Yet another kayaking symposium!

In early October, I traveled south to Mendocino, CA to attend the Traditional Arctic Kayaking Symposium. I had never been to this one, since it is usually held much further south, in San Simeon. Initially, I was not planning on attending this one either; it has been a busy year of travelling around and attending kayaking symposiums, and I was thinking I would just stay closer to home that weekend. But when I realized that Maligiaq Padilla, seven time Greenland national champion would be there, along with Cheri Perry and her partner Turner Wilson, I decided that if there was any year to travel south to this event, this would be the year. Once I had promised to transport Cheri and Turner’s qajaqs from Ginni’s farm where they had been left in August, after the LoCo Roundup, then I was committed.

Norsaq and deck lines

I got down to Van Damme State Park Friday around noon and checked in to my campsite, but due to some unforseen circumstances, there were a number of venue glitches. There was a abalone divers’ convention at Van Damme park where TAKS was supposed to be held, so most of the TAKS folks ended up camping at another campsite down the road. It took a while to find everyone, and I finally ran across them at Big River, which turned out to be a great site for almost everything.

Beach at Big River

Rainy potluck dinner

A potluck dinner was planned for that evening at the new campsite. A drysuit would have been the perfect attire, since it literally poured down rain for most of the evening.

Cheri and storm roll technique

The next day was rolling instruction, strokes instruction and a coastal paddle trip. I would have liked to go along on the coastal trip, but what I really wanted was to get some rolling coaching. Usually I am teaching at symposiums, and never have a chance to actually get any coaching for myself. I spent the morning in Turner’s qajaq, working on norsaq and hand rolls with Helen and Maligiaq. I had developed some bad habits that I wanted to get rid of. In the afternoon I got back in Turner’s qajaq again and worked with Cheri on improving my storm roll.

Rolling in a tight fitting Greenland style qajaq is pretty different from rolling a conventional manufactured kayak. I realized how inflexible I really am!

Dubside and Cheri, rolling

One big treat on Saturday was watching Maligiaq go through the rolling list in Cheri’s “cheater” rolling qajaq. He makes it look so easy! And not only that, but he brought a real sealskin tuiliq with him from Greenland. It is a thing of beauty, and smells wonderful, at least to my nose. I’m sure others might disagree.

Maligiaq and the sealskin tuiliq

Helen got to try on the tuiliq with the cheater qajaq for awhile as well.

Helen and sealskin

Here’s a couple of video clips of Maligiaq rolling.

Here’s one of Helen rolling Cheri’s qajaq and wearing the sealskin tuiliq.

Turner and Cheri’s qajaqs attracted a lot of attention. Cheri’s qajaq was built as a close copy of a competition rolling qajaq that Maligiaq had built years before. There are a lot of details about this qajaq that are interesting to builders and competition rolling afficionados. The “isserfik”, or the deck beam that supports the rear of the cockpit coaming, is fastened to the gunwales at the bottom, rather than the top, and the coaming “floats” with the skin, so that when you lean back, the coaming has some give to it, and gives you a little extra layback. The ribs from the seat area down past where your feet go were only partial ribs, not going all the way across the bottom of the qajaq, making it much easier to slide your feet into. This would not be a strong enough construction technique for a general purpose qajaq, though.

Turner's qajaq


Cheri's qajaq, masik

No Greenland qajaq symposium would be complete without a ropes setup for qajaasaarneq moves. Dubside did a ropes demo in the parking lot at Big River, and then the kids climbed on to play, too.


Here’s one who was watching Dubside carefully…

Watching Dubside

Saturday night we all went into Fort Bragg for a nice dinner, and while we were waiting for them to be ready for our huge group, the qajaasaarneq ropes got setup again next to the restaurant and Dubside and some kids were at it again.


Sunday morning there weren’t very many people willing to get wet, I guess, and there were only a few of us on the water. Cheri, Turner, Dubside and Maligiaq were out goofing around and helping a few of us work on rolls. While Helen was getting world class coaching for the under-the-hull sculling roll, Cheri was helping me work out the front deck sculling roll, which I had never gotten before. I did manage to hit it once with Cheri’s coaching.

