the website of Greg Stamer

Sweetwater Symposium 2010

Posted by Greg on March 4, 2010

Jean Totz and Jen Kleck

Jean Totz (past Sweetwater partner) and Jen Kleck ( Aqua Aventures San Diego) enjoy lunch on Sunday when the temps felt “more like Florida”

Spring weather in Central Florida is moody and sometimes downright bipolar. You can be blessed with warm, summer-like days, the beaches filled with bikini-clad sun-lovers, or cold stormy skies and near freezing temperatures.  Participants at the 13th Sweetwater Symposium got to sample a bit of both moods.

After a year’s hiatus the 13th annual Sweetwater Symposium was held Feb. 26 – 28, with BCU/ACA/Greenland week starting Feb. 22.  Although the week started with balmy temps in the mid seventies, by Saturday a cold front bringing arctic air had paddlers bundling up in full winter gear. Dry suits in Florida? Yes, it is true. Fortunately Suzanne Hutchinson, Kokatat rep, was on hand to discuss drysuits and help paddlers with new gaskets.  I was happy to have brought my Kokatat drysuit and storm cag — the same gear I wore in Iceland and Newfoundland. It was the first time I have ever needed it in Florida at midday. The cold front blew through Saturday afternoon creating some very fun and challenging conditions and paddlers were soon greeted to blue skies with warm temps on Sunday. “This is more like it”, one participant grinned, as he strode by me in shorts and sandals, on his way to the water.

“Event HQ”, the focal point of the event, is Sweetwater’s new shop and is on the water. The shop has a “Key West” flavor to it and the entire event had a different feel this year. Some participants described it as very intimate, low-key and welcoming. Sweetwater president Russell Farrow said that “the event had a cool vibe — it was great to be able to walk directly from the shop to the water”.

One of the great things about sea kayaking and symposiums is that the coaches are so accessible. You rub elbows with the biggest names in the sport. For example, if you want to bend Nigel Foster’s ear over a beer during dinner then that’s fine. If you have a technical question that you didn’t want to share in front of class, then you can ask Jen Kleck, Steve Maynard, or another of the coaches privately. This lack of “celebrity” distance is very refreshing and is sorely lacking in most sports.

I enjoyed teaching Greenland skills and was heartened to see that interest in Greenland paddling technique — skills done on the move, was more in demand than rolling. The kayaking community is learning that Greenland paddles are much more than just tools for rolling and are excellent for day-trips, rough-water kayaking and expedition use. We explored forward stroke techniques that squeezed the full power and capability out of “the stick”, practiced directional control techniques including several bow-rudder techniques and contrasted Greenland technique to “mainstream” technique. It is always rewarding for me to teach, especially when I see students have an “aha” moment.

A huge great-white shark hung above the restaurant bar next door to the shop, and greeted guests with a menacing grin during the presentations and dinner. Kristin Nelsen discussed kayaking from an artist’s perspective and how the changing light and shadows influences her ceramic work.  Nigel Foster took the crowd on a vicarious year of traveling in the life of a kayak personality and designer, journeying from Seattle to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, China and more.  A special guest was Jake Stachovak who took a break from his Portage to Portage Paddling Project to entertain the crowd with his trip progress. His quest is a 5000 mile solo kayak journey around the Eastern United States; linking the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the Gulf Coast, Atlantic seaboard, and New York Canal Systems, ending where he began in the small town of Portage Wisconsin. Jake described a number of  interesting adventures (and misadventures), including being “pepper-sprayed” in the dark streets of a river town. Jake is planning to write a book about his experiences and you can follow his progress on his blog.

Special thanks to Russell Farrow of Sweetwater Kayaks, for allowing me to be a part of the event and to Jeff Fabiszewski and Ken Knapton, both excellent instructors, for their help with the Greenland classes.

Jake Stachovak (taking a break from his expedition) and Kristin Nelson

Jake Stachovak (taking a break from his expedition) and Kristin Nelson


Winter weather finally broke and was replaced by Florida sunshine (photo courtesy of Gil)

Russell (right on guitar) playing with his band Sisemore, Saturday night

Russell (right on guitar) playing with his band Sisemore, Saturday night at the Aqualounge


Presentations featured Kristen Nelson, Nigel Foster and Jake Stachovak (photo courtesy of Gil)

Greenland strokes on the move

Demonstrating Greenland strokes on the move (photo courtesy of Gil)

Russell Farrow (President of Sweetwater) and Jen Kleck

Russell Farrow (Sweetwater Kayaks) and Jen Kleck (Aqua Aventures)

Joe and Rae Ann exhibit their ultimate kayak carrier...

