevin Montgomery headed up the San Diego kayak club and for $7.50/year you could subscribe to the bi-monthly newsletter.

Guides included Marla Hettinger, Joe Hettinger (haven't heard from them in ages), Steve and Karen Jewel (still hear from them from time to time), Jim Kuhns and Christo Matthews/Kuzmich (still see them regularly!)

The offices/headquarters is an industrial warehouse and Aqua Adventures fills a growing nitch by using primarily sit-on-top kayaks

Eric Hansom decides to "get a real job" and sells Aqua Adventures to Greg Knight who promptly moves the company to a new industrial warehouse.

Greg, desperate for new guides who work for beer, hires Jen Kleck

The Perception Pirouette has replaced the Dancer as the "hot boat" and that's what Greg paddles (he doesn't own a sea kayak). Jen paddles a Perception Matrix (which she got really cheap) and a Necky Narpa.

WaveSport begins a whitewater revolution with planing hull kayaks. The Kinetic and X are the hot boats of the day.

Jen and Greg being the process of becoming certified sea kayak instructors with the ACA and our fleet has a growing number of sea kayaks.

Aqua Adventures incorporates and makes Jen a shareholder.

There is talk of merging with Southwest Sea Kayaks owned by Ed Gillet & Katie Kampe, but the hurdles are too significant.

We find 800 square feet of waterfront retail location on Mission Bay late in the year and just as Southwest is shutting down, we're opening up. We still close when the surf is good or there's a good winter storm blowing the sea up.

Scott Fairty shows up seeking dealers for Valley and NDK. He assesses Greg and Jen for their first BCU award.

Our tiny shop is home to a growing community of paddlers. And a great group of guides and staff come and go with the seasons.

A 2 hour private roll class costs $100. A 2 hour guided tour of Mission Bay costs $35 (except on Thursdays when it costs $15).

A big retail space opens up across the parking lot and we jump on it. We spend long winter nights moving walls, laying carpet, painting, hanging fixtures, building counters and buying product to fill the new space. We bribe friends with beer and pizza and while the work goes slowly, it's cheap labor!

The average whitewater kayak is a "playboat" about 7' long.

Jen buys Greg's share of the business and takes it on solo.

Jake Stachovak attends a whitewater class in September. Jen invites him paddling the following week and cons him into working for her a few months later. Aqua Adventures has never had a more competent and hard working manager and thrives under his influence. Jen does too.

Jen passes her BCU Level 5 Sea Coach award, becoming the first person in North America to achieve this level of certification.

Aqua Adventures adds canoes and standup paddleboards to it's fleet as we look forward to an ever evolving future!

We're looking forward to what the next decade brings - stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Paddling the Clack

Kate's behind the camera. Phil Hadley, John Walpole, Jen Kleck, and Paul Kuthe at the put-in

I should have been responsible. I should have started my long trip home on Sunday night, or Monday morning at the latest. Instead, I went paddling on the Clackamas River with John Walpole, Paul, Kate, and Phil.
Phil's world is a happy place.
John and his wife Kirti put me and Phil up in their beautiful house near Portland, OR Sunday and Monday nights. They claim it has a great view of Mount Hood and a wall full of big windows makes me think this is possible, but the clouds never lifted enough to know for sure. At least it wasn't raining when we got our leisurely start to the day and headed to the river. Paul and Kate met us there with a truck full of kayaks and off we went.
Phil showing us a nice line down this one.
We paddled several miles of scenic river with lots of little class I-II riffles and regularly spaced class III drops. It's late season, the snow pack is mostly gone, and the river was low so it was pretty friendly and one really only had to keep a sharp eye out for rocks. This was a good thing for me since I've only had a couple of river days in the last year! It was a treat to paddle a new river in the excellent company of some very fine boaters - thanks guys!

John "whirlpool" Walpole shredding up a wave

LoCo Roundup and BCU re-education

The Kayak Farm....known as Slow Boat Farm on Puget Island, WA in the middle of the Columbia River

I've just returned home from a fantastic week in WA state on the Columbia River with a great gang of kayak coaches and students. The week was hosted by Ginni Callahan and her crew at her "Slow Boat Farm" on Puget Island and life on the farm was sweet! The daily rhythm involved eating amazing, fresh foods from the garden, expertly prepared by Head Chef Dave, paddling whatever paddle craft your heart desired, eating more great food, evening presentations, games, discussions, music, campfires, and (of course) beer. Life was good. The "unseasonable" pouring rain only made everything cozy and added to the ambiance.