Maligiaq showed us the new rolls that will be added to the list next year, and I was glad to see that I already knew how to do one of them and quickly figured out one of the others.

We also dragged out the harpoon to play with, and I asked Maligiaq to look at my harpoon setup and critique it. Much to my surprise, a few of the key measurements were actually right where they were supposed to be.

Turner throwing the harpoon

Turner throwing the harpoon

I don’t know if I will make it all the way down to San Simeon next fall for TAKS, but if it ever comes back up north again, I will be there for sure.

Maligiaq goofing around

OK, so I am catching up on these blog entries. This one is only about a month old now….

The West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium is held every September in Port Townsend, WA, at Fort Worden State Park. This year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the event.

I went to my first WCSKS back in 2004, at the end of my first year working as a kayak guide. I took a few classes that year, including a couple of classes that introduced me to the Greenland paddle, which I have been using almost every paddling day since then.

The next year, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to afford to go, until I was invited to teach a few beginner’s classes at WCSKS by Ginni, who was doing the instructor organizing back then. I have been coaching at WCSKS every year since. This year I actually had several repeat students who had taken other classes from me in previous years.

WCSKS is a large event, sponsored by TAPS, the Trade Association of Paddlesports, and includes a beach full of demo kayaks from many manufacturers, on water instruction, retail spaces and awesome evening programs including pieces of the Reel Paddling Film Festival.

I didn’t take many pictures while I was there, but I did get some shots of the rolling demo, and the cardboard kayak race, and I got a bunch of short video clips of the rolling demo, too.

Dubside is famous for making rolling look easy and fun. In the past he has rolled giant sit on tops, rolled with lit incense in one hand and a brick in the other, and rolled up with his trademark “air sculling” roll. This year, he climbed into this giant rubber raft, and attempted to roll it. It didn’t work out so well…

Dubside in the raft

One of the rolls in the Greenland tradition is a hand roll with a brick in the rolling hand. Leon Somme, from Body Boat Blade does all the rolls with the dreaded “Euro” paddle, rather than a Greenland stick. They set Leon up with a giant chunk of cinder block for the brick roll, but it didn’t slow him down a bit.

Leon getting ready for the

In the last few years, Shawna Franklin of Body Boat Blade, and Cathy Miller of South Sound Kayak have entered the demo in a NDK Triton double kayak

Kathy and Shawna rolling the double

Mckinley Rodriguez made herself famous last year for rolling with a bowling ball, and for rolling the cardboard kayak she was racing.


This year the cardboard kayak race had five entries, and the SSTIKS crew built a very sleek looking craft, which was easily paddled to victory by Mckinley. It wasn’t even close!

Start of the cardboard kayak race

Mckinley and the winning cardboard kayak

And of course, egged on by the crowd, she proceeded to roll her craft several times until it starting getting soggy and not holding it’s shape anymore. Marna, of the Humboldt Honeys team also rolled her cardboard craft several times, but the paddler who was paddling what was essentially a square cardboard raft had quite a bit more trouble pulling off a roll. In fact, it took some work to get it capsized in the first place.

Mckinley rolling the cardboard kayak

Not to be outdone, Marna rolls her cardboard kayak too

This one was way harder to roll...

Mckinley and the winning cardboard kayak

This event took place all the way back in AUGUST, and I’m just now getting around to writing it up! That should say something about how busy the last few months have been, or I guess it could say something about how disorganized I am as well….

I’m going to try and catch up a bunch of entries this week.

Last year was the first annual Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup ever. It is the brainchild of Ginni Callahan, and it is held on her property, Slow Boat Farm on Puget Island, WA. This event combines a BCU skills symposium with a weekend of classes and tours for all levels of kayaking. This year, we were the event where the new BCU standards were rolled out for the West Coast of North America. We had coaches and paddlers from as far away as England, the Netherlands, Denmark and New York.

The work for setting up and organizing this event started weeks before (months actually!) with menu planning, BCU organizing, mowing pastures, setting up camping and cooking facilities, finishing out the office and installing the broadband internet, putting up the canopies, grocery shopping, setting up the composting toilets, etc etc…

Leon with the frog goggles

Two coaches were brought over from across the pond for this event, Phil Hadley and Ed Christian. Just so folks don’t get the wrong idea about British BCU guys, here’s Phil hefting a Greenlandic seal hunting harpoon, and Ed, partying down in a sit on top kayak.

