Coastal Kayak Coaching: Alder Creek Lumpy Waters Symposium

29 10 2011

Catching a nice one!

The highlight of the Oregon sea kayak season has become the Lumpy Waters Symposium. This three-day festival of everything Ocean Kayaking is a hoot!

Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe’s sold-out 3rd Annual Lumpy Waters Symposium took place October 14-16 2011 in Pacific City, Oregon. For the third year in a row, the weather cooperated. Six foot swells and northwest winds topping out at ten knots led to great learning conditions! Not to mention fun even for the coaches! We had 90 students with 30 coaches involved. Classes take place in Pacific City plus up and down the coast depending on the class subject.

This year I was not a student but a coach! I worked all summer at Alder Creek, but my coaching was limited to beginner classes, so I was flattered to be selected to teach at Lumpy Waters, but also a bit nervous, as I hadn’t had much time in 2011 down at the coast. When I got the roster for the weekend I was more than stoked to be a coach!

I had recently completed the British Canoe UnionLevel1 coach curriculum – so as far as the basics are concerned and for teaching skills, I was good to go. I just hadn’t had much time to practice in waves! I knew from past experience all it takes (for me) is time on the water.

A beautiful setting!

I was scheduled to help teach the Saturday morning Current and Waves class. Cindy Sherrer was lead coach. The class starts out in calm waters of the Nestucca River behind Pacific City, Oregon, and then culminates with taking the students out into the currents and waves out by where the Nestucca meets the Pacific Ocean. We had five students. The challenge here was more the conditions being calmer than needed to teach the syllabus. We struggled to find a good spot for a clean eddy line to practice getting into and out of eddies. Finally, out toward where the river meets the ocean, we found a reasonable eddy line. Out there, there was also some wavelets that came into the bay to practice on.

Sunday, I was scheduled to assist coach the coastal surf zone class called “Fun and Feedback.” This class was a follow up to “Fear to Fun in the Surf.” Since I hadn’t been at the coast in a while, I wanted to “warm up.” So, I observed the Saturday afternoon version of Fun and Feedback.” I had an absolute blast. We did launching, landing, backing up over waves, some surfing, and some back surfing. The conditions were ideal for learning! It was not long before I was able to land without capsizing, time and time again.

Sunday I wound up on the beach a bit nervous about the level I might be expected to coach. Lucky for me, I was to assist in teaching bracing! That I definitely could teach. We taught bracing, and depending on the group, taught side surfing along with bracing. It was me and Cate Hawthorne of Liquid Fusion Kayaking. We got along great, and I have to say I got very enthusiastic teaching students how to hold their brace in the waves. It’s so exciting to show them how rock solid they can be when bracing into an on coming foam pile! Watching them “get it” brings me tons of positive energy! The water was not all that cold – of course I had my Kokatat dry suit on. But the energy of helping people learn these skills just drove me on!

Once class was over I got my chance to enjoy the wonderful surf on my own. I was able to surf some of the waves, actually controlling my kayak on the wave using stern rudders on either the port or starboard side…then, when the wave broke, either side surfing the foam pile, or managing to ride back over the back of the wave to find another!

Kayak Surfing in the Columbia Gorge – Plus Salmon Spawning

10 10 2011

I have been working at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe during 2011, and the irony is that I’ve been teaching beginners so I have not had much time to play in rougher conditions! Even on the days I tried we got skunked – calm weather prevailed.

But this past Friday I was able to get out with Neil Schulman on the Columbia River Gorge for what we locals call a “wind run.” The Columbia Gorge often gets winds in excess of 18 mph, sometimes even upwards of 40 mph. On these days, wind waves form, turning the river into a continuous set of wind-driven waves.

These waves are different from those at the ocean beaches because they have no rising depths beneath them – they don’t have big breaking faces. These waves generally are continuous rollers. On Friday, the biggest reached three feet, so it was a great day to learn. I’d never done this before!

Once out in the midst of the river you turn your kayak downwind and start paddling. We went from Stevenson, WA to the Wind River – it’s only about 5 miles. It’s incredibly forgiving. If you don’t catch a wave, it just passes beneath. If you get tired and want to paddle lazily, you just let these rollers roll along underneath you. If you want to surf, you have to keep up a good pace and then when a wave comes you sprint to catch it! It is a lot like interval training. Sometimes, you can surf from one roller onto the next and catch it, then another and then another! Fun, but exhausting!

We caught our breath by paddling up the Wind River to see if we could see salmon spawning. Sure enough! We got up to some riffles and dozens of Chinook and Coho were spawning! Always a breathtaking sight!

Here is a short video of the Chinook action on the Wind River…