Archive for the ‘Paddling’ Category
First, thank you for reading this blog about my experience with the Coastal Management Project during the COVID-19 pandemic. Things haven’t been a cake walk for CAT staff, however, we found a way to make the best out of this project. I remember having a staff meeting at Popeyes in the winter, to discuss upcoming programming for in person CAT meetings.
Unfortunately the in person meetings we had planned had turned into virtual meetings. On the other hand, having to do everything virtually allowed me to hone my computer literacy skills. Virtual meetings also allowed me to think harder, as well as become more self aware, because I was used to getting things done in person. Doing this project virtually took a lot of communication, patience, and determination. I am proud of CAT staff for coming together (even if virtually) to complete a successful project to share with Chicago Adventure Therapy.
I first learned about the Coastal Management Project in December of last year. Back when we thought 2020 would be a fantastic, fruitful year. I was extremely excited to have the chance to step into a leadership role with Chicago Adventure Therapy, after being a participant for about five years, and to have the opportunity to introduce paddling to more people while also helping to clean the water that we are so lucky to have in Chicago. I was also excited to teach more people about how to be safe in the water so that they should have more access to it. CAT introduced me to kayaking and water safety when I was 16, and it made my life so much better and gave me something to look forward to doing with a community I genuinely cared for. I wanted to help provide that experience for other people.
The pandemic started just as we began to plan our Water Safety Talks. In the midst of juggling the quarantine, my other job, and some personal issues, we had to rethink our approach to the water safety talks completely. As much as I would’ve preferred to be able to provide the presentations in person, I think that we reached more people than we would’ve been able to. We quickly taught ourselves about audio quality and video editing to produce seven short videos in 7 weeks. I am beyond proud of us for finding a way to get quality information to people in an easily digestible form. No, this is not what I expected the first part of this project to entail, but I am proud that we were able to refocus and come together during a pandemic to complete our water safety talks. I look forward to brainstorming more ideas about how we can make the rest of this grant’s facets both informative and engaging while still trying to keep everyone as safe as possible.
We’re excited to announce a new project – “Youth-Led Community Outreach,” funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Management Program. For me, this is one of the most exciting projects we’re working on – and I’ve been inspired by the way the leaders of this project have rolled with repeated challenges. Over a year ago, we submitted a grant proposal with a lot of inter-related parts – coach training for CAT youth and young adults; Water Safety Talks aimed at young Chicago audiences in communities that traditionally have limited access to the water-based resources in Chicago, presented by the new coaches; Paddling Extravaganzas open to the public and “walk-in” participation, led by our new coaches, where the general public can get a chance to try out a kayak, a canoe or a SUP board; 4-session on-the-water paddlesport classes led by our young coaches; community celebrations open to anyone who participated in any of these events, where we’ll also provide information and resources about ways and places in Chicago to stay involved in paddlesport and conservation activities.
We were so pleased to receive the grant. Just as we were supposed to start, a pandemic hit the world. The young adult leaders of this project had just started planning the Water Safety Talks, when they had to change gears and figure out how to take them online. So in addition to researching the content, they had to learn video editing platforms pretty quick and complete basically a self-taught crash course in PR 101.
They did all of that.
They’ve published a 5-part series of Water Safety Talks. You can watch them all right here.
As the Water Safety Talks were wrapping up, the team started working on a modified version of the Paddling Extravaganzas. Of course they couldn’t plan to bring together the crowds that would have been part of the initial plan – so instead they offered family paddles. They brainstormed where to share information with hard copy flyers and online, and worked on their Graphic Design skills to work up a flyer. The family paddles allowed for the same “intro to paddling” and “intro to Lake Michigan” that we planned with the Extravaganzas – but without the crowds, and without exposing these new paddlers to people outside their household. We were pleased with this way of getting people on the water and keeping the risk of transmission of coronavirus low. We had to cancel the coach training that was planned for June – we couldn’t bring in our Guest Coaches – so our young adult leaders of this project and some of our CAT staff worked together to make sure they got trained in the basics of leading people on the water.
It was another project that wasn’t what any of us expected. And another project that the team stepped up to admirably.
