Tuesday, June 14, 2011

MEC Paddlefest Toronto makes a splash

One beach, two days, 600+ new paddlers.
We just returned from MEC Paddlefest Toronto, an "urban celebration of all things paddlesport related" run by Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Canadian equivalent of REI (more or less). "Celebration" hardly begins to describe this astonishing event. Over the course of two days, Paddlefest offers land and water clinics on sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddling, complete with all necessary equipment, for people who register in advance or sign up on-site. Sponsors and clubs staff informational booths, vendors provide demo boats and gear, kayak polo players shoot baskets, and dragon boats zip back and forth. For two days, Sunnyside Beach is awash in a wide diversity of boats and people.

The master organizer behind Paddlefest Toronto is Liz Burnside, who didn't seem nearly as frazzled as she ought to have been. Chalk it up to some magical alchemy of experience (she's run this event five times before), talent and temperament; the event ran remarkably smoothly.

Liz Burnside, keeping the event on track.
Before the festival began, about 20 instructors took advantage of a "mini instructor symposium" organized by Erik Ogaard, a Paddle Canada Instructor Trainer and head of paddling instruction for the Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre. This provided an opportunity for us to meet some of the energetic Canadian coaches and for all of us to get an instructor update.

David Johnston, fellow coach and blogger, and Keith Wikle's Canadian doppelganger.

Dympna Hayes, the infectiously energetic co-owner of learntokayak.ca.

Michael Pardy, co-founder of SKILS and Senior Instructor Trainer for Paddle Canada (one of his many outdoors and paddling certifications), shared some of his "detection/correction" strategies for helping instructors improve students' strokes. Kelly Blades, who defies description, showed how games can help to develop balance and boat control. 

Erik, ensuring that everyone fuels up.
Michael and Kelly, strategizing about our instructor update.
The fest itself was eye-opening for us. Classes were 90 minutes long, and most students had signed up in advance, paying just $10 for each on-water course and $5 for each land-based course. In defiance of the idea that people who pay less care less, these students could not have been more committed. They showed up in whatever clothing they had -- often nothing more than quick-dry shorts and tops -- eager to get on the water, which was still in the mid 50s. We quickly found them boats, PFDs, skirts and paddles and took off, wondering how long they would last once they got wet. But they were tenacious; they wanted to get everything they possibly could out of each of us. Even our rescue and rolling clinics, during which participants were immersed most of the time, didn't dissuade these avid students.

Many participants lacked appropriate paddling gear, but that didn't stop them.

They spent time working on strokes, rescues, rolling and more.

The concept behind Paddlefest is to introduce people to paddlesports. It's a taster, and its success is best measured in the enthusiasm of the participants and their eagerness to learn more in the future. From every thing we saw and heard, this year's fest accomplished those aims. Hundreds of people discovered the pleasure of getting out on the water in a human-powered craft. That's a pretty hefty accomplishment for one weekend.


DaveO said...

Sounds like one I need to get on the calendar for next year.

David H. Johnston said...

Dave, you need to make your way over for sure. It's totally fun and unlike any other paddling symposium you will attend. With 70% of the participants getting into boats for the first time, it's pretty inspiring (and a whole lot of fun).

I'm already looking forward to teaching at it again next year.


David J.