About the third weekend each August a very special sea kayaking event takes place on Puget Island in Cathlamet, Washington. It’s Ginni Callahan‘s Loco Roundup! LoCo means “Lower Columbia,” and Loco Roundup draws paddlers from all over planet Earth.
Students and instructors gather at the Slow Boat Farm for a five day sea kayaking love fest. The setting, which is the lower Columbia, offers unlimited opportunities for paddling. Novices can explore back sloughs, nature lovers can cross the Columbia and venture through the many islands of the Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge on the Oregon side. Those seeking waves and wind can find it on the open river just west of Skamokawa – where summer afternoon breezes reliably pick up to over 15 knots coming in from the Pacific.
And the most advanced can head an hour to Ilwaco on the Pacific and test their mettle in the surf and rock gardens.
Everyone camps in a field…it’s a farmer’s field which is mowed for us. A
last minute grab from my garage is the step ladder. Instant kitchen shelves! Friday dawns clear and bright! My task this day is to guide an easy day paddle through the sloughs of Skamokawa-Cathlamet, but since it’s forecast to be mild, I intend to cross the shipping channel to check out the islands beyond.
Once done, round about eight o’clock, breakfast gets going in the kitchen…it’s the place to fuel up for the day’s activities. I chose the catered meal option – no messing around cooking. Boxed lunches were good.
Next to the kitchen is the mess tent and massage tent. Maybe I should have done the massage, I dunno. But it definitely was busy! Yeah, I should have. The complete day is begun with yoga and ended with massage, right?
Then, about 9:00 students and instructors gather to discuss the day’s plan. Charts are handed out. Some head to the sloughs to practice rolling, some to the open river for wind & waves and others all the way to the coast. We’re all excited!
The quality of instruction is the best in the world, this year’s event drew paddlers from Australia, New York, Maine, Brazil, Mexico, and California. This tends to attract serious paddlers: Many working on British Canoe Union (BCU) star awards and a lot who are into the more obscure “Eskimo” styles of paddling. But this has placed the “business end” of LoCo in a quirky spot. Some of the classes were three days long. The high powered classes and focus on Greenland paddling also turns many “Average Joe” paddlers away. Back in July I spent some time with Ginni and Mark Whittaker, and they were frustrated at lack of registration from novice and intermediate paddlers, despite some courses targeted at those people. I believe in what they’re doing and offered to help. I suggested they offer some shorter Euro paddle classes and see what happens. I also put LoCo on my own PaddleNW Meetup site to spread the word.
The good news was that two of these classes got plenty of registrants! Saturday was Euro “Wind and Waves,” and Sunday a “Guided Dynamic Water” paddle. These classes drew students! I believe I helped bring in some revenue. I also quizzed the students and they all agreed that they’d take more classes if there were options for intermediate level Euro classes that were one day length or shorter.
Saturday’s Wind & Waves class turned out perfect. For the purposes of teaching, hair raising conditions are not desirable.
Ideally, some conditions are what you want – something for the students to figure it out without panicking. You want students to get the idea, to focus on the boat and paddle control and not focused on “staying alive,” so to speak. We got exactly that. We paddled around the sloughs and islands in the Julia Butler Hanson Wildlife Refuge, warming up our muscles and waiting for the wind to build.
Our class was taught by Henry Romer, a seasoned paddler renowned in the Pacific Northwest.
We crossed the shipping channel to a cove I knew would be a good lunch spot. This cove has walls on each side preventing views up and down the river – and the shipping channel is right in front. So, we had three huge ships just show up unannounced! This one was full, so it was riding low in the water.
During lunch, Henry explained how fore/aft weight distribution affects how a kayak behaves in the wind. Too much weight up front, and the boat will pivot on the bow end and weather cock. Too much weight in the stern, and it’ll lee cock. Ideally weight should be just a bit more up front so it can be completely balanced by the skeg.
The afternoon wind built during lunch so that we got some 2-foot waves and whitecaps, with the occasional 3-footer. This was perfect for our lesson! Our cove was a great teaching spot, too. We assembled at one end and then tried out what we learned by one by one putting our boats out into the waves and wind. We’d do circles with Henry watching. What he showed us is that when paddling upwind and you want to go downwind, use quarter stern sweeps to nudge the bow off the wind. Then, the wind helps push the bow downwind. When you think about it, that makes total sense! Then, once you run downwind and want to turn into the wind, use quarter bow sweeps. That will bring the bow around, and put the stern into the wind, so the wind can assist in pushing the stern around.
These simple techniques help a lot! The rest of the lesson, we paddled in the waves with the wind at our backs to Skamokawa. Henry also encouraged us to play with our edges, experiment and see what happens when going down the front of the waves. I sprinted a lot, trying to catch as many waves as I could.
I can’t wait to practice in wind and waves again!