And then the City’s Re-Opening metric that measures new cases turned yellow in a green-yellow-red traffic-light-type system the City created. This was the benchmark that triggered an automatic pause in CAT programming.
So the team had to pivot again.
They were disappointed.
Really disappointed.But they brushed it off, and created a new plan. We’re creating an opportunity for a bit more informal coach training, and since staff events aren’t on pause, the team is planning to film some instructional paddlesport videos. They started filming yesterday evening.
I expect they’ll have to change up their plans again. And again.
I’m really proud of them – for their flexibility, the enthusiasm and the heart they bring to this project, their ability to keep changing plans instead of throwing up their hands in despair or frustration. They may be young – they have handled the frustration and the challenge admirably. They keep coming up with ways to meet the goals of this project.
I couldn’t be more proud of them.
Keep checking this page for updates about their project. We all need a little inspiration this summer – and I expect you’ll find it in this team.
Thanks so much!
Founder, Chicago Adventure Therapy
By the shores of Gitchi Gummee…
Four and a half years ago, we ran our first CAT kayak camping trip. We paddled on the south shore of Lake Superior, 6 miles from a campground on the mainland near Munising, Michigan to Trout Bay on Grand Island. For three young people, it was the first time camping out of a kayak, paddling on Lake Superior, building a fire, navigating on the water, getting an introduction to fog… The mosquitoes were worse than ANY of us had seen.
Every fall I try (not always successfully) to get away alone for a week. My first solo fall trip, in 2012, was the same itinerary as that first CAT kayak camping trip. I often try to take youth to my favorite paddling places – young people who were on that camping trip in 2014 have paddled with me on San Francisco Bay, on the Pacific and Sea of Cortez sides of Baja CA, in Scotland, Maine, and on Lakes Michigan and Superior.
We run programming almost every day during the summer, sometimes more than one. This summer, we worked with over 260 youth, delivering over 5,000 participant hours of programming. That’s a lot of hours of pulling gear, cleaning gear, repairing gear, putting gear away, keeping track of gear… It’s also a lot of hours of email, scheduling, program planning and program debriefing. We also bought some sports gear from https://tennisracquets.com/collections/babolat-tennis-racquets and taught the kids some tennis over the course of two weeks. When we’re not on the water or on the rock or on the trail, or dealing with the gear and logistics to be on the water or on the rock or on the trail, we’re visiting youth in prison or the hospital. We’re attending court dates and funerals; graduations and award ceremonies. We’re trouble shooting with young people who’ve lost their housing or are trying to figure out transportation to a job interview when they don’t have money for a bus pass or to keep their phone on. We’re listening to the tragedies in our young people’s lives, and celebrating the victories. Around the edges, we’re raising money, monitoring the cash flow, trying to return emails and phone calls.
It’s rewarding work – we’re lucky to have jobs that are meaningful and help make life better for at least one person. And, by the time the summer is over, I try to get away. Because it’s also demanding, exhausting work.
This year, I got back to Grand Island. It’s in the middle of the 120 mile Hiawatha Water Trail. I learned about the trail, and got the map, on that first solo trip in 2012. Then, it didn’t occur to me to paddle the full length – a 2 night solo trip to Trout Bay, with a water spout sighting to add excitement, was plenty daring and daunting! Over the years, I got curious about it.
A few of the spots that caught my breath…
About 2 weeks ago, I realized that there was a fortuitous, and relatively unlikely, weather window just when we were closing the office for a week as summer programming ended. We got back from a camping trip on Sunday – on Monday I went grocery shopping, did laundry, re-packed clothes and food, arranged a shuttle and logistics for both ends of the trip, and headed to the UP. For 5 days and 120 miles I paddled along towering dunes, multi colored cliffs, jumbled boulders, steep cobblestone beaches and wide sandy beaches. I paddled along red sandstone, black and gray granite, and yellow sand. I paddled through sandy water murky from eroded dunes, stunningly clear turquoise, green and dark blue water, steel and bronze colored water reflecting the hazy sky, tannin-stained water gold by shore and red where small rivers meet the Lake. I saw mink and a baby snapping turtle, and several bald eagles every day. I think, for the first time in my life, I heard wolves in the wild.
