GLSKS February Newsletter!

February 19th, 2015 Comments off

PR Shadow

The 2015 paddling season is almost here! (As we write this we have wind chills of -20f).  Don’t worry though, sit down by the wood stove, relax, and enjoy the latest news from the symposium. Click the link below to check out the latest news on one of the oldest kayak symposiums in the country!

Do you have tips, tricks, stories, or tall tales to tell? Write it down and send it to us for future Newsletters! Let’s be honest: you don’t want to hear what the organizers have to say. You want to read about the adventures of other GLSKS participants, and they want to read about yours!
Email submissions of 450 words or less to

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Featured Coach- Doug Neal

February 17th, 2015 Comments off


Doug first attended the GLSKS in 2005 and has been coaching since 2007. He holds both ACA and BCU teaching certifications and also has a PhD in fluid dynamics. As an instructor/coach, he is interested in making scientific concepts accessible for the non-scientifically minded paddler. Coming up to Grand Marais each year for the GLSKS is one of the highlights of his summer. In 2012, he met his wife Lisa at the GLSKS, who also attends each year and is equally addicted to all forms of paddling. In 2014, he helped to organize the instructional staff for the GLSKS. Doug and Lisa are just  a son in early 2015. They plan on hanging a mobile of kayaks, canoes and paddles over his crib.

Coming from a family of outdoor enthusiasts, Doug started out paddling the two family canoes at an early age. In college he tried kayaking for the first time and found it was like stepping behind the wheel of a Ferrari after years of driving a Winnebago. From that point he was hooked and he started pursuing as many open water adventures as possible. Previous trips have included multi-day trips in Maine, Virginia, Canada and throughout the Great Lakes. His favorite spot is to paddle and camp to is on the north beach of Grand Island, where you can pretty much have the entire beach to yourself. He has since pursued instructor/coaching certifications in both the ACA and BCU.

Doug has been coming to the GLSKS since 2005 and has been coaching at GLSKS since 2007. Grand Marais has always been a special place for him ever since his parents first brought him there when was 12 years old. The unique location, access to world class paddling, and the fantastic community of paddlers all bring him back to the U.P. and GLSKS year after year. In 2012, he met his wife Lisa in Grand Marais at the GLSKS. In 2014, he upped his role to Coaching Communication Coordinator for the GLSKS. He looks forward to the event every summer and is constantly coming up with other excuses to get up the UP.

One reason Doug became interested in sea kayaking was it offered an interesting diversion to his PhD studies in fluid dynamics at Michigan State University. Today when not in a boat, he can be found in research labs across the country, working as a research engineer for a small company based in Michigan. This work has included making fluid dynamics measurements on the swimming patterns of stingrays, studying the turbulence of beer pouring out of the Miller Lite “Vortex” bottle (remember that gimmick?!?) and investigating the aerodynamics of race cars. Whenever possible, he enjoys discussing kayaking from a scientific viewpoint and tries to include scientific concepts in his kayak coaching.

In 2014, he helped to organize the instructional staff for the GLSKS. Doug and Lisa are just gave birth to their son and they are in the process of hanging a mobile of kayaks, canoes and paddles over his crib.

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Featured Coach- Keith Wikle

January 6th, 2015 Comments off


Suffice it to say I am a paddlesports enthusiast. Over the last 15 years I’ve traveled far and wide in the Midwest and abroad for waves, expeditions, and fun from a kayak. I really enjoy paddling lumpy and moving water. Nothing beats the feeling of a kayak planing down the face of a wave at top speed. Because of this enthusiasm, I have sought out coaching certifications to be able to share this excitement.


Keith Wikle is a an avid great lakes surfing enthusiast in both a sea kayak and a small surf kayak. His experience and coaching in moving water even drew him to starting his own Great Lakes freshwater intermediate to advanced instructional event the Gales Storm Gathering. He has sought out coaching certifications with both the BCU and the ACA to provide top flight coaching in the Midwest. Keith has traveled for kayaking and surfing on both coasts, Ireland, and British Columbia. His instructional business in Kalamazoo Michigan is


