Archive for the ‘Paddling’ Category
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. 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.
In the midst of a very cold winter in Chicago, we just completed what might be my most favorite CAT program in our six years of programming.
We met Fred and Greg* in July in the Gitchi Gumee Project – a group of 20 who went to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in July. They came to us from The Night Ministry, one of our partner organizations that works with street-based youth. They’ve both faced tremendous challenges and obstacles. But here’s the thing – one of the things that gets my hackles up, and can set off a very LONG stint on my personal soap box, is when we, as well-meaning adults with privilege, see our youth first through the lens of the obstacles they face. Being in a program can pigeonhole how other people see them – they’re “Homeless” first; they’re “Gang-Bangers;” children of immigrants, they’re “Illegal;” they’re “Bipolar” or “ADHD” or HIV-Postive.” [* Fred and Greg have given their permission to use their real names]
In San Fransisco last week, at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium, things went down differently. A few of my fellow coaches were jealous of me because I get to call these two guys my students.
- They were jealous because Fred and Greg have some of the GREATEST attitudes in the world! They both capsized – well, they capsized more than most of the students – and they both just jumped right back in the boats, even more energized and motivated than before they dumped.
- With backgrounds in gymnastics and dance, coupled with great fitness levels and a lot of physical strength, Fred and Greg have more natural ability than most paddling students we as coaches come across. This fact was not lost on my fellow coaches.
- They both have an uncanny ability to take direction. With that huge natural talent they have, matched by a huge desire to learn more, they soak up every last suggestion, tip and challenge. They’re eminently “coachable.”
This is what strengths-based youth development is about. It’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck.
When I had the great good fortune to spend a month paddling on the West Coast a year ago, it changed me. It also changed the way I think about CAT programming. Taking our young peoples’ strengths seriously means that we have to challenge them. We have to give them the type of challenge that they can meet – but not ace 100%. Challenge that demands the very best of what they have to bring to it, and leaves them with so much still to work on. For some of our young people, this means climbing to the top of the climbing wall in the gym, or climbing half-way up, or one body length up the wall. For some, it means sleeping in a tent. For some, it means paddling “out the Gate” in San Fransisco Bay, learning to peel out and eddy in at Yellow Bluff (a tide race that “goes off” on the ebb tide in the Bay), or getting worked in a rock gardening class or in waves that they eventually learn to surf… It means preparing to teach and lead other young people.
It means challenging them to share what they’ve gained with others. Fred and Greg are grateful for the experience. Truly, it breaks my heart just a little bit how often I hear them say “thank you for believing in us.” Or “I can’t believe we got to do this.” Or “thank you for giving us these opportunities. We would never get to do this.”
If it stops at gratitude, they are still those young men who face such great obstacles. “At-risk kids” who don’t have access to the resources that so many kids do.
If they are deeply grateful for the experience, and use it to bring their very best to bear on the world – then they are young men with amazing strength and amazing skills that will change the world. They are not “disadvantaged youth.” Rather, they are powerful agents of change; a force for good that we ignore at our own, and the world’s, peril.
After my own time paddling on the West Coast, I look at CAT programming with an eye towards how it will empower our young people to change the world. What can we give them; and also, what will they give back. They will do so much more for this world than ever I will. To do it they have to know that they are not “at-risk kids,” but amazing young adults with so much to offer the world.
• This program shows the power of outdoor activities to motivate, to challenge, and to open up lines of communication in children from various backgrounds. To see the shy and introverted smile and show excitement and self-confidence, the normally self-centered helping others, or one afraid of water rolling three days later…wow, what a feeling. (Chris Delridge, Riverside Kayak Connection)
• I was not sure what I’d expected being with the kids from CAT and Detroit. What I found was that these kids were some of the most delightful, thankful, and appreciative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being with. The benefit I believe they received from the project this year was immense. I saw huge gains in self confidence, skill, problem solving, and reaching out to other people. This
project has got to go on and expand way beyond it’s current state. (Jim Palermo, West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association)
“I was a little reluctant to work with the program at first. I’m more comfortable with adults than I am with teens. However they told me there was a need for an adult female role model so I agreed. How wrong I was. Those kids were amazing to the point where I came close to tears several times. Days later I am still re-living it and sharing the story of the impact those amazing kids had on me. Sign me up for next year.