Phil Hadley and the harpoon

BCU coach Ed Christian on a sit on top

These guys were awesome coaches, and we had a great time with Ed as one of our coaching class leaders, and Phil teaching canoeing skills and running assessments. Phil particularly thought it was very funny that we had brought him over from England to teach North Americans how to use canoes, a North American craft. Lots of jokes were made about the 1776 revolution…

The week started on Saturday and Sunday with the coach update and fun with canoes. The new BCU 2 star award involves basic competency with canoes, something that had not been required before. On Monday, I took the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training, which replaced the old Canoe Safety Test. This was a pre-requisite for the level one coach training that would take up the next four days for me and eight of my comrades.

Amanda in the whitewater boat

We spent some time in the classroom, which was the converted chicken coop at the farm, talking about coaching techniques and cramming our heads full of acronyms of all kinds. The rest of the time was spent practicing skills, such as using throw bags for rescuing swimmers, playing all kinds of games in kayaks, practicing rescuing various kinds of kayaks, assessing different venues for teaching, and practicing coaching each other in various paddling skills, in all kinds of craft including whitewater kayaks and canoes.

On Friday, the last day of our coaching training, we were presented with a half dozen or so real students, recruited from the local clubs and other places, and given the task of running a brief coaching session with them.

In the evenings we ate fantastic dinners cooked by Dave and others, and played silly games like this one pictured below, where two people stand on upturned buckets and try to pull each other off with a rope strung between them. Phil was pretty much the undisputed champion of this activity.

Leon and Phil on the buckets

On Saturday, I had a couple of classes to teach, rather than taking them myself. I taught two balance bracing classes, which is the trick of laying on your back on the water, while still in your kayak, to put it as simply as I can. This trick is a gateway to rolling a kayak, and the young lady pictured below was a super fast learner and quickly mastered the balance brace and went on to quickly learn a basic rolling technique as well.

rolling lessons

Saturday afternoon, we held the second annual “sticks and stones” Greenland rolling competition. Last year we had five competitors, this year we had seven, including Cheri Perry from the east coast, who pretty much swept the field clean and left most of us in the dust, points-wise. But I moved up a few points from last year and had a couple of new rolls since last year as well.

sticks and stones

Cheri Perry with the stone

Sunday was the last day of nine days in a row, and I took the opportunity to take a 3 star canoeing class from Phil. I learned more about canoe handling than I ever would have imagined. All in all, it was a fantastic nine days, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event, August 17-23rd, 2009. Hope to see you there!

Phil and the canoe poles

I just spent an hour writing, reading and then rewriting this post. It seems so inadequate, and so flat when compared to the task I am trying to undertake. But I don’t think I can do much better right now.

This afternoon I was hit with some shocking and sad news. I turned on the radio as I was driving down to work and heard the end of a story about a helicopter crash near Flagstaff, AZ, last Sunday, June 29. Two air ambulances collided in midair, killing six of the seven people aboard. When I got to the office I looked up the news on Google, fearing the worst, and my heart sank when I saw my friend and mentor, Tom Clausing, listed among the dead in an article on the KNXV-TV Phoenix news site.

I went back and re read the article twice, hoping I had somehow misconstrued what I read, but it was plain and clear.

Way back in March, I wrote a blog post about the Wilderness First Responder class that we host here every year. For the past two years, Tom Clausing has been our lead instructor, and I consider myself privileged to have had someone so talented and easy to work with as an instructor. I have taken the WFR class four times, and a full EMT course, and I have to say that Tom was the person I got the most from, hands down. I consider the instruction I got from Tom to be of far more use to me than most of the lectures I received from doctors in my EMT classes. I had been planning for a year or so to take the Wilderness upgrade to my EMT license from Tom’s company in Leavenworth.

He literally “wrote the book”, or at least one of them, for wilderness EMS instruction; our workbook that was filled with scenarios for us to analyze and write reports on was written by Tom, and included many real-life wilderness emergencies that he and other wilderness medics had responded to. Many of the photographs that were incorporated into our classes were taken by Tom while on the job in one location or another.