Featured Coach- David Johnson

December 23rd, 2014 Comments off

7636126850_ea9b0b0a03 On a desk in the Police office, in the small village of Grand Marais, sits a cold case….a mystery of sorts of the Boathenge Builder.  You see several years ago several boats “mysteriously” were buried, and arranged into a structure that was eerily similar to that rock formation across the pond.  That year there were several Canadians attending and of course everyone suspected them…you know, because everyone knows how devious Canadian’s can be.  Having said that, the Grand Marais version of the OPP (that’s Canadian for police), still haven’t gathered enough evidence to convict so the case remains open.  This year we are excited to announce the return of the Canadians in force, and our first featured coach is the notorious David Johnson! 291072_284867531536086_1406879381_o David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools Ontario including White Squall Paddling Centre and Naturally Superior Adventures. Kayak instruction has allowed him to travel throughout North America including Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and San Francisco but nothing is quite as good as paddling on Lake Superior. David serves as the chair of the Sea Kayak Program Development Committee with Paddle Canada which is responsible for maintaining the national program syllabus. In his free time David also runs the popular sea kayaking news and gossip website, Paddling Headquarters ( as well as the co-host of the podcast, Kayak Mainline with his partner in crime, Kelly Blades. 1294331_459158890872471_2084097888_o David is also a team paddler with P&H Kayaks, Werner Paddles, Kokatat, North Water and Aquapac. When not paddling, David lives in Toronto where he is a web designer with the Ontario Provincial Government. Future dream jobs include becoming a professional wrestler referee or a certified waterslide tester. unnamed

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GLSKS December Newsletter- Hot Off The Press!

December 9th, 2014 Comments off


Sure, the 2014 paddling season is coming to a close on the Great Lakes. But don’t despair! To help you survive the gloomy winter, the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium will be publishing a monthly newsletter filled with tales of July beaches, summer breezes, and cold Beers with Bill!
Sit down by the wood stove, relax, and enjoy the first of many newsletters. Click the link below to check out the latest news on one of the oldest kayak symposiums in the country!
GLSKS Newsletter – Dec 2014

Do you have tips, tricks, stories, or tall tales to tell? Write it down and send it to us for future Newsletters! Let’s be honest: you don’t want to hear what the organizers have to say. You want to read about the adventures of other GLSKS participants, and they want to read about yours!
Email submissions of 450 words or less to

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Featured Coach- Mike Looman

December 5th, 2014 Comments off


We have the greatest coaches in the Midwest committed to teaching at the 2015 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. Let us introduce you to them!  Throughout the next 9 months, in this new series of posts we will introduce you to some of our wonderful and talented coaches.


Mike is an ACA Level 3 Coastal Kayak Instructor and a Level 2 SUP Instructor. He started working at Wenonah Canoe Inc. in 2003, which led to his introduction to the paddlesports industry. After his first trip the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, he was hooked. Paddling has become a passion for him and teaching has only made that passion stronger.

He enjoys not only introducing people to the sport, but also teaching them how to be safe while enjoying time on the water. He says that watching someone increase their comfort and skill level is the greatest reward. This led him to start his own paddlesport instructing company called Midwest Paddlesport. Mike feels like he was able to learn from some of the best within the industry, and is motivated to pass these skills on to generations to come.

In 2014 alone, Mike had the opportunity to teach and paddle on Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, the waters beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the Florida Keys, and the waters of South Carolina. You can usually find Mike paddling or teaching on the Mississippi River near his hometown in Minnesota.

Mike plans to continue to share his passion for paddlesports by working with local universities and organizations.   He hopes to see you on the water next year at the GLSKS!


The 2015 GLSKS Registration is now open- Click here to register online!


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Coaches Tip ‘O The Day

October 29th, 2014 Comments off



I had a very frank conversation with a friend of mine the other day. He’s a pretty high-level coach in the kayaking world. He told me that he felt like he was at a standstill with his teaching and he wondered how he could get better. I ask him “what else do you teach”. you see, his day job is working with the government and as a result he does his thing and everyone else does their thing. He doesn’t teach anything.

That got me to thinking; how many coaches do we have teaching in the kayaking world that are solely Kayaking coaches? After all, it is human nature to teach what we know to those who don’t know stuff. My bet is that everybody teaches something to somebody other than kayaking.

“Why don’t you go learn something new?”. Not only will you learn something new but you will also see somebody else teaching something. I’ve always said that the way I’ve learned to be a parent is to watch other people parent their children. And I would wager to say that I’ve learned more of what not to do by watching other parents. So it’s true with any instruction you receive. If you keep your eyes open and can multi task a bit, you can walk away with twice the education. Double down on your learning.


