WMCKA Sea Kayak Symposium 2008-My Home is The Sea

WMCKA Sea Kayak Symposium 2008 My Home is the Sea

Every year I attend the WMCKA Sea Kayaking Symposium it takes me a few days to absorb the impact of what it means to me. It is easy to say this happened and that happened. It is also easy to say this is the one thing that it meant, to go for the grand recit. What is infinitely harder is to say what it meant in smaller terms that make up the big picture. For my part WMCKA means a lot to me, as it is a culmination of planning efforts and coordination with the Symposium Committee, the WMCKA governing board, and a governing of my own desires for a great symposium.

I’d been trying to get Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme to come to our symposium since about 2005. Finally this year it worked out for both parties. This alone made me very happy in my heart. We decided to plan an instructor update prior to Symposium. This event was very well attended by our instructor group.

Shawna and Leon suited up and got us all out on the water asking us to paddle across Duck Lake and turning upwind. Their approach was to allow us to find our own way. They asked us to find five ways to turn upwind and simply let us paddle. We all came back with about seven ways to paddle upwind. The objective here it seems was to give us an objective, and allow us to interact with our environment, and then come up with our own conclusions. Based on the level of skill and experience each person has, they will come up with a variety of ways to deal with the environment. Only after we had tried a few things did Shawna and Leon call us in to have us give our ideas about what worked and what didn’t. Then after we had told them what we thought, they finally gave us their input. It was a really interesting way to teach a class. They barely spoke and allowed all of us to teach ourselves, each other, and finally when all that was done they gave us some pointers.

Derrick and a lot of the instructors were very juiced up about the bracing and rolling progression Shawna and Leon were sharing. This progression starts in a low brace, then high brace, and finally rolling. It focuses on starting the paddler on their back. Shawna and Leon have been using it with a high success rate in Washington. I would love to see a video of this progression a couple more times.

One of the more interesting points of the instruction for me was a paddle power demonstration. Shawna and Leon had us pair up with another paddler and link in tail to tail with another paddler on a contact tow. One paddler would use a euro paddle, the other would use a wing paddle or a euro paddle. The objective was to see who would tow who with the different paddle. I was paired off with Alec Boyd Peshkin who is my size and of equal power and skill. We started out with my carbon fiber greenland paddle and his werner shuna. Invariably the euro paddle would quickly overpower the Greenland paddle. We switched back and forth with the same results. We then used an epic wing and the Greenland paddle. It was dead even on these two paddles, I was surprised by this. We then switched to the wing and the euro. Again the euro paddle started dragging the paddler with the wing around.

I’ve held a not very scientific or empirical bias that the Euro and the Greenland style paddle were pretty much the same under these conditions. But after this I am not convinced. Doug Van Doren and Steve Bailey experienced the same results. Though Steve Bailey is a very powerful paddler and much bigger than Doug. Food for thought!!

A few of us headed out to Lake Michigan to paddle in the wind and waves afterwards. My inguinal hernia let me know pretty quickly that it was too soon for this type of exertion. I was left in the dust within a few minutes. I managed to take a few pictures regardless.

This was the point of the weekend where my mental state went in the drink. As a person I am competitive, gregarious, and outgoing. I found it very hard to be the slowest man on the water. It was a knife like jab in my belly to be unable to lead the pack when there was wind and waves to be had. My greatest joy in life is to be flying down wave with the wind at my back. To watch others easily out pace me felt like a clumsy root canal from a sadistic dentist with no anesthetic. I find I am a very poor spectator.

Once on sight at the Symposium in my spectator status I observed that the energy and enthusiasm Shawna and Leon exerted was as palpable as the pollen in the air. They were the first to be suited up to paddle and often the very last off the water. They were omnipresent and engaged in a way I have not seen any other instructors behave. You could tell that they loved being on the water, loved kayaking. And this enthusiasm melted over to the instructors, and the participants.

They also participated in the rodeo, and I saw kindred spirits, (I love a rodeo) in their competitive fun loving nature in the races, rolling contest, and passion to be involved, in the thick of things. Leon may have been channeling my wounded spirit when he and two other racers tackled one another into the shallows. What more could one ask for besides a rugby style tackle in a drysuit?

My grand recit for the weekend was observing Shawna and Leon as a couple. They spent every moment happily in each other’s company. I can say with some authority that this is very rare. You rarely saw one without the other. This sort of affection and dedication was so genuine one could hardly not feel it’s contagious gravity. I found myself more calm, more open towards friends, Laura, and the symposium in general. It seems to be the sort of bond you only read about in books, or see in movies. And perhaps this is not unlike kayaking, where you only get out of it what you put into it. And if this is any indication, the relationship and their kayaking seemed to have an effortless grace. Meaning there has probably been a lot of hard work on both ends.

Their slide show presentation on the Queen Charlotte Islands or Haida Gwai was fantastic. This expedition took place on the inside and outside of this island group. The outside is right on the edge of the continental shelf. The unbroken Pacific Ocean has no barrier between swell generation and the islands. So the full force of the world’s largest ocean breaks on these islands. Justine Curgenven went with Shawna and Leon and filmed the trip, so look for it in the next installment of This is the Sea.

One of Leon’s opening statements about the trip has been firmly cemented in my mind.
“You will never have enough money, you will never have enough vacation time, you just have to go.” Too bad that is too big to get as a tattoo.

I actually had many many participants and beginner paddlers come up and tell me how great the presentation was. That was a first. It is further proof that the energy you give to something is very real and palpable.

I hope to be able to find someone, or somebody as dedicated, enthusiastic and as skilled as Shawna and Leon for next year. I know there are some folks I would like to ask to visit us on Big Blue Lake. Some small part wonders if this may have been the proverbial summit of our little symposium.

I will leave you with a song by Will Oldham (aka Bonnie Prince Billy) that probably explains the energy we all feel about kayaking, instruction, and a life full of adventure, either small or big.

My Home Is the Sea-Bonnie Prince Billy Lyrics

I have often said
that I would like to be dead
in shark’s mouth

a woman swimming under
her warm breath sendin’ a thunder
on two parts south

and love is stripped and frayed
and duty is delayed
until next life

someone has my mind
holding yes so kind
it is my wife

and my home is the sea
my home is the sea
look not for me

my home is the sea
disaster flies upon me
and i sleep
we can see the house lights
colored from a distance
for a party as a dream

my tongue will into me
my arms unfold these seeds
cause im a strong man

and do not love my tummy
is round and firm and funny
and thats what i am

my home is the sea
my home is the sea

i am under your spell
you will have me i reckon
and the drowning this town
as a drowning i welcome

i know nothing and im over joyed
i know nothing and im over joyed
i know nothing and im over joyed

god gave you life and thought
now its ours to waste
i have the finest love
and the finest taste

see her when im home
i am home

you are home


  1. What a great post! And a great tune-up for the 2009 instructor tune-up. I am amped!

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