Head chef, Dave

For me it was a primarily a week of re-orientation to the new BCU scheme. About 20 BCU coaches were subjected to a 2 day update led by the fabulous Phil Hadley, poster child of the "New" BCU and shipped over straight from England. Enthusiastic, entertaining, and a bit of a salesman, Phil soon had us all eating out of his hand and utterly convinced of the genius of the new awards......or maybe there was just something in the water. I spent 3 more days working on and observing the new 4 Star award and got to paddle some fun spots at the mouth of the river. I managed to weasel out of most of my coaching responsibilities and sponge off of everyone else which was a real treat (sorry Ginni and thanks Axel!) and spent every possible moment in a canoe (thanks Phil) - even passing my 3 Star open canoe assessment. It was great to be able to work with so many coaches: Shawna, Leon, and Matt of Body Boat Blade, the Alder Creek crew including Karl Anderson, John Walpole, John Wallum, and Paul Kuthe, Bill Lozano, head of BCU NA, Rob Avery, and Phil Hadley just to name a few!
BCU endorsed by Phil Hadley

On Saturday I ran a long boat surf session on the coast. All week the storm had been kicking up some big waves, but on Saturday the locals read the swell forecast with glee -"6 feet at 9 seconds - it doesn't get much smaller than that up here!" This southern California girl was wondering what the heck we were going to do with that mess! We had fun though, and nobody got hurt. Someone might have even learned something!
Camp life - big tents kept us dry and provided a great gathering space

Sunday I drove to Seattle to pick up a few new kayaks. I have Nigel Foster's new Whiskey and an NDK Romany Surf available for demo now! But here's the "funny" twist to the story....I was sure I picked up 2 Whiskeys at the warehouse. They were bubble wrapped, but the same length, the right colors, the right shape - I really didn't stop to ask. So this morning, after being on the road for 26 hours, I stagger to bed at 5am. Jake is up at 6:30 to go out with the Wed. morning crowd and asks which Whiskey can he put on the water. I tell him "the white one" and I'm comatose again. At 8:30 when Jake returns, he gives me the bad news....."it's a nice boat, but it's not a Whiskey." %$&@.

I'm off to the Rough Water Sea Kayak Symposium on the east coast tomorrow morning sponsored by Tom Bergh of Maine Island Kayaks (

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stand Up Paddleboards

Oh yeah, just a quick note regarding a new challenge....Aqua Adventures is now home to a bunch of stand-up paddleboards. It's a whole new perspective on the world and very fun. We're working on a lesson program and our demo fleet is already being well used. Jake, who does everything easily, started doing headstands on the boards by day 2. I'll try to post a photo of his technique soon - he doesn't have quite the finesse the Freya has, but I'm impressed! And yeah, he can do a headstand in a kayak too.

Columbia River Kayaking event Aug. 16-25

I'm driving up to Washington ths week for a kayak skills symposium and BCU week. You get to Level 5 and you think you can just take it easy for a while, but I'm back to being assessed! I'm going for my open canoe 3 *. I've really been enjoying canoeing - it's a fun new challenge and it's also made some things about kayaking (and paddlesports in general) very clear to me. I recommend it (but don't give up kayaking!). I also need to go through an update process so I can train and assess at the new 4 * level. There's a really great line up of coaches at the event and I'm looking forward to working with some new people as well as catching up with some old friends. Ginni Callahan runs an amazing operation and it will be fun to hang out at her farm on the Columbia River!

I decided to drive so I can haul some kayaks back down with me. We'll have a few new NDK kayaks and a new design by Nigel Foster (Point 65 "Whiskey") by the end of August. Visit and and come by the shop to try them out!

Busy summer

What a summer it's been! With all the talk of economic doom, I kept my staff very small this year - just half of what I had last year. Luckily, they are all great, hardworking, dedicated people and business has been strong. There's no real news to report regarding the summer, but lots of interesting things are coming up including Aqua Adventures' 20th anniversary on October 4! Leading up to that, it's going to get busy...Here's my confirmed schedule for the fall. I have a couple of tentative plans as well.
August 15-24
Columbia River Kayaking LoCo Roundup and BCU Week
August 29-31
Rough Water Kayak Symposium in Point Judith, RI
Sept. 25 -30
Photo shoot in San Diego and Baja
Oct. 4 Anniversary party!
Oct. 17-22
Sea Kayak Georgia BCU week
Oct. 24 - Nov. 2
Storm Gathering, Anglesey, Wales

I'll try to post a bit more often since there's fun stuff happening again!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


On Sunday, May 11, Nigel, Kristine, Giorgio, and I paddled the Vogalonga – definitely a “life-time” experience that I will never forget! We kayaked almost 20 miles among an incredible assortment of human-powered craft through one on the most beautiful cities in the world and I would highly recommend it!

