Friday, September 26, 2014

Kiptopeke Kayak Symposium

I haven't done any kayak skills training in a long time and as a result not only haven't my skills advanced, they've actually deteriorated. In the wake of the the Maine trip misfire I decided to take steps to address this problem by signing up for the Kiptopeke Kayak Symposium, an event  focused on intermediate to advanced skills. I didn't try to draft anyone to go with me, knowing that I'd know some people there (at a minimum, I knew a few of the instructors). Once I signed up, though, it seemed like everyone I mentioned it to was also going. Susan G2, who was also a Maine trip dropout, had signed up and had chosen the same classes as I had for two of the three days. Pastor Pete (Peter H3) was going to be there to do ACA certification. Lorah, who I met on the Manhattan circumnav, was going to be there. Randi from WKC Meetup was going to be there. And so on, and so on.

I got out of work later than planned on Thursday and with rush hour traffic it took me five hours to get from Shady Grove to Kiptopeke State Park. By the time I got there (9 PM ish) not only had I missed the introductory shpiel, but almost all of my lodge-mates had turned in for the night. Fortunately one person (Alexis) was up and was able to tell me which room to go to (the bedrooms weren't numbered). I dropped my bag in my room and met Jason, my roommate, who had just gotten into bed for the night. I spent some time sitting in the living room and read for a bit to wind down from the stressed out buzzy energy of driving before tip-toeing into my bedroom and slipping into bed, doing my best to avoid disturbing Jason.

The next morning, as everyone woke up for breakfast, I discovered my other lodge-mates. Three instructors: Brian (no surprise there - I had recognized his car when I pulled in) and Jay (local experts) and San Diegan uber-paddler Jen Kleck. The lodge also housed six students: Alexis and Shana, two young women (a couple, I believe); Barbara and Erica, two friends from New Jersey; Jason and me. It's interesting to see everyone's breakfasts. A healthy bunch, for the most part, epitomized by Jason's daily breakfast of four small slices of multi-grain toast topped with hummos, bab gannoush and vegetables, with fresh berries on the side. Marginally less healthful, perhaps was Brian's oatmeal with peanut butter, washed down with a full  eight cup pot of coffee. I stuck with my camping breakfast of grits, trail mix and yogurt - leftover unused Maine supplies.

My class for the first day was "Life on the Edge", taught by Tom Noffsinger. Mostly stuff I've learned before, but a good refresher nonetheless. Tom had some interesting teaching techniques - kayaking blind-folded, for one! I capsized a couple of times while trying to aggressively edge the boat (this is a good thing - it means I was properly testing my limits). The good news is that I successfully rolled back up each and every time, even when we were in somewhat rough conditions, which was a good test of my roll.

Friday evening I went out for dinner with some of my housemates and Susan G2. We went out to a restaurant in the quaint nearby town of Cape Charles. I had salmon, but the most popular item at our table was fried spot - not someone's pet dog, but rather a local fish.

Saturday's class was Greenland techniques with Alison. This class was held on the bay side where we were in the shadow of a row of concrete ships which had been intentially scuttled there after World War II to create an artificial barrier to protect the harbor. The ship hulks provide a pretty striking backdrop. The bay side is ostensibly calm, but it was a pretty windy day and so we were getting blown around. In Alison's class we again covered strokes, bracing, edging, and such, but from a Greenland perspective. With the Greenland paddle you do things slightly differently - for example, extending the paddle out, and the path you want the paddle to make through the water as you stroke. I only capsized once in Alison's class - and was again able to roll back up. Since Alison was wearing a leaky drysuit (no neck gasket) she didn't want to demonstrate anything that involved putting her head underwater and so she asked me to demonstrate something called chest sculling. That's one of those techniques where you have the kayak up on it's side and are basically lying down in the water. At the end of the class we spent some time swapping and trying each other's paddles. It's amazing how different they all feel!

A picture I stole from a blog of the concrete ships*

Saturday night everyone gathered up at the main lodge where we were first treated to a slide show of kayaking in Baja. Spectacular scenery and good stories with a little bit of a marketing pitch from Rick Wiebush and Jen Kleck. Then we had the "low country boil". By any standards the meal was something less than a feast, but since I had to avoid the main course (a dish containing shrimp and pork sausage) I was left with mac & cheese and salad. Fortunately, I was expecting this and had eaten something at our lodge before heading over to the event.

Susan and I were both a little nervous about Sunday's surf class and were both kind of edging (no pun intended) towards dropping out under the guise of being too worn out for a third day of instruction. We both sat on the lodge porch after dinner hemming and hawing and clearly hoping that the other one would pull the trigger on dropping out, maybe even encouraging each other a little with talk of how tired we were - but neither of us dropped. Further, a Baltimore paddler named Carol, who had taken the Intro to Surf class the prior year, encouraged us to go for it - and so we did.

Sunday morning it was back to the ocean side for surf class with Ed and Ken. Ed runs a kayak shop in Virginia Beach. Ken was down from Rhode Island - complete with New England accent and that wise guy Northeastern sense of humor I miss so much. As an aside, another of the event attendees was Ted, a fireman from Staten Island. Ted was a quintessential New York character. How I miss that kind of personality in Virginia!

My nervousness about surfing had come from visions of being slammed by big breaking waves out on the water. But here's the truth about surfing: you do it really close to shore. In fact, for a good bit of the class we were in water shallow enough to stand in. Ed and Ken were standing in the water and we were paddling around them. When you capsized you couldn't roll back up because the water was too shallow - the biggest risk in a capsize was hitting your head on the bottom!

The surf conditions weren't great that day. I got a couple of good runs but hadn't quite mastered how to brace when the wave broached you at the end, and so I got knocked over by waves at the end of my runs quite a few times. Fortunately I chose to wear my wetsuit (as I had the previous days) and so kept warm despite being wet all day. Unfortunately, after an hour or two the waves started to die out and so we took a lunch break on the beach. By the time we finished the surfable waves near shore were all gone, though we could see a couple of other classes bobbing around in some serious waves far out from shore.

Back from surfing, still wearing my Great Gazoo helmet
The most exciting part of the day came when one of those advanced groups sudden;y came barreling to shore. We thought they were just coming in to take a break but then one of the leaders started yelling out to us to help. It turned out that one of their group had repeatedly capsized and was having trouble getting back into the boat in the heavy conditions. As she was climbing in, waves would break over the kayak, filling it with water. A swamped boat tends to be unstable and so she'd capsize again and the whole cycle would start over. Finally, they towed her in her swamped boat to shore. Fortunately, after a break she was OK. Oh, and the person in trouble turned out to be Carol, the same woman who had encouraged Susan and me not to skip the surf class.
Anyway, with no good surfing waves we decided to head back,the paddle back was fairly uneventful, though we did have some waves behind us as we crossed the bay and so got to practice technique a little.

I got into my car to begin the long drive home and immediately realized how bad I smelled. Not to go into too much detail, but we had spent the day in an environmentally protected area where urinating on land was prohibited, and a day's worth of peeing in the water leaves one smelling less than lovely. So, I stopped back at the bay side parking area at Kiptopeke Park, and made use of the shower in the public bathroom. Washed and with a nice cold Diet Coke from the vending machine in hand, I headed home (from Virginia to Virginia, via Maryland and DC), eager to find opportunities to try out my new skills.

*The photo is from

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11th Sky

A pretty evening on the Potomac. Somber undertones in memory of the September 11th attacks - flags at half mast across the lagoon at the Pentagon, Rosslyn towers draped with flags as well.