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High Energy Blues Boats

Posted Jun 04 2005 12:00am
Well maybe it is just the time of year, Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who I am, But life is for learning – joni Mitchell

I spent some time this morning browsing around some other kayak blogs and came across a French blog called “Kayak” however, I’ve not found anything related to kayaking yet. I did however find a very interesting post called “Je Te deteste Andy Warhol”, or “I hate you Andy Warhol”. I ran it through Babel Fish (not the fish in the ear, but the AltaVista service) and was amazed by even the hackneyed translation of the poem or free verse that ended with “You made the world illegible”. Great observation! That blog is at

So I wanted to tell you a bit about the West Michigan symposium. The short version is that it was a really fun time. Given that at this moment I can only compare it to a BCU symposium it’s hard to find a common frame of reference other than in both events there was camping, instructors, and students. There was even the classic monstrous bonfire. However in Michigan it was harder to drag the adults out to join us at the fires edge. For the few of us who made the fire we were entertained by the great special effects log and regaled with stories of people we neither knew or cared about. The beauty of the story after all is in the telling. Hanging out with teenagers around a fire is almost always a reminder that life is good. That is, if you haven’t forgotten how to smile.

Off the water the symposium is a hybrid mix of summer camp and peace rally. The people are warm and friendly, children run and play in amongst adult feet and long boats. Students and instructors by design are mixed and mingled at every point in such a way that as an instructor you spend almost every minute away from your tent talking to students about some aspect of the sport. Even at my tent I found myself drawn up from my book (I’m still working my way through Chris Duff’s “Southern Exposure”) to answer questions about drysuits and wing paddles. As an attendee it’s got to be great to have this kind of access instead of just walking eyes down past some “God-like” instructor in wetsuit and Raybans choking at the thought of asking a question. The WMCKA had done a fantastic job of slaying the ‘Kayak God’ and replacing him with the benevolent teacher.

I could certainly tell you about all the classes but for the most part we know what a symposium is for. We spent most of the weekend on the water teaching and learning everything from wet-exits to advance rescues. There were many children’s classes as well which often became various versions of my favorite game, “Kill the instructor”. That’s always a good time! But the key of this symposium is more than just great instructors and classes, it’s really the atmosphere off the water which becomes the conduit by which students brought into a learning state of mind. Knowing as a student you can ask questions, knowing your kids are having fun and they are near, hearing laughter all around you, feeling safe on the water and cared about off, having warm meals and clean facilities all allow you as a student to relax and focus on learning. The WMCKA has addressed this very well. We can only hope that the camp on Big Blue Lake can be protected from developers who are now playing their consistent roll of wolves at the door and planning to put up condos.

Justine’s presentation was fun and interesting as you would expect. Knowing the material she was planning to cover and watching the way the clock was spinning against her all evening, I was impressed that she could speak as quickly as she did and still not give the feeling of being rushed. Luckily so many of us kayaker types have spent many hours listening to British accents either through symposiums or videos that most are capable of following along with ease. I think one out of 5 or so Sea Kayakers is a closet Anglophile as it is.

Sunday night was the infamous dance. I say infamous because of the stories I heard around the fire the night before. But it was a great time. Betsie Bay (yes, that’s correct “We build kayaks and play in a band”) played fantastic high energy blues while we drank boxed wine and various other libations that seemed to show up in doorways or be placed in your hands by random folks passing by. All the crazy instructors spent most of the night on the dance floor while unnervingly shadowed by a surprising number of cameras both still and video. I’m sure something of that is going to come back and haunt me. . . .

Monday morning as I slowly entered consciousness I lyed perfectly still waiting to see how hung over I actually was. It wasn’t the wine or even the Scotch that I was worried about, it was the Budweiser in the middle that had me scared. Given that I get a hangover from 2 beers I expected a whopper. Yet amazingly I was in pretty good shape. In reality we did not drink in quantity but if like me you rarely drink, a drop is like the sea.

The last day is always a mixed bag. I had one more class to teach with an instructor who went with us on the Manitou trip and this seemed to be the perfect wrap up to the event. Soon all the students were heading home and the instructors and staff were gathering for our final meeting all suntanned and tired. I sat at my table and looked across all the faces of the people I had met while thinking about smiles and stories attached to each face. Some folks were still “in mode” both chatty and chipper while others were happily zapped and lost in their own quiet musings. I was thinking to myself I really want to come back here. And for a moment my self-doubt mind jumped in with stuff like “I hope I did everything ok. I hope I represented Rutabaga in good fashion, blah, blah, ” Then I relaxed and thought about just missing all these new friends. It would have been a sad drive back if not for the fact that I knew Mary and Gryphon were meeting me at the Harbor.

Time flew and I realized I had to get on the road. I looked back to the table behind me where good friends were sitting just a moment earlier to say my goodbyes but they were gone. Goodbyes are tough anyway. In the end it’s better to just say “See you again Soon”. Soon as you know, is always a relative term. . .


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