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 daydrips, 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
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 at the Aqualounge
Presentations featured Kristen Nelson, Nigel Foster and Jake Stachovak (photo courtesy of Gil)
Demonstrating Greenland strokes on the move (photo courtesy of Gil)
Joe and Rae Ann exhibit their ultimate kayak carrier…
Don and Donna Thompson “playing chicken” while performing a precison paddling routine for the crowd
Mike Devlin signing Jake’s expedition kayak with Sweetwater mascot Cedric looking on
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
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.