Monday, July 21, 2008

The power of symposia

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the midwest supports eight kayak symposia, from the old (Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium) to the new (Windy City Symposium), from the family-oriented (West Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association) to the all-female (Ladies of the Lake). Some are traditional (Greenland Symposium and QUJAQ Training Camp). Most are “bicultural” (Door County Sea Kayak Symposium, Inland Sea Symposium). But all have some key attractions in common: They offer an opportunity for students to take a wide range of classes from numerous instructors in a concentrated period of time; they enable vendors to demonstrate and explain their gear to potential buyers, and potential buyers to test paddle a variety of kayaks; they provide beginner and intermediate paddlers with access to top-notch coaches from around the country and the world; they feature presentations by world-class kayakers who've completed expeditions the rest of us can only dream about; and they enable a gypsy group of local kayak instructors to reconnect several times during the summer months.

The rodeo at the Western Michigan Coastal Kayakers Symposium, where students and instructors apply their paddling skills to absurd challenges.

Many symposia include trips. Here, students and instructors paddle through the Apostle Island sea caves during the Inland Sea Kayak Symposium.

Doug Van Doren checks out a waterfall along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore during the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.

Most of us who teach at these symposia do so as volunteers. We provide all our own gear, pay for our own transportation, and donate our time. Students are sometimes baffled by this generosity.
In fact, it's really not so hard to understand what motivates us: a desire to offer newer kayakers what was once offered to us, a dedication to sharing our enthusiasm and knowledge about a sport we love, and the pleasure of hanging out with other people who feel the same way.
In the five short years that we've been paddling, we've grown very fond of our fellow midwestern instructors. We are a family of sorts, full of larger-than-life characters, crazy stories, mischief and compassion. We strip in parking lots, debate the stink-resistance of various types of clothing, eat one another's food and watch out for one another. If that's not family, what is?
Students pick up on this camaraderie. We still recall our first symposium, where we were impressed by how much fun our instructors were having and how much they enjoyed one another's company. Thanks in part to them, we became skilled enough to offer the same inspiration and instruction to the next cohort of paddlers.
Symposia aren't a substitute for taking full classes at a reputable kayak center. They're more like a tasting menu, while full-length classes are a multi-course meal. But symposia are where community is built and sustained, and the midwest is fortunate to have so many.

1 comment:

DaveO said...

I also enjoyed GLSKS and learned a lot of traditional paddling refinements. Also did a post on the event as did Silbs. Maybe you instructed me?? Keep up the blogging, its lots of fun! DaveO