The Vogalonga is an annual event in Venice that began spontaneously in 1974 when a group of Venitians decided to protest the every increasing dominance of power boats in the canals and the surrounding lagoon, and to remind Venice of it’s rowing traditions. Power boats on the canals are not only dangerous, loud, and smelly, they create significant wakes which are slowly undermining sediment and foundations and are destroying the city. Once a year, for the last 34 years, the canals have been closed to power boat traffic and thousands of rowers in all forms take to the lagoon. This year there were about 1600 boats, and almost 6000 rowers. The event is non-competetive, although some take it seriously. There are no awards other than the “diploma” and medal that everyone gets at the end and the memories and images of a life time!

We got up early to get to Venice ahead of the crowds and find a parking place close to the water. This left us with a leisurely paddle to the starting line in front of Saint Marks Square. The number of kayaks, canoes, row boats, dragon boats, and traditional Venitian boats putting on the water was staggering. We followed a beautiful canal towards the heart of the city and stopped for an espresso along the way. We kept running into people we knew – mostly Giorgio, but all of us. All the things I remember about Venice when we visited as a teenager still fascinated me: the windows and shutters, the carvings on the facades, the rotting bottoms of huge carved doors that opened onto the canals, the light and shadows in canals, and people going about normal, everyday life in this most unusual city!

At Saint Marks, the sheer number of boats on the water was impressive, although they were very spread out and photographs can’t portray the feelings and sights. We paddled under the “Bridge of Sighs” which prisoners crossed after being declared guilty in the courts.

A huge canyon fired and we were off! Well, not really. Like I said, it’s non-competetive and in typical Italian fashion, we took our time. The participants must have spread out for many miles, but the boats within our area became familiar. There was an enormous red rowing vessel rowed by about 20 people that Giorgio called the “wine” boat because it was sponsored by a winery. My favorite boat was one of the traditional vessels rowed by standing. I’ve included a photo because the couple rowing and the boat were just so elegant! In Burano, our group had grown a bit with friends of Giorgio’s and we paddled up a tiny canal for a cup of cappuccino. Every family on Burano paints their house a different color so it is a colorful place! The course took us through Murano, known for it’s glassworks, and then across the lagoon back to Venice and down the Grand Canal. At the entrance to the canal, a huge bottle-neck was created by the narrow low bridge. Only one rowing shell at a time could pass, but with 1600 boats to get through, things were a bit crazy. Luckily, it was easier to sneak through in a kayak. My camera battery died just then and so I was camera-less for the whole of the Grand Canal which was disappointing as the sights were fantastic! All the cafes along the canal were full of people and many cheered us on. I was dying to explore the little canals, some only meters wide that intersected the Grand Canal. Separated from the others at the bottleneck, I was paddling with Rene and he took me on a detour through some of the smaller canals and past two Gondola boatyards, one of which has been in the same family since the 1600s.

By the time we returned to the Grand Canal, it was past 2:30 and the power boats had returned. Every block or two is a “bus” stop and the water buses were working their routes in full force. It was chaotic and a bit frightening and I quickly realized why kayaking in Venice is not a popular pastime on most days! How lucky we were to get to experience it as it was years ago, before giant “water buses” and fast taxi boats took over. The water was quite lumpy from wakes and it was easy to see how damaging to fragile foundations and delicate sediment the relentless waves could be. We made it to the finish line and officials dropped “diplomas” and medals into our hands from their stand at the waters edge and it was over. We had to make our way back a short distance along the Grand Canal dodging giant buses and trying to guess which way gondoliers were going to go. Even the secondary canal that we followed to the car park, which had been so idyllic in the morning, was now a tight squeeze between power boats, gondolas, and kayaks – very exciting and fun. I didn’t even mind getting yelled at by a power boat driver (or two). Having no idea what they were yelling about, I just grinned and moved closer to the walls!

I’ve got to run to class, but I’ll post again tonight – we’re currently in a lovely resort on the Adriatic not far from Venice….