Lunch spots were as good as the camping spots…
The trip was well within my abilities, but challenging nevertheless. With a 2:00 pm start the first day (it’s a long shuttle to drive first…) and about 15 miles to my first campsite, I had to average a bit over 25 miles a day after that. I’ve paddled that daily mileage and more, but not on consecutive days. It took its toll – I was really tired at the end of every single day, and moving slow every morning. I had a good weather report – south winds would provide protection for the whole trip. Coupled with clear skies, my forecast would mean safety. But on Day 4 and 5, a “chance of showers and slight chance of thunder showers” crept into the forecast. I started listening to the forecast – marine and regular – every hour to see if it was changing. Both days, the wind unexpectedly turned to the north for a while. If it stayed north and built, my protected paddle would become exposed quickly, with limited landing or camping spots. Day 4 had enough places I could land and camp, and even end the trip if I needed to; Day 5 had precious few places to land, fewer that looked like I could camp, and almost no places I could end the trip instead of hunkering down and waiting. While these were gorgeous paddling days, the stress level was higher as I constantly re-formulated plans, re-checked the weather and watched the water and sky.
The north winds settled down both days, and my original itinerary proved more than possible. By Day 5, I was pleased to find myself ready to be thinking about CAT again, making plans for next year with enthusiasm instead of beleagueredly. The most exciting of those plans is that I won’t be around next season. I will be taking a sabbatical, and 2 long-term staff will be running the organization. You can find more information about Laura Statesir and Zorbari Nwidor coming soon. (Until then, you can check out their bios on our staff page.) I’m confident about leaving the organization in their hands; and I’m pleased that CAT is organizationally ready to run without me. When I return next fall, it should allow me to return in a different role, putting the time and energy needed into several projects we’ve been dreaming about for several years now. Laura and Zorbari’s jobs will be much easier if you can help us even out our cash flow a bit by becoming a monthly donor. We are 20% of the way to our goal of 10 new monthly donors before the end of 2018.
I’ve included some photos of my trip here. For more photos, check out the Google album.
(more photos here, where you can see them better… 🙂 )
Paddlesport Leader Award
This is a robust multicraft leadership award for people leading in sheltered water environments. It can be easy to dismiss a “sheltered water award” as not robust or not requiring significant skill. Neither is true of this award.
This award covers sea kayaks, canoes, recreational kayaks, stand up paddleboards, sit on top kayaks, surf skis… Successful assessment of this award indicates that the leader can competently lead new paddlers on introductory trips in a variety of craft. As such, candidates need to have creative group management strategies that include all the “standard” issues (different goals of group members, different paddling speeds, etc), as well as challenges inherent in a multi craft group (for example – a stand up paddle board usually moves more slowly than a sea kayak…). The successful candidate needs to be able to handle emergencies in a multicraft group also. They need to be able to perform a self rescue in their chosen craft, at a standard that allows them to get back in/on their craft without losing control of the group. They can get some help in their self rescue – the emphasis is not on doing it alone, but on resolving the situation while maintaining the safety and confidence of the group. They also need to be able to rescue a variety of craft from their chosen craft. This doesn’t mean that the assessment invites a bonanza of rescues from every craft to every craft or contact an Offshore Accident lawyer site for an accident. Rather, the successful candidate will understand several core principles of rescues that will allow them to problem solve a rescue of any craft they may find themselves leading. They also need to show an understanding of towing techniques for a variety of craft – again, most importantly, showing an understanding of some core principles that will allow them to problem-solve a tow for whatever craft they may need to.
There’s a specific definition of “sheltered water” for this award.