For me, I’m fortunate enough to be doing a ton of classes for the fire service right now so I get a huge opportunity to audit other instructors. When I’m in a course I make two columns for notes; one for the class and one for the instructional process. It’s given me other perspectives on my teaching and allows me to constantly reassess what I’m doing.

So if you want to be a better, more innovative, and effective teacher? Be an engaged and attentive student.

Kelly Blades

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Featured Coach- Jeremy Vore

October 16th, 2014 Comments off


We have the greatest coaches in the Midwest committed to teaching at the 2015 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. Let us introduce you to them!  Throughout the next 9 months, in this new series of posts we will introduce you to some of our wonderful and talented coaches.



When Jeremy Vore says that he was fortunate to grow up in the paddle sport world, he’s being literal. His obsession with kayaking started when he was 12 and he read a marketing newspaper published by Necky Kayaks that was filled with stories about the adventures and expeditions of Greg Blanchette and Ed Gillette. At 13 he bought a purple Necky Kyook and started paddling. By 16, he had upgraded to a Valley Canoe Products Pintail and started working for Stan and Emma Chladek at Great River Outfitters in Waterford, Michigan. While at GRO, he met many of the world’s top paddlers, some of whom became long-term friends and mentors.

Kayaking’s impact on Jeremy’s life is significant. In fact, his professional career path is built upon the solid foundation of communication, risk management, leadership, and decision making that he developed as a BCU instructor candidate in the mid-90s. He carried those concepts into the aviation, healthcare, and corporate training fields, where they proved both effective and unusual outside of the kayak world. He now makes his living as a kayak builder, repairman, and instructor through The Art of Paddling and as the owner RedLeaf Consulting, a corporate training development firm.
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Today, Jeremy is an ACA Level 4 Open Water instructor and lives on the Southern shore of Lake Superior in a renovated one-room schoolhouse with his wife and two sons. He heats his house with firewood, spends far too much time sitting around a bonfire on summer evenings, and shares his love of sea kayaking with others whenever possible.
The 2015 GLSKS Registration is now open- Click here to register online!
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2015 Registration Is Now Open!

October 15th, 2014 Comments off
Photo Pete Kuhn

Photo Pete Kuhn

Registration is now officially open for the 2015 GLSKS!  The GLSKS is the oldest sea kayaking symposium on the Great Lakes and this year we are offering an updated class schedule, a few new trips and a few big surprises!  Sign up today and start planning for a fun filled learning experience this summer!


Registration Fee includes:

– All on water instruction

– All dry-land instruction

– Boat Demos

– Slide Shows

– Socials/Wine and Cheese Party

– Night Paddle

– Trips to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on beautiful Lake Superior

– Pasty Dinner

– Discounts on gear and boats at Down Wind Sports

*There are no refunds after signing up for the event.  If you are unable to attend after signing up your registration fee will be applied to the 2016 GLSKS.  If you have any questions about this policy please do not hesitate to call us at 906.226.7112

The link to register online is:

Use this Coupon Code to save $100.00!- EarlyBirdSpecial        This special ends December 20th!

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Gitchi Gumee Project 2014

August 3rd, 2014 Comments off



Gitchi Gumee 2012 Zorbari: I’ve never seen stars before! Andrea: Zorbari, you’ve never seen stars before?! Zorbari: Andrea, no! I’m from Chicago. Of course I’ve never seen stars before! Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, 2012. Zorbari had rock-climbed and kayaked with Chicago Adventure Therapy for several summers; the inaugural Gitchi Gumee Project was her first time camping. – and her first time seeing stars, at her first campfire, with her first s’mores.


Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, 2014. Zorbari was at the Gitchi Gumee Project, this time as a staff member with Chicago Adventure Therapy. With friend and fellow Youth Leader Fred, she managed the loading of the trailer through multiple venue changes in the course of the symposium, organized the troops to cook several meals, assisted coach Lori Stegmeir as an assistant guide on the Grand Island tour, and with Fred presented a trip report about their kayak camping trip on Grand Island in June with Greg, another Gitchi Gumee alum. (There were plenty of s’mores on the trip, and Zorbari got to build her first fire.) The Gitchi Gumee Project is a three year old collaboration that brings urban, under- served youth to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. It all started in August of 2011, when Bill Thompson of Down Wind Sports (the organizer of the symposium) and Belinda Lee (paddling coach from Detroit) said to Andrea Knepper (Chicago area coach, and founder of Chicago Adventure Therapy) – “We have an idea. We want to have a beer with you before the symposium is over.” Bill and Belinda’s idea was to invite urban young people, kids who would never get the opportunity otherwise, to GLSKS. They asked Andrea if she could bring kids. Andrea invited Lynette Spencer of partner agency Adventure Works of DeKalb to bring some kids, and in 2012 the two brought a group of 4 young people from the Chicago area, with 5 adults. In 2013, they brought 7 young people from Chicago, and Belinda brought 4 young people from Detroit, with a total of 9 adults for a group of 20. The 2014 GGP saw 7 Chicago participants, 2 Detroit participants, and two youth leaders from Chicago, the full group accompanied by 4 adults from Chicago and Detroit for a group of 15 this year. So what happens when you bring a group of urban young people to GLSKS?


