The 2014 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, the 30th anniversary of this event, is officially in the books and 157 participants, and coaches were greeted with extreme Upper Peninsula temperatures, bitterly cold Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by four outstanding days of sunshine! Ten different states, and two countries were represented this year with participants traveling near and far, coming to Grand Marais to enjoy the camaraderie of Midwest kayakers and the chance to explore the world class destination of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
2014 GLSKS RECAP
This summer Down Wind Sports hosted the 30th annual Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium- the oldest kayak symposium on the Great Lakes. Stan and Emma Chladek started the symposium in 1984 which was the event that started the organized phenomenon of Sea Kayak Symposiums. This years five day event was organized for sea kayakers to gather, paddle, learn, socialize and celebrate another year of paddling. The event, as it has since its inception, took place on the southern shore of Lake Superior in the beautiful beach town of Grand Marais Michigan.
On Wednesday the symposium kicked off with a day of paddlers registering and checking into the Community Center, a place where we call “home” for the weekend. The Grand Marais Community Center was transformed into a paddle sports market place with vendors setting up booths displaying the latest boats, kayaking gear, and clothing. It is also the area where trips and classes are signed for and many questions asked and answered. Throughout the day old and new friends rolled in from the road, some we haven’t seen in years!
Thursday’s are traditionally our day of tours and many participants were treated to a day of adventure, paddling various trips along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Grand Island National Recreation Area. These beautiful destinations are recognized as world class and “must see” trips for kayakers featuring majestic arches, caves and waterfalls to experience. Strong south winds did not effect the trips and all tours were able to get on the water and explore the park in depth. Several new trips were added this year including an exploration around AuTrain Island.
As usual, our starter course also took place Thursday on the warmer waters of Grand Sable Lake where participants learned the basics of sea kayaking from head coach Chris Delridge, getting a jump start for their classes during the weekend.
After a long day of paddling the evening’s entertainment was the Beers With Bill V Slide Show. Here’s how it worked; Participants were encouraged to submit slides which then were arranged to music. The show included many slides from years past giving folks an idea of how long this symposium has been developing great paddlers. It is also a great way to share the special places and adventures people have enjoyed throughout the year- The Great Lakes Brewery provided the libation with a keg of beer for those of age, and root beer for those who weren’t. The beach bonfire and marshmallow roasting was a big hit with the kids and for the first time in a long time a packed night harbor tour enjoyed calm seas and loads of stars!
On Friday the sun rose and, again provided the perfect weather as a backdrop for trips returning to the Lakeshore and kicking off our instructional courses.
We are very proud to say that we have some of the most talented coaches in the country that joined us, many of whom reside right here in the Midwest. Our featured coaches/presenters; Ben Lawry, Steve & Cindy Scheerer, Danny Mongno and Bryan Hansel, brought their talents from the Midwest, East and West coasts!
The noon time meal breaks not only offered a time to socialize with fellow participants and instructors but also provided a special Soup De Jour; a menu of Lunch Box Lectures. These micro seminars let students maximize learning time while getting a quick snack to refuel for the afternoon classes. The lectures included Knot Tying, GGP Trip Report- Grand Island, Kayaking Secrets for Intermediate Paddlers, Packing your Kayak for a Trip, and Repairs in the Field.
Once the afternoon classes concluded, at the Marina to watch a Coast Guard rescue demonstration. The Marquette Coast Guard Station was kind enough to motor over their 45 foot Response Boat with full crew to educated participants on the Coast Guard, rescue equipment,and to demonstrate how they would rescue an injured kayaker. “I was in the water for about 15 minutes, and was wearing a full drysuit with three layers underneath. By the end, I was shivering. A person, even properly dressed will not be able to function (i.e. swim) for very long in Lake Superior this year if they find themselves in trouble” .Big shout out to the guys from the Coast Guard and our “dummy kayaker” Ray Boucher for braving the cold water during the rescue.
After cleaning up and finishing dinner, participants headed on over to the Werner Paddles Wine and Cheese Party presented by Danny Mongno and featured a presentation by Bryan Hansel from the “other” Grand Marais! During the spring and early summer, Bryan Hansel kayaked from Port Huron, Michigan to Grand Marais, Minnesota. His journey took 45 days and covered 800 miles. On the trip, he traversed the two largest Great Lakes, averaged 22 miles a day, paddled in waves taller than a refrigerator, visited Isle Royale and even had pizza delivered to his tent. Bryan was an energetic and engaging speaker who brilliantly shared his amazing tale with his professional/beautiful digital images.
