- Guest Journal by Alex Pak
This past weekend, I had the privilege to attend the Qajaq Training Camp held at Camp Lookout on Lower Herring Lake near Frankfort, MI. To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the whole weekend leading up to it. On one hand, I loved Greenland style paddling and was looking forward to meeting fellow rollaholics (especially Cheri) but on the other hand, I still considered myself a whitewater kayaker and was a bit afraid of drinking the Greenland Kool-Aid so to speak. With that in mind, Ross Mueller, Chuck Sivret, and I hopped on the midnight ferry from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI to begin our Greenlandic adventure…
Shaking off the cobwebs of only a couple hours of restless sleep on the ferry, we landed in Ludington around 5:30 am EST and immediately headed over towards Frankfort. We drove for a little over an hour before reaching Frankfort where we had a nice breakfast at a small restaurant while commenting on how sleepy the town was (no cars around at 7:30 in the morning!) After breakfast, we parked our car at Camp Lookout and dragged all our gear onto the docks to await the pontoon boat that was to arrive in 5 hours. We met up with Dick from Milwaukee and did a quick paddle around the lake at which point we stopped by the training camp dock and said hi to Dave Braun who was primarily responsible for putting this event together. Afterwards we paddled back to our dock by the cars and did some rolls. I tried out Dick’s Romany that quickly topped the list as the easiest rolling production kayak I had ever paddled. It was marvelous how smoothly it transitioned throughout the roll. We saw the training camp instructors at a distance playing around in their skin on frame kayaks and it looked like they were having lots of fun. That was probably one of the few times many of the instructors were in their qajaqs as many of them admirably dedicated themselves to standing in waist deep water all weekend working with various people.
After a quick lunch of sandwiches, beef sticks, and cheese whips courtesy of Chuck’s wonderful wife Robin, we loaded our gear on the pontoon boat and paddled over to the camp. We were each assigned a cabin (or tent space) and given a contact person who would be a resource to us throughout the weekend. My "cabin" was a funny bio-dome like structure. Kurt from Midwest Kayaks was in our cabin so Ross accurately and humorously referred to him as "Kurt in theYurt." As no formal activities had been planned for the day, we all got into our kayaks and went out on the water to play. I had the good luck of tagging along with Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson; both whom had just returned from competing in the Greenland National Kayaking Championship. They asked me what I was looking to work on and I told them I wanted to learn a forward finishing roll. They immediately had me practicing a chest scull and taught me the proper way to finish rolling a kayak when doing a reverse sweep roll. The body motion involved in forward finishing was different from the layback variety and it felt like I was learning to roll for the very first time. After some practice, it started feeling smoother and smoother and my confidence grew. I had come into this weekend hoping to learn a solid forward finishing roll as well as meet Cheri and I had accomplished both in the first half hour of water time even before the camp had actually begun! I then watched Cheri and Turner work on a kayak dressage routine that involved repeatedly rolling the other person’s kayak on top of each other so that the two kayaks were rolling each other up while locked together. I watched with great amusement and commented that it looked like seals mating. Apparently, I was not the only one with my mind in the gutter as I later heard this maneuver affectionately referred to as ‘kayak humping.’ After a great evening of working on new skills, I headed up for dinner. I cannot say enough about the food served by Michael Gray and company. They were all so friendly and the food was delicious. I am amazed that I did not gain 20 pounds from this weekend. The food alone was worth the price of admission. At dinner, we had a chance to meet all the instructors and then we headed over to the dock to watch Cheri Perry, Dubside, Turner Wilson, and Freya Hoffmeister give a rolling demo that was simply amazing. I finally got to see the straitjacket roll in action! After that, we headed over to the powder soft sand beach on Lake Michigan for a bonfire before bedtime.
