Saturday, February 4, 2012

An SKUK Expedition Center in Illinois?

When we think about Sea Kayaking UK Expedition Centers, we think about Wales, Scotland and Cornwall -- places situated in the UK and on the sea. Turns out there are 16 Expedition Centers in North America, too, but they're primarily situated (not surprisingly) on the coasts: Maine, North Carolina, San Francisco, Washington.

Except for two: Living Adventure on Lake Superior in Wisconsin, and Geneva Kayak Center* in Yorkville, IL. 

Geneva Kayak Center in Yorkville, IL
Yorkville? We had to ask co-owner Ryan Rushton how this came about.

Ryan Ruchton at Geneva Kayak Center.

Q: How did you earn this designation?
A: Each Expedition Center has to be staffed by at least one BCU 5-star Sea Leader award holder. We actually have two on staff; Scott Fairty and I are the only 5-star paddlers in the region to the best of my knowledge. Being assessed as a BCU 5-star paddler requires years of sea kayaking in different environments, ability to handle your boat unconsciously in advanced conditions and possessing high levels of leadership and seamanship.

Q: What about location?  
A: The other prerequisite for becoming an Expedition Center is that your center is located in a
beautiful, amazing place to paddle. Nigel [Dennis] wanted to give paddlers from around the world the option to use his boats and Lendal paddles in places like Alaska, Greece, Newfoundland, Maine, Iceland, Norway, Georgia and Baja. Beyond using his boats, he wanted to make sure they would have the top leadership for courses and expeditions when paddlers traveled to these locations.  

Chicago is a great place to paddle and an excellent training ground for sea kayaking.

Q: You aren't exactly on the coast. So how does that work?
A: While Chicago is a great place to paddle, we do not have the venue that other SKUK Expedition Centers have. The major hurdle was simply putting an expedition center in Chicago. Our top level programs on the local and regional level, combined with our regional, national and international adventure paddling programs put us over the top.

Geneva Kayak Center offers paddling trips far beyond Chicago.
Q: What will this mean for Chicago area paddlers?
I hope that this will be an additional factor in bringing more national and international exposure to paddling in the Chicago area as well as the Great Lakes. Chicago's Lakefront is a seriously good sea kayak training ground. The variety of landforms and fetch in multiple directions gives paddlers the conditions needed to improve as sea kayakers. Combined with focused training on high volume whitewater rivers, Midwest paddlers can come to GKC for training that will prepare them to paddle anywhere in the world.

Q: What will it mean for Geneva Kayak?
A: Designation as an Expedition Center is a big step for Geneva Kayak. In 2011 we were designated as an ACA [American Canoe Association] Pro School, which gave GKC national recognition for our kayak school. International recognition of our excellence in sea kayaking programs is a big step for us.

Q: So what's next?
A: We will continue to build both our school and travel offerings. We hope to be training paddlers and taking them to amazing destinations for a long time!

*Full disclosure: We teach for Geneva Kayak Center.

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