Sea kayaking continues to be of great interest to paddlers in the Midwest. The conditions on the Great Lakes are ideal for longboats. Sure, salt tastes great sometimes, but we have some pretty amazing paddling right here in our backyard.
Pardon the pun, but sometimes a complete immersion is the best way to get a good start in sea kayaking, and we are in a perfect place to do that. There are four excellent and diverse sea kayak symposia within a day's drive of almost everyone reading these words.
Each symposium is different, but they have one thing in common: Some of the best instructors in North America teach kayaking at these events. The quality of instruction is high and consistent, because there is a lot of overlap between events. Some instructors will be teaching at all four of the symposia mentioned here.
Here they are, in chronological order:
Door County Sea Kayak Symposium,
July 12-14, Rowleys Bay, Wis.
This symposium sets itself apart from the others by locating itself on Lake Michigan, whereas the others are all located on Lake Superior. Set in Door County with its 298 miles of coastline, the DCSKS is probably the most convenient logistically. Set right at Rowleys Bay Resort, housing is just a few hundred feet from the launch sites if you choose to stay at the resort or camp at the campground. There are scores of other B&Bs on the northern peninsula. Dinners are included. as is the beer. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
Danny Mongno of Werner Paddles, a veteran instructor from all of the symposia in the Midwest and all over the country, describes the Door County Symposium in one word: "Community," he says. "Sure, there are classes from beginner to expert, and all the bits and bobs between, but in the end the sense of hanging out with 200 friends, both old and new, just cannot be duplicated. Every guest feels like this event was put on just for them."
There are nightly campfires and slide shows and other activities. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Door County Land Trust, and the annual auction of paddle gear, local art and other surprises, raise additional funds.
There is a special rate for families so children can participate at a reduced cost.
More information about the DCSKS can be found at www.everyonepaddles.com.
Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium
July 17-21, Grand Marais, Mich.
Set near Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior, the GLSKS is the oldest kayaking symposium on the Great Lakes. The classes are held within a protected harbor and that's the jumping off point for tours along some of the most beautiful scenery on Lake Superior. Social events include a pasty dinner, wine and cheese party and Sunday morning's blessing of the boats.
Most of the activity centers around the Grand Marais Rec Center, about a quarter mile from the beach. Housing is camping next to the Rec Center, or there are hotels and B&Bs nearby in Grand Marais. There are restaurants and a small grocery store. Most attendees camp at the local campground and cook their own meals.
Mongno has been instructing at the GLSKS for ten years. "My heart sings every time I think of this symposium because of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous places I have ever paddled. It needs to be on every kayaker's short list. So why not paddle it under the watchful eye of some amazing guides or learn on the move with some of the world's best coaches?" www.greatlakesseakayaksymposium.com.
Ladies of the Lake Symposium
August 15-18, Drummond Island, Mich.
This symposium distinguishes itself from the others: It's for women, by women. This symposium also travels from location to location.
At the very top of southern Michigan, Drummond Island Resort has cabins, a lodge and campsites, so you can choose your accommodations based on your comfort level and budget. The level of instruction is top-notch, which is expected since many of the instructors teach at other symposia. LOTL features a track for women who are brand new to sea kayaking.
Mongno loves the LOTL, too. "If you hate going to the gym because of all the meatheads grunting and banging weights together, this one may be for you. I have seen huge learning spurts at this event simply because of the 'if she can do it, I can do it' attitude."
The LOTL has an annual theme. This year, it's pirates, so dressing in a pirate costume will be par for the course for the Saturday night party.Arrrr.
The Gales Storm Gathering
October 11-13, Bayfield, Wis.
Elite but not elitist is how I'd describe the Gales. It is the only symposium that focuses exclusively on intermediate and advanced paddlers. It is also unique in that it changes venues annually.
This symposium focuses on advanced skills: paddling in strong winds and big waves, surfing your kayak, navigation, incident management and rough water rescues.
Housing is easy as Bayfield has camping as well as numerous B&Bs and small hotels.
Is the Gales Storm Gathering for you? It is assuredly not a beginner event. You should be comfortable in cold, windy and rough water conditions. If you're an intermediate paddler with a good attitude and want to stretch yourself, this might be a good one for you.
Whichever symposium fits your schedule or budget, you'll be glad you attended. The amount of information you can learn in just a few days is amazing, but just as important are the friendships and camaraderie you'll enjoy.
A few years ago I paddled with a tour to one of the lighthouses on Door County. We were out for an afternoon, and one of the paddlers was struggling a little. I spent a little time with her and gave her some tips. She relaxed and started to breathe evenly again. And then something changed. She went from nervous to competent, and soon afterward, downright chatty. It was nice to paddle alongside a new friend.
A few weeks later she learned from her friend that I was the owner of a paddlesports shop. When she called me a few months ago, she asked me "Why didn't you tell me that?"
I didn't tell her because it didn't matter. We were on the water. On the water it never matters who you are. It just matters that you're paddling.
Darren Bush is owner and chief paddling evangelist of Rutabaga Paddlesports in Madison, Wisconsin. when not eating, sleeping or working, he's likely paddling or making something with his hands.