Sheltered Inland Water:
- Ungraded sections of slow moving rivers where the group could paddle upstream against the flow (not involving the shooting of, or playing on, weirs or running rapids)
- Areas of open water (e.g. lakes and lochs) not more than 200m offshore and in wind strengths that do not exceed Beaufort force 3 (Beaufort force 2 if wind direction is offshore)
Sheltered Tidal Water:
- Small enclosed bays or enclosed harbours
- Defined beaches where the group could easily and quickly land at all times
- Slow moving estuaries (less than 0.5 Knots)
- Winds not above Beaufort force 3 (Beaufort force 2 if wind direction is offshore)
You’ll note this is really two venues, whether Inland or Tidal – moving water and open water. Successful candidates need to show leadership, personal skills and rescue skills in both venues. These two venues taken together make this sheltered water award a broad, robust award.
There are no prerequisites for this award. The candidate must show at assessment that they are at standard. There are several official British Canoeing courses that may prove helpful for some candidates in their preparation for this course. The most helpful are likely the 3 Star Award in the candidate’s chosen craft, and the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training (FSRT) for safety protocols and a variety of rescues and rescue principles. Some candidates will find that the Paddlesport Leader Award, coupled with a Padlesport Instructor Award (this is the new name for the Coach 1 Award – more on this below), provides a solid base for introducing new paddlers to the sport, with the ability to teach them basic skills and take them on a led trip in sheltered water. This trust in the candidate to create their own learning process to get to standard and successful assessment reflects a new orientation to learning and development on the part of British Canoeing. More on this below.
Where — How does a coach make deliberate use of the environment for effective learning? How do they take opportunities the environment offers, and work around limits placed by the environment?
Discipline Specific Training — The Discipline Specific Training covers basically the What and the Where – these two areas change by venue and discipline. There are a lot of categories in the Discipline Specific. The categories that will be offered North America are:
- Canoe and Kayak Coach (sheltered water, equivalent to UKCC Level 2 Award)
- Canoe Coach (sheltered water)
- Kayak Coach (sheltered water)
- Sea Kayak Coach (moderate water; equivalent to UKCC Level 2 with Moderate Water Endorsement)
- Prerequisite – Sea Leader Award (“old 4 Star”)
- Sea Kayak Coach, Advanced Water (advanced water; equivalent to UKCC Level 2 with Advanced Water Endorsement)
- Prerequisite – Advanced Sea Leader Award (“old 5 Star”)
There is no longer a workbook or portfolio requirement for assessment. While British Canoeing continues to value the necessity for consolidation of learning, an attempt has been made to allow the candidate to determine how best to do that for themselves. There are multiple options available, from formal to informal. The philosophy behind this is that learners should be involved in their own learning, and allowed to learn in the ways best suited to them. A coaching candidate is a learner when they are learning to coach – and the requirements of the journey to coach have been changed to allow for individualization and ownership of the process. This place a much greater responsibility on the coach candidate – they cannot simply “tick the boxes” and go for assessment. The candidate will have to be pro-active about choosing the learning options best suited for them and actively pursue those options. They will also need to consider carefully for themselves whether they believe themselves to be at standard before presenting themselves for assessment.
The British Canoeing Awarding Body’s new website offers a broad range of free educational materials. All of the elearning is presented in short interactive sessions, with a “quiz” at the end, that identifies your areas of strength and the areas to improve, links to information about each of those areas. It’s really a pretty impressive and exciting development!
Here’s the Elearning for the Paddlesport Leader Award.
Changes in Coaching AwardsBritish Canoeing will be reviewing the other coaching awards in the next several years. The Paddlesport Instructor Award (the “old UKCC Level 1”) will be reviewed next; the re-worked award will be launched in January 2019. The Performance Coach Award (UKCC Level 3), will be reviewed and re-worked after that.
As of now, the 1 Star, 2 Star and 3 Star Awards have not been changed.
British Canoeing is launching British Canoeing International this spring. This will allow for international memberships, with options that include insurance and other benefits tailored for an international audience. Watch the British Canoeing website for the launch.
Thanks to Scotland Squad member Zack for this write – up of the Port Austin Kayak Symposium!
Recently I went to the Port Austin Symposium. The first time I’ve been, and I was assisting as a coach for the kids program. Now, that may not seem like a lot to the more veteran members of the paddling community, but let me paint a picture. I am an 18 year old black boy, unfortunately when I smile I look even younger, and trust me, I smile a lot. Point is, you don’t see people that look like me often.