The young people and all of the adults with us were pleased, and the young people were surprised, at the very warm welcome our whole group received. It would have been easy for them to meet with condescending or patronizing attitudes. They all noticed that there was very little racial
diversity among the rest of the symposium’s attendees. That could have ended up being a very uncomfortable position for them – either because they weren’t genuinely welcome and were treated with suspicion; or because people could have been overly enchanted with them precisely because of their race. What happened instead was that this community welcomed them with open arms. They remembered our youth from one class to the next. Coaches and other students alike treated our young people with respect and warmth, and gave them the very best they had to give.
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.
I’d like to give that back in some way. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you or the kids. I’d very much like to see them come back. The GLSKS is a magical thing for teenagers.
• Feb 7-9, 2014 – full group ice climbing in the UP with Bill and Arnie of Down Wind Sports?
definitely coming back for more. Thank you guys.” — age 15, DeKalb, Illinois
2013 Gitche Gumee Project!
GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT PARTNERS
building and problem-solving, among others, and these skills then transfer to their everyday lives.
February 20, 2013
I have had the great good fortune, because of the hard work and dedication of our staff and board members, to get to spend a month paddling on the West Coast. Before I tell you about it, I hope you’ll humor me and go first to the scene of a climbing program a couple years ago.
Here’s the scene:
A tall, lanky young man is about two to three body-lengths up the wall. He climbed there quickly and elegantly. Now, though, he’s stopped. He curls into himself and begins to shake. He starts to look down, and we can see that he’s crying. A chorus of shouts, coming from every last person on the floor of the climbing wall, demands “DON’T LOOK DOWN!”
He makes himself as small as he can – squeezing his arms to his chest, squeezing his legs together, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. Multiple shouts erupt now. “Don’t look down!” “You can do it!” “Put your right foot on the blue hold!”
He’s stuck there a while longer. Then he wrenches his head upwards, (we assume he opens his eyes), and this time, he climbs to the top of the wall.
* * * * *
Fast forward a few years to San Francisco Bay, just last month.
We’ve “gone out the Gate,” as they say – which means we’re on the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m in the water next to my boat. After watching three other students, I clip my tow line to the deck line at the bow of my boat and swim toward the cliff, my boat following on tow. There’s a ledge above the water, and another one below it that gets covered and uncovered with the swell. I watch the water go up and down; and eventually head in to the cliff, put my hands on the cliff wall above me, grasping it ever so lightly because of the mussels attached to it. I put my feet on the lower ledge. As the swell comes over the ledge, it lifts me gently to a standing position, my hands on the cliff wall at chest level now instead of over my head. I step up to the next ledge, and then one ledge higher. When the next swell comes, I discover I’ve successfully landed on a cliff face two feet above the swells.
I spend some time watching as the water rises and falls below me. Eventually I jump back into the water, swim my boat out from the cliff, and get back in. I have to get one of my fellow students to un-clip my tow line because I’ve left it clipped to the bow of my boat where I can’t reach it!
Steve, one of the coaches, moves us along to the next challenges. We paddle as close as we can to powerful dumping waves (a dumping wave releases all of its power at once, straight down in a powerful wall of water; these aren’t the gorgeous spilling waves that release their energy gradually over both time and distance, somewhat forgiving if you happen to get yourself in the impact zone…). We paddle as close to the cliffs as we can, in and around rocks, look for the perfect timing for runs in slots between rocks when the swell will carry us through, over rocks that will be exposed 30 seconds later when the swell has passed.
This Midwest girl falls behind, unable to quickly read the interaction of Pacific swell and rock. Steve and the other coach Jen have a short conversation while I watch a few swells come through the next slot before I run it. Jen paddles back to me to tell me that the rest of the group is going to go on and we’ll spend the time I need to watch the swell at each feature – to find me crying after successfully running the slot. I’m having an amazing time; in a month’s time the Pacific has changed my soul with its swell, its salt and its wildness. But it’s just too much information, too much stimulus that I have to respond to, too much new experience to process in too short a time. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, and poor Jen finds herself confronted with a student who’s tearful for most of the rest of the afternoon.
Like the young man on the wall, I’m at my limit. Like the group of other young people on the floor of the climbing wall, Jen gets me past my limit and beyond. When we launch from a nasty dumping beach after lunch, several people get caught by the sucking of the waves racing back to the sea into the wall of water of the next wave. I time it right and use a good strategy; when I’m past the break Steve remarks, as I drop from my back deck to the seat of my boat, that I had a better launch than he did.