*The best selfie is the one with the Off in it *You get to watch a group of young paddling novices load a trailer like a boss • Homemade strawberry shortcake for breakfast – the baked biscuit kind, not the store bought shortbread kind • S’mores • A full day paddling with Danny Mongno of Werner Paddles • Youth who’ve never paddled learning toggle tows • The full group surfing – and LOVING it! • Chicago and Detroit youth jumping off a break wall into Lake Superior; half of them scrambling into their boats on their own; one of them towing a rescue • You end up having to dance every time the group does the Gitchi Gumee Cheer – and you get told, with friendly apologies, that you “dance like a white girl” • Two Gitchi Gumee alums presenting a Trip Report about their kayak camping trip on Lake Superior in June • One young man gets a custom fitted brand new Werner paddle in recognition of the amazing progress he’s made in a year – in both his paddling skill and his leadership skills • You learn the meaning of the word “rachet” in full detail • Hilarious moments with neck gaskets… • An amazing, heartfelt reunion with the GGP alums, GLSKS students, and area coaches.


One of the highlights of the week, always, is watching young people get their first introduction to sea kayaking. Young people who would otherwise never get to have the opportunity. These youth thank us every year, with heartfelt intensity, for giving them this opportunity. They tell us, with what seems a belief that we won’t quite get it, that they would otherwise never get to have this opportunity. They tell us how much it means to them that we provide it for them. There’s also the refrain that underlies much of the week – “it’s nice to just get away from the city for a while.” For some of the young people in the program, three square meals a day and a safe place to sleep for 4 nights in a row is a welcome respite from the every day realities of their lives. This year, we also got to watch GGP alums from previous years take on serious leadership in the group. They were a full part of the leadership team that consisted of 4 adults and 3 young people. All three of the youth leaders have had additional paddling opportunities. Fred continued to paddle in Chicago with Chicago Adventure Therapy after being introduced to kayaking at last year’s GGP. He and fellow 2013 GGP participant Greg went to the Golden Gate Symposium with Chicago Adventure Therapy in January, and they both attended Canoecopia in March. After Golden Gate they were invited to paddle in the San Juan Islands – so at Canoecopia they solicited local knowledge from people who had paddled and guided there. They also took a dry land rolling class with Ben Lawry, and were excited to get back to Chicago to try out rolling at the pool. Greg got his roll, on both sides, and also a re-enter and roll. Zorbari had paddled with Chicago Adventure Therapy, and gotten her roll, BEFORE her first GGP experience in 2012. After several summers of programming, Chicago Adventure Therapy invited her to join the staff in a BCU-UKCC Coach Level 1 Training, and she became the youngest person in this country with her Coach One. Fred, Greg and Zorbari had their first kayak camping experience in June 2014, paddling from Munising, MI and camping on Grand Island. Jose, a GGP 2013 alum from Detroit, had a very difficult time with his first wet exit at GGP last year. Later he went to the East Coast Paddlefest in April of 2014, where he got to take classes with Nigel Foster and Todd Wright, and try out a SUP board and a surf ski. Jose, a very quiet young man, provided hints and tips on the water to most of the GGP team members, working behind the scenes, leading with his quiet personality. Zorbari and Fred were both more front and center with their leadership and skills – Fred explaining the mechanics of various performance paddles to friends, Zorbari demonstrating a roll, both giving paddling advice. All three shepherded the group on the water, keeping an eye on who needed help or a rescue and providing it. The three of them, along with Greg, are going to the San Juan Islands August 4-8, with one new GGP participant and one other Chicago Adventure Therapy participant.