One of Tom’s jobs was as a wilderness paramedic in the Grand Canyon National Park, and he flew on helicopters as a flight paramedic routinely as part of this job. He had a lot to say about helicopters, and we tried two years in a row to arrange a Coast Guard helicopter to show up for one the WFR sims. I had finally worked the bugs out of communicating with the right person in the CG chain of command and Tom and I were certain that next year we would be able to put it all together for a helicopter to show up.

One of the things that he said about helicopters, which I will remember forever, doubly so now, was that they are basically big balls of tinfoil, full of fuel, just waiting for an opportunity to fall out of the sky and burst into flames.

The details of the accident are of course still under investigation, and probably will be for a long time, but from reading the articles that I have found on the internet, it appears that the helicopter that Tom was riding on was carrying a fire fighter who had experienced anaphylaxis to the hospital in Flagstaff, when it collided with another helicopter, transporting a patient from another hospital to the same one in Flagstaff that Tom’s chopper was headed for. For some unknown reason, they collided in midair near the hospital. Six of the seven people aboard both helicopters were killed and the seventh, a flight nurse on Tom’s helicopter, was listed in critical condition as of July 2nd. Basically, both choppers found the opportunity to fall out of the sky and burst into flames.

The last time I saw him, he had just finished loading up his old red Suburban with all the gear from the class, and was heading back to his home in Leavenworth, WA. He handed me a helicopter magazine as he was headed out to his rig. We parted ways laughing and thanking each other for a great week, and looking forward to next year.

I took so many pictures during that WFR class, but none of Tom specifically. I found this one of him watching the “litter packaging race”. I’m so frustrated and annoyed with myself that I don’t have any proper pictures of Tom, out of all those frames I took.

RIP Tom Clausing, WEMT-P

I had assumed that I would be working with, and learning from Tom Clausing for years to come. It is so shocking to realize that I will not see him again. I will miss him a lot, especially so every February, during WFR class.

Here is an online guest book that you can leave your condolences in, and another article about the accident is here. An article that talks more about Tom than the crash can be found here, at the Wenatchee World.

Post Script:

After doing some more online research, I found that the flight nurse who had initially survived in critical condition, died on Friday after being removed from life support. He was 36, with a wife and three children.

More late blog entires…

Way back on the 21st of June, Columbia River Kayaking held a surf class at Cannon Beach, OR. We had a great time playing in the waves, capsizing and rescuing ourselves and each other and getting our sinuses well filled with salt water. I’ll leave out most of the words this time and just put some pictures up for you to enjoy.

Haystack Rock

getting out


pushing out from the beach

waves and rock


Busy, busy, busy!

I keep meaning to write this post before it gets too stale, and I keep being too busy to get to it. But today, I seem to have found myself with a little bit of slack time.

getting ready to tow

Last week, we ran two leadership scenario days for our guides at Columbia River Kayaking. The task was given to two or three guides to plan and lead a kayaking day trip. We invite along an assortment of paddlers, and then as the day progresses, Ginni and I come up with scenarios of different kinds for the paddlers to put into play and for the guides to respond to. These can range from wandering away from the group, unzipping PFDs, capsizing or needing to be towed.

The first day was with Josh, Katie and James as the leaders, the second day was a harder day, with Matthew and Levi leading. They have a year or two of experience over the other guides so we gave them some harder tasks to deal with.

The first day we ran through an assortment of capsize drills, including this one out in the middle of the river. My job as the “client” was to get unstable, capsize and then be too seasick to stay in my kayak, requiring a long tow to sheltered water. Here’s Josh, emptying the water out of my kayak with a T-rescue.

kayak T-rescue

The next leadership day was set up to be a little longer and harder. The night before, we loosened some of the hardware on the guides’ kayaks: the skeg control and a deck line fitting on Levi’s, and a foot peg track and seat back strap on Matthew’s. If this sounds underhanded (it sure seemed that way to Matthew!), I should point out that we created no scenario for our guides that has not already happened in real life at some point. Hardware does fail!