* * * * *
Fast forward another two weeks, and I’m back in Chicago listening to my priest and fellow paddler Bonnie Perry talk about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Rabbi Heschel tells us that people must experience wonder, they must have mountain top experiences, in order to develop the passion and stamina to work for social justice. I look at my hands, with their already-fading but still distinct drysuit tan lines – the bottom of my hands pale where the sleeves of my waterproof clothing covered them for a month of paddling, the rest of them tanned brown and cracked. It’s a visceral, kinesthetic reminder of the mountain top experience I just had. And mountain top it was. I paddled with migrating gray whales in San Diego where I watched one just yards from my boat repeatedly lift its massive head out of the water and dive deep; in Baja California where one swam right under my boat, so close I could see the barnacles on its back; and in San Francisco, where one came right in under the Golden Gate Bridge, playing in the same ebb current we were playing in. I paddled in Mexico through little slots between rocks, across overfalls that you have to time to ride with the swell or get stuck on the rocks that create the feature, among huge sea stacks with giant Pacific swell. I saw gorgeous, long period waves breaking at Point Loma at the entrance of San Diego Bay; and waves jacking up to huge heights out of nowhere against the ebb current, breaking in slow motion all the way across the shipping channel under the Golden Gate Bridge. I paddled at night in San Diego Bay with the city lights as the backdrop, successfully finding the spots Jen had set us to find – including the dock at the restaurant where dinner and a beer were waiting. I saw beauty in some of its wildest, most inspiring forms; and at its most serene. And I landed on a cliff wall.
* * * * *
I am reminded of that young man who stopped on the wall, came down multiple times, kept getting back on the wall, cried and shook and squeezed himself up as small as he could get – and then climbed to the top of the wall. I’m reminded of other young people in our programming who have mountain top experiences; who do what they thought was impossible. The young man who describes seeing the whole of Chicago from the top of the outdoor climbing wall; the young woman who describes watching the “water just open out in front” of her kayak.
The mountaintop takes courage. To get there, you have to risk not being good enough. You have to risk falling or failing, or just falling behind. You have to risk fear. You have to risk depending on someone else for help.
When you get there, it delivers joy. It holds a mirror to your finest, bravest, most joyful self; and demands that you live into it.
The best part of my job is watching when this happens for our young people. As one young woman said, “I have learned to be a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go.” Rabbi Heschel is right. The mountaintop demands our best self; our best work. Just as for that young woman, my own mountaintop demands that I be “a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go.” It demands that I continue to work to make this city safer for our kids; that I work to make sure they have access to the resources they need regardless of their race, their socioeconomic status, their sexual orientation, their national origin or any of the other factors that make life so unfair and treacherous for them. That I keep bringing Chicago youth to their own mountains and periodically remind them not to look down until they’ve reached the top.
The mountaintop demands that I, like it, see these young peoples’ best, bravest and most joyful selves; and that I help hold the mirror so that they and the world can see the same.
I have no idea what the mountaintop will demand of each of them.
I do know that whatever the demand, it will make this City and this world – its streets, its homes and everywhere else – a better city and a better world. These young peoples’ best, bravest and most joyful selves are a force to be reckoned with. They will show us what this world can be.
Steve Maynard is a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach and the head paddling instructor at SUNY’s Expeditionary Studies program in Plattsburgh, NY.
John Carmody is also a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach and the owner of Sea Cliff Kayakers in Boothbay, Maine. John was the primary coach for the 5 Star training in San Francisco where this post comes from. On the day of the vignette I share, I was with the half of the group working with Steve and Jen, so John doesn’t make an appearance in the story. If you’re a paddler and you have an opportunity to work with John – YOU SHOULD TAKE IT!
Jen Kleck was the first North American to become a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach. (I was in great company in San Francisco!) She is the owner of Aqua Adventures in San Diego and the coordinator of the Baja Kayak festival in Baja California. You should go to Baja Kayak Festival, the first ever Baja Rock Garden Symposium, if you have the opportunity – April 11-14, 2013; and April 10 – 13, 2014.
Bonnie Perry is the rector (senior pastor) of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Chicago – and the 4th woman in this country to earn her BCU 5 Star Award.