Whoo boy this was the key day of the weekend. The instructors all had specific things they were teaching and our contact person made sure we were working with the right person for what we were looking to learn. For example, Greg Stamer was teaching the Greenland paddle stroke, Cheri was working on beginning rolling, and Dennis Asmussen taught forward finishing rolls. Although they each had things they specialized at, they were all available to teach most techniques to a wide range of skill levels. As soon as the morning began, I made a beeline to Cheri to grab her ultra low volume skin on frame qajaq as well as a tuiliq. After wedging myself into the qajaq, I went out on the water to try some rolls. I was literally shocked at how easy everything became. I easily hit rolls that I had previously never hit in a sea kayak. Everything from spine rolls to elbow rolls seemed easy! I then started working on the straitjacket roll with Cheri providing tips. She told me to ease into it by rolling with limp arms (like a rag doll) and then with elbows sticking out a little. I managed to do those fairly well but I am still a ways off from actually being able to straitjacket roll. I then went off with Dan Segal who really worked with me to slow down and work on my form. He had me doing multiple hand rolls and elbow rolls that I had to do increasingly slower with each repetition. Whew! After that, we began working on the forward finishing rolls. I worked on reverse sweeps, storm rolls, and forward finishing throwing stick rolls. Dan really is a gifted teacher and I was grateful for all the time that he spent with me. After Dan, I worked with Turner on the forward finishing rolls even more and managed to start hitting some forward finishing throwing stick rolls as well as standard grip storm rolls. Still not completely exhausted, I went over to Dubside and started working on the straitjacket rolls some more. For those of you who do not know, Dubside uses a modified 25" wide Feathercraft Kahuna for his rolling kayak. It is literally a big barge. I traded kayaks with Dubside and after being in Cheri’s ultra low volume kayak, I felt like I was drowning in it! I tried a few rolls and was amazed at the kayak. It rolled like a whitewater kayak in that it required an incredible amount of force to start the roll but then it simply flopped upright. I managed to hand roll it a few times, but when I attempted an elbow roll, the kayak barely budged and it simply laughed at me. I have great admiration for Dubside now and I cannot believe that he can straitjacket roll that kayak. I do understand how both kayaks could be effective rollers. Cheri’s required no force to start the rotation but required force to finish the roll. However, Dubside’s was the opposite in that it required tremendous force to start the rotation but required very little force to finish the roll.
We then took some time off for lunch which was amazing once again.
In the afternoon, muscles still sore from the morning, I got into Cheri’s Impex Outer Island. I was amazed at what I could do in that kayak and I found that it was the first production kayak that I was ever able to elbow roll. I am extremely impressed with it and hope to add it to my fleet at some point down the line. I had been eyeing Freya’s folding kayak for some time and when she asked if anyone else wanted to try it out, I was there in a heartbeat. Freya is a German former gymnast who only learned to roll 9 months ago. Now she can perform all of the Greenland rolls with the exception of the straitjacket roll and the forward sculling rolls. She is truly a phenom and demonstrated her gymnastics background by doing headstands in her tippy little kayak. Freya’s kayak was by far the most comfortable of the ultra low volume kayaks that I had been in and it seemed to me the easiest kayak for layback rolls. With that said, after a few elbow rolls and hand rolls, Freya had me working on contorted forward finishing rolls. The whole time she was constantly urging me to keep my head to the foredeck despite my protestations that I was not that flexible. Nevertheless, I learned the behind the head forward finishing roll as well as the behind the back forward finishing roll which has to be the most contorted and painful of all rolls. It did feel great when Freya shouted to Greg and Cheri (two world champions) that I was a good student! It was becoming sort of a running gag at camp in that people would approach me and ask me how many new rolls I had learned that day. (I think I ended up with a dozen or so new rolls/techniques by the end of the weekend.)
The evening was filled up with dinner, a ropes demonstration by Dubside (simply amazing), as well as a slideshow presentation by Cheri and Turner on their trip to Greenland. I tried some rope maneuvers and it was incredible how painful and difficult it was. We also had a raffle drawing in which I won a really nice norsaq (throwing stick) carved by Peter from Florida and Chuck won the grand prize which was a beautiful paddle carved by Kurt of Midwest Kayaks. It was a good day for us! We then hit the beach for some star gazing before calling it a night.
I woke up and had another great breakfast that I then followed up by working on the ropes with Dubside. My legs still have bruises on them from the experience. I followed this up by working with some people in the water. I enjoy teaching but this also gave me a chance to rest my bruised legs! I then got in Cheri’s stich and glue rolling kayak that was as easy to roll as her other boats due to its low volume and its extremely low rear coaming! I managed to nail the cross arm forward recovery roll that I had been working with Freya on the day before. It seemed to be the perfect ending to a perfect weekend. Except… a strong wind had blown the previous night and swept away some of my gear which was left on the dock. Fortunately my PFD was grabbed before it got too far. I lost the nylon skirt that Paul from Racine loaned me which was a bummer. I nearly had a heart attack because my NRS drytop had also floated away. I immediately hopped into my kayak and with Ross’ help, I began a desperate search along the coastline. Luck was with me this weekend as right at the dock where our cars were parked, some kind soul had found my drytop and hung it on a fence. It was just that kind of weekend. With gear intact, I paddled back to the camp to say my goodbyes.
I talked to Cheri about her rolling SOF and I am currently inquiring as to the possibility of purchasing a replica of her qajaq (which in turn is a replica of Maligiaq’s qajaq). I also need to get my hands on a tuiliq as well. That’s why my Betsie Bay is now for sale so that I can fund my newfound Greenland kayaking addiction. Don’s worry, I didn’t drink all of the Kool-Aid. I have plans to run whitewater in my tuiliq (yes pictures will be taken) and I want to learn to someday carwheel my playboat using my Greenland paddle! Do I recommend this event? YES! It was such a wonderful experience and my sincere thanks to all those who put so much effort into making this the best weekend of the year for me. Bring on Training Camp ‘06!
- Thank you for the report Alex!
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