It’s often a glaringly obvious fact when I arrive that there aren’t many people like me present. However, this doesn’t make me sad. Okay, it does a little bit. But more than that, it makes me determined. Because to diversify the paddling community, with youth as well as race, would be to revitalize it. To make it more inclusive.
Working with the kids there showed me the kind of an impact I could have. I thought my biggest challenge that day would be getting all of the kids to wear sunscreen, or handling any temper tantrums on the water, of which there were many. Then came an hour or two into the symposium. I learned that there would be a group of kids coming in from Detroit, and that myself and another CAT PC youth, Tiara, would be coaching them.
This group of kids had a 4 hour drive, and were navigating through traffic. So they would arrive around lunch. The rest of the morning session went fine, with an eventful attempt on our lives by a rogue mother seagull. Right before lunch Andrea arrived to tell Tiara and I that the Detroit group had arrived.
That group happened to be comprised of 5 young black boys, and two black women. I’m generally extremely apprehensive when meeting new people, and Tiara immediately announcing, “Let’s go introduce ourselves” of course didn’t help. But then I remembered my first symposium, and how besides our CAT group, there weren’t many people like me there. So I bucked up and walked over. That was literally the best decision I had made that whole Symposium.
Tiara and I went on to take that group through the motions of kayaking, from gearing up, chowing down, and then paddling out. We taught them proper technique, took them on a little tour around the breakwall, and then brought them back with some good old fashioned rescues, my specialty. I slowly realized that my biggest challenges were gonna be getting them to all wear sunscreen, but this time there was only one temper tantrum. By the end, we had completely exhausted these enthusiastic boys, and I feel they were better off for having known us. Which is really all you can say sometimes.
The next day I officially met Rowland Woollven. In his morning class, during the introduction, the funniest thing happened. Everyone was going around introducing themselves and their paddling experience. All these well traveled people boasting 35 years paddling, but only 9 seriously, that sort of thing. And then they get to me. “I’ll have been paddling for a year on July 14th”. Then came the giggles. And I understand, my experience paled in comparison. Or so I thought. Until Rowland clapped me on the back and then announced, “What he forgot to mention was that he’s a coach”. And the giggling stopped.
Over the course of the day I realized that I was better off having known Rowland Woollven. And John Carmody, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching. And Phil Hadley, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching and my FSRT. And honestly, Andrea Knepper, who puts so much work and dedication into helping me achieve my goals in paddling. Who I wouldn’t be going to Scotland without, and frankly I wouldn’t want to.
“Travel is fatal to bigotry.”
I bet we all have a half dozen or more inspiring – and true – quotes about travel.
When I was just out of college, working a stipend volunteer job and living in community with others in the same program, there was one person in our apartment who was NOT straight out of college. She had just completed two years in the Peace Corps, living overseas. In the year we lived together, I was continually struck by how much broader her understanding of the world was than the rest of ours.
Travel changes us. It challenges us. It makes us grow.
It’s a formative experience for youth and young adults. Its impact on them – on us – stays with us throughout our lives.
So we’re beyond pleased to be planning two different international CAT trips this year.
But travel, as we know, can also be stressful. The details can be challenging.
When we travel with CAT, we come across details that stop us in our tracks. The challenges to travel that our young people encounter are mind-boggling to me.
One young man flew with no photo ID. He went to the airport with us in the full knowledge that he might not be able to fly. (For those who are wondering – he was a legal adult.) This young man was homeless, and like many homeless people, the ID he’d worked hard to acquire got lost. He had two State IDs (we didn’t ask how that happened…) One was lost when his bag was stolen, and the other was lost when the bag that it was in, that he’d stored for safe keeping at the place of a friend who had an apartment through a housing program, was lent out to someone else, its contents emptied and subsequently lost. This young man discovered that both IDs were missing the day before we were flying – so we looked up what to do if you don’t have photo ID, and he went to the airport equipped with his birth certificate, his social security card, and his high school diploma. He had to go through additional security, but he joined us on our trip.
