I did not have to search for too much excuses to go to Florida for 'winter' paddling. Jean Totz and Russel Farrow from Sweetwater Kayaks from St. Petersburg, Florida annually host a BCU skills week followed by their Florida Gulf Coast sea kayak symposium.
Sea kayak coaches from all over the USA and from the UK made sure that all attendants returned home with having learned new skills. And for me reinforcing the awareness that there is always still more to learn in the sport as I got introduced to Greenland paddling.
Saturday 21 February 2004 (Enclote Key)
Russel Farrow thought it would be a great idea to host a Nigel Foster Boat owner's day. Sweetwater kayaks sell the whole range of Nigel Foster high performance sea kayaks (among all the other major brands). And what would be a better 'boat owner's day' when Nigel himself is attending. Lined-up on the beach in Howard Country Park are a Vyneck, three Legends, one Shadow, two Silhouettes and one Rumour together with their paddlers. The only one missing today is the Echo. Russel has lend me a Legend. I have only been once before in a Legend. It is a very fast sea kayak and very responsive when put on the edge. Only the Vyneck has a hard time. Being the fastest expedition sea kayak, it's paddler, and trip leader, Alain has to hold back considerably not to let the group spread out to much. We have a break on the western shore of Enclote key. The forest hides a perfectly preserved skeleton of a turtle. We try a little surfing before we continue our trip along the eastern shore with it's mangroves. Kristen demonstrates standing up on the back deck of the Vyneck; standing 'in' ones kayak is apparently not challenging enough! We all had a very nice trip and Russel wants to make this Nigel Foster Boat Owner's day an annual event. Russel let me have his Legend for the rest of the week and the Symposium and I now can say that the Legend sea kayak is among my favorites. For a time the Nigel Foster kayaks where made in the Netherlands. And there are still quite a few of those around over here.
Nigel Foster designed a complete range of performance sea kayaks that are now made in Canada by Seaward. Currently he is involved in the design of sea kayak clothing and equipment by ExtraSport. Information on all this and more can be found on: www.nigelfosterdesigns.com.
Sunday 22 February (Egmond Key)
Today I join a trip to Egmond Key. This small sand island lies across from Fort de Soto Park. In this park the symposium will be held next weekend. The sun is burning through my shirt and I have to use sunscreen under it. We have to cross a shipping lane, but on our way to the island we do not encounter any shipping. Before landing we can play in the surf around the northeast corner. The tidal current sweeps past this point and creates a small tide-rip feature. We walk around the island and look at the remnants of the old fortifications build to repel the Spanish in the distant past. The island is home to a turtle species. A park ranger stops by in his 4-wheeler. This turtle is a protected species. Not so because the turtle itself is endangered, but the other animals that co-exist in the burrows of these turtles need protection. The ranger tells about that ever so often visitors to the island take these turtles 'back' to the water. But this is not a sea turtle and they do not swim. When a big container ship passes by some of us rush to our kayaks to wait for the big swell and surf. After the surf has subsided we head out back to the mainland. After we crossed the shipping channel another cargo ship passes by. It's big wakes invite us to surf them. Only they run a little fast. After having to brace after a broach in a breaking wave I manage to get some fast surfs. Another nice day on the water with temperatures as high as they ever can get in my home country the Netherlands.
Monday 23 through Thursday 26 February
During the BCU week I attend a 3-star training, a level-2 coach assessment and a level-2 coach training. Other courses include a 4-star training and assessment, a 3-star assessment, a level-3 coach training, a coaching processes course and an assessor training day.
Friday 27 February
Come Friday and the Florida Gulf Coast sea kayak symposium starts. All activities are colour coded on a schedule with the accompanying coloured flags on the beach. All activities have a number of coaches present and therefore the 'student to coach ratio' is almost never bigger than four to one. In the evening there is a lecture by Justine Curgenven about her Kamchatka expedition with Hadas Feldman. The expedition was filmed by her for National Geographic channel and will be aired later this year.
Saturday 28 February
The day starts with a warm-up for all attendants. The coaches have come up with some weird and funny things to get the body and mind in the right mode for paddling. I join the Greenland paddling sessions by Greg Stamer. I was just recently drawn into Greenland paddling from the skills part of it. I already found out that one needs a Greenland paddle (GP) for most of the skills to work. But now I know that I have to relearn some skills from scratch. For instance, sculling for support, one of my favourites, needs a different approach. I learn how chest sculling should work, but it still costs me a lot of strength and I am not yet able to right myself again with it. The balance brace on the other hand is spreading like a computer virus. The un-feathered and very buoyant GP helps, but once the 'trick' is mastered anything goes. We even go to paddle in the surf for a while. My unfamiliarity with the GP makes me tired from trying to catch the waves. But after this whole day paddling with the GP, the paddle does not flutter anymore and the GP does not feel alien anymore. Greg shows the 'sculling under the hull' and I leave with some pointers for practicing this 'impossible' manoeuvre at home. Today reinforced my opinion that in the sport of sea kayaking one can never be the best. There are always new things to be learned from others and the sport thus has no ending. In the evening Shawna Franklin and Leon Sommé give a very lively account of their 2003 circumnavigation of Iceland. Intermixed, Nigel Foster explains how this was done 20 years earlier. The thing that all paddlers that circumnavigated Iceland (or attempted to) had in common was the rough conditions encountered on the south coast; the make or break of any attempt. A big difference was the change of paddling equipment used over all these years; most notably the clothing. Nigel's circumnavigation was still in the pre GoreTex and pre fleece days. Nigel explains that although something has been done before should not prevent anyone to go on their own expeditions. Any experience will be a unique one.
Sunday 29 February
Sunday turns out to be a very warm and sunny day. I start with a forward strokes session but find out that I have trouble with my own paddle. It keeps fluttering. Apparently after a day paddling Greenland style I have to relearn paddling Euro style. After half an hour the flutter has gone. The beach is lined with almost all sea kayaks that are available on the US market. Many take the opportunity to try out sea kayaks during the symposium. The lunches that are provided are massive. For me they could be breakfast, lunch and dinner all at the same time. I finally get my picture of one of the ravaging raccoons. A very active week comes to an end. Although the US is a big country I am sure I will meet other attendants again some time in the future. Sea kayak symposia are that big magnet that draws paddlers from all over.
- BCU North America (Information and Events)
- Cackle TV Productions (Kamchatka Expedition)
- Iceland Expedition (Shawna Franklin, Leon Sommé & Chris Duff)
- Nigel Foster Designs (Sea Kayaks, equipment and more)
- Qajaq USA (Greenland paddling)
- Sweetwater Kayaks (Jean Totz and Russel Farrow).
© A.M. Schoevers