Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why we love MEC Toronto Paddlefest

We just returned from MEC Paddlefest Toronto, an intense weekend celebration of canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and other human-powered craft.

It's hard to wrap your mind around all that goes on over the course of this two-day event. There are clinics on strokes, rolling, rescues and fitness; booths promoting manufacturers, trips, clubs and causes; boats and gear to demo or buy; and land classes on navigation, weather and boat repair. Boats, paddles, spray skirts and PFDs are provided, and it's all hands-on and helpful. 

Participants can take four 90-minute, on-water clinics per day (here, Birgit Kuhle teaches a student to roll)...
...paddle demo boats (here, Liz Burnside, who organized the first MEC Toronto Paddlefest in 2005 and continues to put her all into it, answers questions about the P&H Cetus)...
...and even learn how to fix a damaged hull. Here, Roch Prevost, sales and marketing manager of Nova Craft Canoe, demonstrates boat repair techniques. 
For participants, it's a fantastic deal. Courses cost $5 to $10 apiece, and there are lots of freebies (water bottles, Clif Bars, Larabars). The only way to measure attendance is in blue wristbands (which signify that participants have signed a liability waiver). This year, more than 1,500 wrist bands were dispensed.

For us, it's an opportunity for cross-pollination of coaching ideas with colleagues in Paddle Canada. After a day of teaching, we spend the evenings talking shop with Erik Ogaard of Harbourfront Kayak and Canoe School, Michael Pardy of SKILS, Kelly Blades of P&H (not from Canada, but a fixture at this fest), David Johnston of Paddlinginstructor.com, and a host of other top-notch instructors from all over Canada.

Erik Ogaard leads a paddling fitness class.
Dympna Hayes of Learntokayak.ca and Michael Pardy of SKILS evaluate strokes during a video analysis class.
David Johnston teaches a weather class.
Kelly Blades keeps it light.
But it's more than that. It's also a chance to work with an extraordinarily diverse groups of students. The range of ages and ethnicities at MEC Toronto Paddlefest is greater than at any other symposium where we've taught, and their determination and enthusiasm are inspiring.

A dragonboat departs from the beach.

Even the tiniest paddlers could demo boats that fit.

The range of participants is remarkable.
At the start of class, many students are wobbly and uncertain; by the end they are sitting up straight and empowered. Whether they've learned to edge, made progress on a roll, figured out how to rescue a capsized paddler, or discovered how much they love to paddle, they are elated and appreciative. For a coach, that's the ultimate reward.

The MEC staff members are everywhere, registering students for classes, answering questions, locating needed gear, moving boats, and generally making the event run smoothly. They're the magicians behind the curtain, fooling us into thinking it's no big deal to line a beach with upwards of 400 boats, paddles and PFDs; erect booths along the sidewalk; slap wristbands on more than 1,000 wrists; and troubleshoot the inevitable issues that arise during a weekend festival. On Sunday afternoon, when everyone else drove off to dinner, they were the ones who kept working until the wee hours of the morning.

After loading 400 boats, MEC staff collected all the signage, boxed all the materials, and transported it all back to the store. 
It's a remarkable paddlefest in so many ways: size, organization and impact. We're already looking forward to returning next year.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'd like to echo Sharron and Alec's comments about Paddlefest. Definitely one of the great paddle symposia.

Liz, Chris, and Chris, and the folks at MEC deserve a full paddle salute for this fun and dynamic event.