When the Gitchi Gumee Project started in 2012, Bill, Belinda and Andrea all hoped it would be a great opportunity. They all thought it was a chance for a few urban young people to get to do something they would never get to do otherwise, and to get to meet an amazing community of paddlers in a beautiful venue. Three years later, the impact it has had on the young people who want to keep paddling; those young people who’ve been “bit by the bug” and get excited about the biomechanics of a forward stroke – the impact it has had on these young people has been life-changing. As Coach and owner of The Art of Paddling Jeremy Vore wrote after the first Gitchi Gumee Project, People like Steve Lutsch, Stan Chladek, Doug VanDoren, Nigel Dennis, and Michael Gray all welcomed a 14 year old into their circle and facilitated my paddling in a way that would have been impossible without them. What I do now – training and communication with specialties in risk management, decision making, and leadership for both the healthcare and aviation industries – is directly descended from what they taught me on the water 20-some years ago. Zorbari, heading back to Howard University as a sophomore pre-med major next year, wants to be a heart surgeon. She’s planning all her internships for the winter so that she can keep her summers open for paddling – working for Chicago Adventure Therapy or seeking out guiding jobs.


Fred told the entire symposium in the Grand Island Trip Report that he was homeless when he came to GLSKS last year. He also reported that he will be joining the Coast Guard this fall, and attributed his ability to “get his life back on track” in large part to Gitchi Gumee and the paddling experiences he’s had since his first GGP. It’s heartening to begin to see in these two remarkable young people a similar impact from paddling that Jeremy describes. It’s also enlightening to watch the effect of their leadership on the folks who are new to the group, the symposium and the sport. When adults are showing them the ropes, they get to learn from the experts. They realize this – it is not lost on them that they have a weekend where they get to learn from some of the best coaches in the Midwest. When they’re learning from a Youth Leader, it’s different. You can see that they realize not only that they are LEARNING from experts, but that they can BECOME an expert. They realize that if they want, and if they put in a lot of hard work, this symposium is NOT the once in a lifetime experience they think it will be. Rather, it can be the very beginning of a brand new adventure. Here’s what participants have had to say in the last year: • “Words don’t describe how thankful I am for this trip and everything that you have done. Thank you.” • “What you do for me is priceless.” • “You have shown me things I didn’t even know about myself so I want to say thank you so much.” • “You have changed my life so much and you’ve lit a new fire within me that I’ll never let die out. …


Thank you for believing in me.” The Gitchi Gumee Project, its growth and its continued success is possible because of the amazing support we’ve received from the industry. We’re grateful to forward-looking, community-minded companies that have provided support.

Kokatat -Kokatat has been our original sponsor from the very beginning, providing financial support and demo drysuits for our participants. The drysuits are especially helpful for those participants who take the rolling class (most of whom perform a successful static brace, and several of whom end up rolling), and also for the “Open Water Adventure” day, which includes jumping into the water from a breakwall.

Bomber Gear- Bomber stepped up big time this year, donating dry tops and warm fleece tops. The neck gaskets were a learning curve for the kids! Once they got in the cold Lake Superior water, they were all grateful for the drytops and the fleeces. Many of them also wore the fleeces around camp, where it was colder in the evenings than they expected.

Wilderness Systems- Edith Nelson of Wilderness systems secured boats for this year’s group. We had a variety of boats in a variety of sizes, so we were able to fit people to the boat that would help them have the best possible experience. We also had the flexibility to give newer, more anxious paddlers nice stable, beginner-friendly boats, and to provide some of our GGP alums with more performance-oriented boats. Thanks Edith!

NRS- NRS provided wetsuits, especially important with the cold water temperatures in Lake Superior. In the past we’ve had to search far and wide for wetsuits we could borrow from individual paddlers. NRS also supplied PFD’s and helmets for the group this year. David took special care to provide the just right PFD for a participant who had a challenging time finding one with the right fit. Thanks so much, NRS!

Werner Paddles- Chicago Adventure Therapy is so pleased to have a set of Werner paddles, and to provide those paddles for use with the Gitchi Gumee Project. For two years now, Danny Mongno of Werner Paddles has spent an entire day with the group on Saturday; for two years now the group has had the chance to learn to surf, jump off a break wall, learn to tow, learn to scramble into their boats, and have generally learned much more about paddling than most people, and especially the group, would think that a group of brand new paddlers could learn in a day. Thanks also to Werner for donating a paddle to one of this year’s Youth Leaders, who showed tremendous improvement in his paddling and his leadership.


Thank you to everyone who made the 2014 Gitchi Gumee Project possible.  We look forward to bigger and better things for the GGP at the 2015 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium!



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