On Saturday the sunny skies remained but the waters of Lake Superior were back to their normal temperatures after an unusually warm two years. Participants did not let a bit of cold water stop them from getting after it in the rolling clinics, rescues, or wet exit classes. Why? Because once again Kokatat came through providing drysuits for participants to check out and demo during one of their classes. This unique opportunity was a chance not only to try a dry suit but also to enabled people to stay in the water longer. With more comfort from being in the water so long, students could really concentrate, staying comfortable and learning more!
Saturday also saw another session of boat demos. Many participants used this great opportunity provided by the symposium to test paddle the latest boats from all of the leading manufacturers. We are proud to say that this allowed some people to find the perfect boat for them, finishing up their time with a shiny new kayak and a smile from ear to ear. (and a free registration to next years event!)
Once again, Greenland-style paddler Doug VanDoren and son his Aiden preformed their outstanding rolling demonstration. If you have never seen Doug and Aiden “do their thing”, this is a must-see. Spectators learned a bunch and saw what is truly possible with dedication and practice. Yes my friends….you can take your bowling ball, and this year a lap top computer with you when you go kayaking (and even roll with it!)
The conclusion of Saturday’s on water activities was the much anticipated GLSKS Race. Once again this year we had a good turn out of as we paired coaches with participants who were racing for the coveted “GLSKS Paisly Vest”. The professionally designed course made racers circling good harbor, traveling through the Valley Of Insults, past the Tunnel of Death to the finish line at the demo beach. Racers were greeted by our Kids Track participants at the Tunnel of Death where they kindly cooled off the overheated racers. To say the kids were looking forward to this all weekend is an understatement!
All in all it was an exciting race with protests, disqualifications, doping scandals, and a photo finish. Doug and Sipke, pulled off the victory a will represent the paisley vest well! Congrats to both of these fine racers and we can’t wait to see your photos of the Paisley Vest and its travels this coming year! On a side note Sipke is the first two time winner of this race…….the man has some skills!
The evening festivities began at the Grand Marais High School with our annual Pasty dinner. This special and exclusive event to the symposium is a fund raiser for the senior class ( All of five students this year!), the proceeds going to the students for their senior trip. This year’s GLSKS dinner raised over $2550.00 in which the students will use to travel to Washington DC and to go white water rafting in West Virgina.
The after dinner entertainment was Danny Mongno’s Pub Quiz. Many of you know Danny as an exceptional paddler but his also is a skilled stand up comic and at this evenings Pub Quiz Danny was certainly “on”! Participants were treated to a brilliant monolog, kayaking trivia, and “hands on” competition with the winning team getting a 50% discount on next years symposium! It was a wonderful way to celebrate 30 years at the symposium- with laughter, good friends, and remembering all of the paddlers that have made this symposium so special.
SUNDAY early risers on headed to the beach where Pastor Doug Van Doren presided over the Blessing of the Boats. The BLESSING OF THE BOATS provides an opportunity for all kayakers to gather for a blessing for a safe paddling season, while at the same time providing an opportunity for camaraderie and friendship.
The instruction concluded at noon as many happy and smiling (albeit tired) paddlers packed up and started the long journeys home. We are still buzzing about the outcome of this year’s symposium and have many new ideas for an improved 2015 31st Anniversary edition of the GLSKS!
We would like to take a brief moment to thank our Symposiums main sponsors. These are the organizations and companies that keep us paddling, so a big thank you goes out to P&H Kayaks, Werner Paddles, NRS, Wilderness Systems and Kokatat! Kelly, Jeremy, Doug, Todd, Nick and I would also like to give a heartfelt thank to all of our participants and coaches who truly make this symposium the gem of the Great Lakes!
One last time we would like to thank Stan and Emma for having the foresight to organize this symposium and for all of their years of hard work educating paddlers around the Midwest. We are proud of our heritage and vow to continue the work that you started so many years ago!
Be sure to visit our photo page or facebook page to see all of the action captured at this years symposium. Also be sure to look for a write up on the Gitchi Gumme Project programs…..coming soon!