Anther young man planned to join us on an international trip, so we helped him get a passport. We sent in all the required documents, including State ID and birth certificate. His application was denied – on the grounds that his State ID was issued too recently. — Yes, you read that right – his ID was issued too recently. It gets more bizarre – they told us that he needed to present five valid forms of ID, all at least five years old. It did cross my mind that in the State of Illinois, a Drivers License wouldn’t work as one of these forms of ID, because they expire in four years… We scrambled, and got it figured out, and this young man came on the trip.
Twice we’ve had young people whose tickets we’ve bought – and then they got work that didn’t allow them to come on the trip. One young man was offered a job on the spot at a job fair. The job was retail, and the orientation was the next week, in the middle of our trip. They wouldn’t let him attend a different orientation – if he couldn’t make that one, he didn’t have the job. I’ve applied for jobs, with limited vacation time that didn’t accrue until Id’ been there a while, with vacation already on my schedule. In the middle class and white collar world, you tell your potential employer about the trip, and it’s usually not a problem. You might have to take unpaid time – but it doesn’t preclude employment. Sadly, this young man was not able to go on the trip he’d spent five months helping to plan, learning about navigation, tides, currents and trip planning in order to do it.
Perhaps the most perplexing obstacle was when we had a young person whose date of birth is unknown. It’s true – we have three different years of birth for her. This young person was 17 years old when we met her. When we celebrated her birthday 7 months later, she was turning 17 years old. We asked her for her date of birth and made ticket reservations with that information, only to discover that the date of birth on her ID doesn’t match EITHER of the ages she gave us… And our reservation was made with a date of birth that WASN’T the one on her ID…
Traveling with a transgender young person also presents challenges. We had to make sure we knew their names and gender on their ID, neither of which match the person we know. We had to publicly and officially mis-gender them in order for them to be able to travel. And we have to be prepared to advocate for them at the airport – there’s documented evidence of a trend of harassment towards transgender people at airport security.
Every time we plan a trip, we’re caught up short by challenges that our young people encounter. Still, travel is valuable enough that we put in the work to figure it out. And we almost always do.
Sweetwater Kayak Symposium trip Report, by Cory Kazawitch
The Sweet Water Sea Kayak Symposium is an excellent opportunity for paddlers from all over the country and of all skill levels to get coaching and meet others who share their passion.
After two long days of traveling the interstates and living off truck stops we finally got to St Pete. We were welcomed with a perfect little cottage complete with a porch swing at a local KOA. Our campground was right around the corner from a dock leading to the mangroves and just up the street from our first launch spot. At dinner, I tried pipos and found out I love Cuban food.
The first day was a little chilly but awesome anyway. We pulled up bright, early and thoroughly caffeinated. We took down the yaks and Andrea introduced us to Cynthia Thompson, a fellow paddler and coach at Ladies of the Lake, and also the person who made this whole trip possible for us. We chatted with fellow paddlers and coaches from all over the country. After a while we all gathered around a picnic table, had a short brief about the plans for the day and launched off. I took bracing for my morning class and bracing on moving water for my second. I learned a lot about proper hand positioning in using high braces and catching yourself from capsizing and when correction is needed at full speed using my hips more than my paddle. Most importantly, I learned the importance of sunscreen!
Our last day was by far my favorite. The weather was perfect, sun shining, wind blowing to our backs, waves breaking to make for a slight challenge in getting past and onto the island. The perfect day for paddling! We began our 3 mile trip through the break and over the shipping lanes and met for lunch at Egmont Key. I took a nap on the beach for a while, something you don’t have the luxury of doing too often in Chicago, then back to sea and inbound back to the launch spot from the morning. A little over an hour later we were there and all headed to the last social of the trip.
We met great coaches such as Sylvain Bedard! I can confidently say that after getting this experience under my belt that I feel much closer to being at BCU two star standard in time for my assessment in Baja a couple weeks from now. I had a great time and I hope I can come back next year, maybe assisting in leading a class myself.