I also set up my kayak with a bunch of loose, float-able gear in my front hatch. More later!

We set out downriver to Brookfield with our little group, and spent the morning spreading out, not listening to our guides, unzipping our PFDs and generally making pests of ourselves. At one point, I capsized, let my kayak, paddle and PFD float away and when one of the other “clients” came over to help, I capsized him as well. Things were starting to get interesting!

At lunch, we debriefed some of the issues from the morning, and then Ginni pulled out an exercise I had not seen before. “OK guys, your paddle is starting to get hypothermic and has a minor head laceration. Pull out your kit and deal with it.” As guides, we need to be able to deal with almost any contingency that might come up on the water, and hypothermia is certainly common enough, as are minor injuries. This is a great exercise for seeing right away how well equipped the guide’s kit is. Here’s Levi’s paddle, dressed in warm clothes, with a thermos of hot tea, and a bandaid on the head injury. Nicely done!

Levi's paddle, dressed warmly

After lunch, the plan was to cross the river just upstream from Jim Crow Point. At this point in the day, the wind and tide had combined to create some very choppy and confused water near the point. I set out with my front hatch cover loose, got ahead of the group and promptly capsized in the rough water. I pulled all the loose gear out of the hatch and spread it around and flooded the front compartment before anyone caught up to me. Now things were really exciting! My kayak was half sunken, with gear floating everywhere in the rough water. Another paddler had taken off straight across the river, and when Levi went to deal with that, he found that his skeg control didn’t work. Whoops!

Rescuing a needled kayak

Rescuing a needled kayak

Matthew took on the task of rescuing me, which takes more time and effort when one hatch has been flooded. Levi gathered everyone up again and retreated back behind the point, while Matthew towed me and my partially flooded boat back to safety.

Plans were changed now and we headed back upriver to look for a better place to cross, as the wind, which was supposed to be light, instead continued to build, setting up wind waves and whitecaps over the whole river.

kayak portage train

We ended up landing on Fitzpatrick Island for a rest and regroup session. There were still two miles to go to get back to Skamokawa, and some people were tired and others were not comfortable in the waves. We ended up portaging across the island to launch on a more hospitable beach. In the middle of the portage, Matthew suddenly stopped and set his boat down for a closer look. It seems that his foot peg track had fallen out! That certainly could have happened in a worse place…

Something is wrong with Matthew's kayak

We finally reached Skamokawa, remarkably close to the time that our guides had been aiming for, but not before a few more bothersome “scenarios” popped up.

I love doing these leadership scenario training days. Of course, I have a lot of fun capsizing and causing trouble for the guides, but I also get a lot out of watching how things develop and learning different ways of dealing with trouble. Thanks to the guides for enduring it and thanks especially to the folks who came along as “clients”. We couldn’t have done it without you!

replica qajaq at SSTIKS

I have been attending the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium since 2005. I was introduced to the Greenland paddle at the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium in Port Townsend, WA in September of 2004, and when I got home from there, I went online and found plans for making one. It’s been a downhill slide into Greenland style kayaking ever since.

Rolling demonstration with Juniper

That first paddle I made lasted about a year, until I learned to roll and broke it while working the bugs out of my reverse sweep roll. I’ve made four paddles since then, and have three more partly finished ones hanging around the shop. I’ve built two skin-on-frame kayaks, one a replica from drawings in Harvey Golden’s fantastic book.

a few of Harvey Golden's qajaqs

But the highlight of the year for Greenland kayaking fun is SSTIKS, held every June at Twanoh State Park on the Hood Canal near Belfair, WA. About 100 people plus organizers and instructors gather together for a weekend of classes, racing, rolling demonstrations, harpoon throwing, kids kayaking games, evening presentations and food.

Mckinley's hand roll

I have been helping with the kid’s program for the last two years, and this year I was in charge of the kid’s program for the first time. This year was the biggest kids group ever; at one point, we had 14 kids on the water at once, from 5 year olds all the way up to teenagers. The kid’s program ends with a bang on Sunday, with the kids dividing into teams and building improvised craft from a pile of materials we set them up with, then racing their creations out around a buoy and back again. Next year, we are thinking about doing a race like this with the grownups too, since the grownups are often envious of how much fun the kids are having…

I took a lot of pictures at SSTIKS, and you can see more of them at my Flickr pages here.