Joe and Rae Ann exhibit their ultimate kayak carrier…

Don and Donna Thompson performing a precison paddling routine for the crowd

Don and Donna Thompson “playing chicken” while performing a precison paddling routine for the crowd

Mike Devlin of 21st Century Kayaks, signing Jake's expedition kayak with Cedric looking on

Mike Devlin signing Jake’s expedition kayak with Sweetwater mascot Cedric looking on

Jake is encouraging everyone he meets on his journey to sign his kayak

Jake’s highly decorated kayak. He is encouraging everyone he meets on his journey to sign his kayak

Don McCumber, designer for 21st Century kayaks (http://www.21stcenturykayaks.com) shows his progress after only 30 minutes

Don McCumber, designer for 21st Century kayaks (http://www.21stcenturykayaks.com) shows his progress after only 30 minutes

Greenland paddles come in all shapes and sizes...

Greenland paddles come in all shapes and sizes… (photo courtesy of Gil)


Linda keeps the food (and smiles) coming and the crowd happy during lunch.

  1. Michael Said,

    Thanks for this photo essay, especially as I missed coming down this time around. Good to see Kristen is still out there pressing the…aaa… flesh! I seem to have a whole set of those shots from a couple years back! Must be part of her bare (bear?) studies…

  2. Gil Said,

    This was my first year at the Symposium and just about my second year with sea kayaks. I think your way to describe the Lack of “celebrities” distance is dead on. It was great to be able to talk face to face with all the coaches at any given time. The symposium was a great event where everybody was family. I wish Greg woud teach more and have regular trainnings!

  3. Don McCumber Said,

    Greg – it was a pleasure meeting you, and the rest of the gang at Sweetwater. Thanks for the pic of me assembling the kayak frame – I gave Mike my camera, to get some shots, and he forgot!!! You captured the moment.

  4. curt gashlin Said,

    I really love the one handed bow rudder….it’s something I have not seen before and was thrilled with the atmosphere and events at the Sweetwater Symosium..Can’t wait for the next one

  5. John Ozard Said,

    A very nice written and pictoral essay on this year’s event! You hit the mark! I’m glad you brought a camera to the Aqualounge to capture Russell’s band. My only regret is that I did not have time to participate in any of the Greenlandic classes this year. I needed to spend some quality time in a canoe over the weekend, but it’s all good. Maybe next time I will drive down and bring my SOF.

  6. Kristin Nelson Said,

    What a fun bunch of photos, Greg! And a great group of people, coaches and students! I must say that this venue has personality plus, close to the water and local character. I was really happy to be a part of the event! Thank you to Russell for giving me a chance to present on Friday night. It was a first for me and I enjoyed the challenge of putting some pictures together. See yall next year!

  7. Sean Fitzgibbon Said,

    YOU CANNOT MENTION JEFF Fabiszewski, Let alone put a picture of him on your site!! You know his head will never fit through the door again, or be able to tuck enough to complete a roll successfully after this!! On a serious note “What an AWESOME Event!” Many thanks to Russel and all the coaches and instructors.

    -Sean Fitzgibbon: one of the Boys from
    Liquid Rhythm Kayaking.
    (Jeff is the other One)

  8. Jeff Fabiszewski Said,

    Greg It was a pleasure to work with you and hang out with great coaches and paddling enthusiasts. Going to these events is like going to a positive family reunion. We have different Fathers and Mothers but the kayak connects us in a intimate, low-key, and welcoming way.

  9. Ulrika Larsson Said,

    I totally understand that I have missed the Event of the Year. I better start looking right away into flight tickets to Florida for next years symposium…

  10. Larry Koenig Said,

    Like a family indeed, and a family I miss messing with.
    Inspired to seek this site by a comment left by Jean Totz on the FB page of Greg, I recall (again) how like an extended family the kayaking community is, -an awesome group of folk eddied out together here and there.
    I’ve been playing in the dirt for a couple of years (and enjoying it) but also long for the pendulum to swing back to the wet side.