Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Sunday paddle, with a pleasant surprise

It was a cold and blustery day...
Easter morning dawned overcast but seemingly calm, so we set our expectations accordingly. A 20-mile paddle starting on the South Side, past two of Chicago's water intake cribs, with a stop for lunch at 12th Street Beach, and back again along the shoreline would be pleasant, a nice spring-time warm up for longer paddles to come.

The sky was overcast and the water was calm as we left the harbor.
And, in fact, the winds were a mere 10 to 12 knots--a Beaufort Force 3 to 4--and out of the north. Not enough to slow us down much, but enough to sustain waves of 2 to 3 feet that must have built the previous day, and to create scattered whitecaps. They weren't apparent until we passed the break wall outside the harbor. "Ha," we said. "This could be an interesting paddle after all!"

Not that paddling isn't always interesting, but calm water does tend to get more tedious than the bumpier varieties.

Approaching the second crib.
The trip out, cribs and all, took four hours. The last leg back took less than 90 minutes. Which goes to show that you never know what you'll find until you get on the water. We had looked at the forecasts, the radar, the clouds and the wind speed (the forecast was 5 to 10 knots), and we thought the lake would be close to flat. And to our delight, we were wrong.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Waves building on Lake Michigan

Last night, the wind began to blow out of the north, shifting to the northeast and then to the east at speeds of 20 to 30 knots.

A low pressure system moves in, bringing wind and waves.
Here on the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, that translates into considerable wave heights.

Wind data from a water intake crib off shore.
By noon today, the waves were surpassing the break walls and things were getting pretty chaotic.

At Montrose Beach, one of the best surfing spots in Chicago, the waves were 5 to 7 feet, with clapotis in places adding a few more feet. 

If this front moves through as predicted, the wind should be out of the south tomorrow, and the waves should clean up and provide some good surfing, though the water temperature will still be in the low 40s. Local paddlers are already making plans to take advantage of this early-season surfing opportunity.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting up to date on First Aid and CPR

The American Canoe Association requires instructors to be certified in First Aid and CPR--a knowledge base that we've made use of on more than one occasion as coaches. 

In the past, we've taken the two-day Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course offered by Wilderness Medical Associates, and we've long been interested in the Wilderness Advanced First Aid and Wilderness First Responder courses. But with time and money as limiting factors, we haven't yet managed to attain those certifications. 

With our WFA about to expire, we set up a one-day American Heart Association Heartsaver First Aid course with John Browning, an ACA Level 4 Sea instructor trainer, emergency medical technician, and instructor with both the American Heart Association and Wilderness Medical Associates. This set-up allowed John to tailor the usual Heartsaver curriculum to a class mainly comprised of kayak instructors, and to add some additional wilderness and paddling-related elements.

Cap'n Browning, at the helm of the First Aid course.
The Heartsaver curriculum is very urban in its orientation. It's geared mainly toward workplace safety, and assumes a quick response from emergency personnel. By contrast, the WFA course is geared toward guides and outdoors enthusiasts on short trips away from civilization. So while the Heartsaver course emphasizes how to perform CPR (some of which recently changed) and how to staunch bleeding while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive, the WFA teaches participants how to evaluate and stabilize a victim far from help. 

The course was not without its surreal moments. It is taught with the help of a slick video featuring workplace and urban scenarios that are then repeated in a studio by sweatsuit-clad actors. 

Gloves, projector, action!
Even the mannequins seemed sleepy after a full day in a small room. 

There's no question that staying current on First Aid is valuable, and we especially appreciated the additional outdoor content John provided. (His reading list alone was worth the price of admission!) But taking this course motivated us even more to get additional training in Wilderness First Aid, because most of the incidents we encounter happen outdoors.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kent Ford comes to Yorkville!

Kent Ford.
We just completed a three-day whitewater Instructor Development Workshop (IDW) with Kent Ford, one of the most respected instructor trainers in the country, who has competed and won titles in international whitewater slalom racing, coached the US Olympic kayak team, published books and produced videos about paddling technique and instruction, and continues to coach paddlers at every level.

Despite all his credentials, experiences and accolades, Kent is a remarkably laid-back, open-minded guy. (Once again, we're struck by the fact that most of the rock stars of the paddling world don't let their prominence go to their heads.)

The course was hosted by Geneva Kayak Center and taught at the new Yorkville whitewater park, where Geneva just opened its new paddle shop and instructional center. Kent, no stranger to whitewater teaching venues, was highly impressed by both the shop and the park. "It's pretty darn amazing," he told us. "It's the most teaching-friendly of the whitewater parks I've been to, but there's still plenty for a real strong intermediate or advanced paddler. It's like five miles of class two river features jammed into 200 yards of city park."

We had visited the park earlier with our kids, who did find plenty to do with their considerable whitewater skills.

This IDW was our opportunity to get some formal training on how to teach whitewater paddling, as well as some top-notch instruction and critique of our own skills.

We're still processing the experience, but some things are already clear to us:
  • Coming from our sea kayak background, some aspects of whitewater technique are familiar and comfortable while others are foreign and awkward. Both the similarities and differences are valuable, and build our paddling skills.
  • As we develop as coaches and paddlers, we realize that being knowledgeable and capable in various types of boats is essential to becoming graceful and skilled in any type of boat. Certainly, the coaches who impress us most with their technique tend to paddle more than one craft.
  • Geneva Kayak Center is poised to transform paddling in the Chicago area by being located at this great venue and offering all sorts of training opportunities in canoe, whitewater kayak and sea kayak for students and instructors. They brought Kent Ford to Yorkville! We're grateful for the opportunities they've provided and look forward to the ones to come.