Sweetwater Sea Kayak Symposium
February 27th-March 1st
Saint Petersburg, Florida
Do you remember your first camping trip? Roasting marshmallows around the campfire; watching shooting stars at night; being terrified of the creature outside your tent at night that must certainly have been a bear, and a REALLY big one – only to realize it was a raccoon. … or a chipmunk. Swimming in mountain lakes, skipping stones on any body of water you could find, climbing rocks and trees, eating food that may or may not have been good, but always tasted beyond amazing when you were eating it outdoors after a day in the sun or the rain…
Sometimes we get to create those touchstone experiences for the young people we work with. They are invariably some of my favorite CAT programs. Our most recent trip was to South Carolina for the East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival, with a young man who participated in the 2013 Gitchi Gumee Project – and this trip, too, was amazing.
I don’t know whether my favorite thing about this trip was the 80 degree weather in early April, the hospitality of the organizers and coaches of the event, the variety of sports and craft that Jose got to try out, or the fact that, once again, I had the tremendous privilege and joy of introducing a young person to something brand new to him. And then getting to show him even more of that sport – new skills, new crafts, new venues, a broader cross-section of the community…
I think, when it comes down to it, that what makes my favorite programs my favorites is this. It’s about that same visceral, not quite speakable sense that comes with the smell of rain and the sound of it on my tent. The years-long search for the perfect golden brown marshmallow, and a way to melt the chocolate for the S’more it will fill.
* * * * *
Jose was nervous about paddling when he joined us at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium for the Gtichi Gumee Project. Some of our volunteers were worried, the first day, when he had a difficult time staying calm with a wet exit. (A wet exit is a required skill when you paddle a sea kayak if you wear what’s called a spray skirt. The skirt keeps water from coming into the cockpit – it’s not so important, it turns out, to stay dry; but a skirt is helpful for the stability of the boat. A boat filled with water handles sort of like a dishpan filled with water. If you’ve ever tried to carry a full container of water, you know that once it starts sloshing, it just starts sloshing more. It can be tricky to keep your balance in a boat that’s doing that.)
I worked with Jose for a good 30 to 45 minutes, helping him to find a way to stay calm as he dumped his boat over, pulled the skirt off his boat, and came back to the surface holding onto his boat and his paddle. Two days later, he was surfing on Lake Superior. The grin on his face touched the hearts of a whole lot of paddlers. It was one of those rain-on-the-tent marshmallow moments that none of us quite had the words to describe.
Jose can surprise you. He’s very quiet, almost painfully shy. It can be hard to tell if he understands a piece of technique you’re teaching him, whether or not he’s having a good time… Then you watch him in a class on technique and realize he’s really quite talented, and is taking in everything the coach is saying. He’ll tell you that he hopes he gets to come back to the event, and you realize, in the tone of his voice and the way he looks directly at you once he’s finished his sentence, that the event hasn’t just been fun for him; it has made an impact on his life. You ask him what the best part of the trip was, and he says it was the rescue class. You ask him why, and he says it was because the instructor trusted him to demonstrate how to stabilize a boat as the instructor climbed in and out, demonstrating a variety of entry strategies. You hear him say that it “touched his heart” that the coach trusted him to do that. Now, you realize why he wants to come back. You begin to realize the nature of the impact this has had on his life.
* * * * *
Jose is very quiet. Sometimes, when others are quiet, we want to talk. When there is silence, we want to fill it. — If we can listen into silence; if we can listen long enough to let someone else talk; if we can listen our young people into speech…
… if we can listen, we realize that our young people have something to say. And that we will find our hearts split open
warmed and filled – touched, perhaps
at what they have to say.
I got to accompany Jose on his first airplane trip and his first time seeing the ocean. I got to teach him how to tip at dinner at the Baltimore Airport on our way home. I got to paddle with a dolphin with him. I got to watch him learn archery, struggle with short track mountain biking, learn to sail a kayak, practice a variety of rescues when he still doesn’t much like a wet exit, learn to move a boat with some precision, try out a surf ski and paddle a SUP board without falling down once. I got to watch coaches take the time and care to coach him well; and to watch him experience trust. My job was to accompany him. To watch and to listen.
I got to listen him into speech. And then I realized – we’d had a rain-on-your-tent marshmallow trip.