Kids' Games at SSTIKS 2008

Today was the first Columbia River Kayaking Immersion class of the 2008 season. We got a full roster of 6 students and I spent the day working with Ginni learning how to teach this class. We had a great group of people from around the Northwest, all beginners or nearly so. It is so exciting as an instructor to watch people improve over the course of the day!

Immersion is a day long introduction to the basics of sea kayaking, including basic navigation, trip planning, wet exits and deepwater rescue basics. if you are thinking of getting into sea kayaking, or getting back into sea kayaking after years of absence, you can’t go wrong taking a thorough introductory class like this one.

Here’s a few pictures to enjoy, many thanks to Pentax, for making this awesome waterproof camera.

Getting ready to kayak. It’s important to have a good fit to the kayak!

getting ready

There are dry ways to get in a kayak from a dock, and then there are wet ways…

getting in

Rafted up.


Paddlers practicing handling each others’ boats.

two paddlers

Rescued! Here’s Ginni, demonstrating rescue techniques with me as the water dummy.


Sunday was the third annual OOPTIKS symposium, and this year it was held in my backyard, at Skamokawa Vista Park. OOPTIKS is sort of a cross between SSTIKS, the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayaking Symposium and OOPS, the Oregon Ocean Paddling Society, a Portland area kayaking club. OOPTIKS was started three years ago, as a way to get the instructors from SSTIKS together with the folks in OOPS who were interested in learning more about Greenland style paddling.

There were about 35 attendees and about 15 instructors this year, and the weather, which has persisted in being kind of cold and cloudy and rainy lately, broke open into a beautiful sunny day for this event. In the morning, there were a variety of strokes classes and then at lunch there was a short harpoon throwing demo. After lunch, things split up into games, more strokes classes, and a very heavy contingent of people wanting to learn Greenland style rolling techniques.

As usual, I had a hard time getting good pictures in the bright light, and then loading them to Flickr, where most of my pix are hosted, seems to bleach them out even more, but here’s a few of them anyway. Enjoy!

Don at OOPTIKS 08

someone's Romany

ship and kayaks

Henry throwing the harpoon-OOPTIKS 08

Henry throwing the harpoon-OOPTIKS 08

Henry throwing the harpoon-OOPTIKS 08


end of the day-OOPTIKS 08

For the last nine days, I have been knee deep in my almost-annual emergency wilderness medicine education. The Wilderness First Responder certification is something that is required of us kayak guides, and is a good idea for anyone who spends much time outside the bounds of civilization and beyond the timely reach of the 911 system. We have been sponsoring this course for four years now at Skamokawa Center, with curriculum and instructors provided by Wilderness Medical Associates.

Topics range from basic CPR to anaphylaxis, snakebites, altitude illnesses, major trauma, patient assessment systems, improvised litter carries, hypothermia, extended patient care in wilderness settings and much more. Time is divided between classroom work and lectures, drills complete with moulage and acted out problems, to several full-blown simulations that are set up nearby in an appropriate outdoor location. The simulations are designed to be as realistic as possible and the acting and stage makeup is enough to get everyone’s adrenaline pumping, and to test the limits of our “cool”.

After about eighty hours of this, everyone graduated successfully, which doesn’t always happen. I’d be willing to bet that most of my fellow students are still recuperating; I know I am. I took a lot of pictures, although I didn’t get very many good ones of the big simulations, as I was either a “patient” or a rescuer.

Here is Amy, Josh and Katie, sporting some fancy head lacerations, on day one:

head lacerations

Practicing litter carries:

litter carry

Heading out to the second simulation in Skamokawa Vista Park:


After our successful graduation, everyone headed over to Levi and Becca’s house for the best meal of the week, prepared by Becca and Jarrod, and from there a few of us headed over to the nearby Oasis Tavern for more beer and a few games of pool. Here’s Josh at the O:

Josh at the Oasis Tavern

This course will be held every February/March here in Skamokawa. If this looks like fun to you (it is!), please contact me for more information.

Next up: another day kayaking on the Columbia River.