2013 GLSKS Recap!

Wow what a ride!  The 2013 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium officially in the books and 160 participants, and coaches were greeted with extreme Upper Peninsula temperatures, wind and torrential rain!  Really……anyone can paddle sunny, flat, calm water….it takes the “hardy” to paddle in an inland hurricane!  Twelve different states, and two countries were represented this year with participants traveling as far as Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Canada and Germany- 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.

Read the following to see what kind of shenanigans took place during this years GLSKS!  Don’t miss out next year as our dates are July 17-20th  2014.


 This summer Down Wind Sports hosted the 29th annual Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.   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 kayaking.  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 July 17th 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 for over a year!  Wednesday also saw our Expedition trip headed by Keith Wikle and Jerome Rausch, launch with excited participants ready to go explore Grand Island for 3 days!

We are very proud to say that we have some of the most talented coaches in the country joining us, many of whom reside right here in the Midwest. Our featured coaches/presenters; Ben Lawry, Josh Hall, Steve & Cindy Scheerer, Danny Mongno and Matt Abbotts brought their talents from the Midwest, East and West coasts!

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.  Many trips were pulled off the water at some point during the day due to safety as horrendous thunderstorms were producing claps of thunder and lightning.

A beginner’s course also took place Thursday on the warm waters of Grand Sable Lake where participants learned the basics of sea kayaking from 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 IV Slide Show.  Here’s how it worked; Participants were encouraged to submit slides which then were arranged to music.  It is a great way to share the special places and adventures people have enjoyed throughout the year- Photos from paddlers local lakes and rivers, to fantastic trips spanning Russia, Alaska, Canada, the Pacific Northwest and Isle Royale.  The Great Lakes Brewery provided the libation with a keg of Lake Superior Amber Ale!  Much to the disappointment of the kids, the bonfire and marshmallow roasting had to be postponed due to a torrential rainstorm…….one of the hardest this Yooper has seen in a while.

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.  From forward strokes to rolling, participants learned new and exciting techniques to help improve their paddling.

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 Boat Repair, Peeing in your Boat, First Aid, “Overcoming Fear: A Work in Progress” — Wind. Waves. Wet exits., and a smorgasbord of others!


Once the afternoon classes concluded, all gathered beachside to watch Greenland-style paddler Doug VanDoren and son his Aiden do their perennial rolling demonstration. If you have never seen Doug “do his 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 with you when you go kayaking (and even roll with it!)

After cleaning up and finishing dinner, participants headed on over to the Werner Paddles Wine and Cheese Party presented by Danny Mongno with Josh Hall pitching in.

After the wine and cheese party concluded, we all headed down to the beach for a bonfire where s’mores were produced via assembly line.   As the bonfire warmed the sand, the stars sparkled in the sky over Lake Superior, providing a perfect moment to end the perfect day!

On Saturday we awoke to conditions building on Superior which meant our surf class would be going out!  A few hardy soles (including the Gitchi Gumee Project) went out on trips including an exciting Conditions on the Move trip with Cindy and Steve Scherrer.  A stiff wind and strong following seas offered participants the opportunity to test themselves in the waters of Lake Superior, with newly acquired skills.

Based on last few years success with a dedicated rolling area,  all weekend we stocked this area with top notch coaches who specialize in the teaching of rolling a kayak.  It was great to see the beach alive with people both learning and perfecting this technique with one-on-one personalized instruction. It is truly a joy both for student and spectator to watch a person nail their first roll!

The waters of Lake Superior were back to their normal temperatures after an unusually warm two years, which really had participants 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!)

The conclusion of on water activities was the much anticipated GLSKS Race.   Once again this year we had a great turn out of as we paired coaches with participants who were racing for the coveted “GLSKS Paisly Vest”.  The racers lined up on the beach and the official course and the RULE was explained.

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.   Cindy and Kathy,  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!

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 four 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 Matt and Hanna Abbots, who presented on their latest adventure, circumnavigating Lake Biakal in Russia.  The stunning photography and stories of their adventures left many longing to an expedition themselves.

The evening ended with a P&H social at the Great Lakes Brewery where participants made new friends and swapped stories of past kayaking adventures!  It’s always fun to head to the Dunes and kick back with so many good people!

Early risers on Sunday 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 2014 30th 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 and Kokatat!  Kelly Jeremy, Todd, Arni 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!
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!

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