Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kayak Camp with Ben and John

When I told people I was going south at the beginning of March, there were some assumptions about what I would be doing.  Walks on the beach.  Swimming pools.  Relaxing.  Adult beverages.  Dining out.  Sleeping in.  

When I explained I was going to Ben Lawry's kayak camp, I got a range of responses.  Polite puzzlement was fairly common from my non-kayaking friends.  I think that even of a few of my kayaking friends may have thought this was a little over the top. 

But for me, it was perfect.  Four days packed full of learning and fun with two terrific coaches.  Eight similarly kayaking-obsessed participants who quickly became friends.  Water that wasn't frozen solid.  A color palette that wasn't black, gray and white.  A great start to the paddling season in terms of getting into shape and getting focused on areas to develop.  

We gathered in Tybee, GA on Thursday night.  The other participants were from Nova Scotia, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, and New York.  The coaches were Ben Lawry and John Carmody.  Ben and John are aligned in coaching philosophy, but not identical.  They complemented each other very well, not only in terms of facial hair and height, but also in terms of communication style and approach.  If you get a chance to work with either of them, grab it.

Kayak camp has no set agenda.  On the first night, the group comes up with goals.  Over the next four days, the coaches work with the conditions and the goals to deliver the best learning opportunities possible.  Each night we had a chance to revisit our goals in light of what we had done that day.

Day One was very windy with confused seas and most of us hadn't been on the water for months, so we headed to an inland lake to work on core skills.  Lots of edging.  Paddling with eyes closed.  Theory of turning the boat in wind.  Paddling on one side.  It always amazes me how much there is to learn about basic skills.  And warm ups on all 4 days were always a treat, as we coaxed our somewhat older than 40-something bodies into motion.  (Where does Ben think these things up?  Frogs and crabs and cats and dogs and paddles and twists…?)

Day Two was windy again, and we launched on the south channel of the Savannah River and headed east, an area of Tybee I'd never visited.  Paddling with ranges, starting to work with currents, navigation, surf landings, trip leadership, rescues, a visit out to Cockspur Lighthouse.

Day Three started on the dining room table with a discussion of currents while we waited for a cold front to pass through, then we worked on taking advantage of the currents and spinning on the eddy lines of the back channels.  Hip snaps on paddle floats.  Towing.  More navigation.

Day Four was more trip leadership and piloting, as we took turns leading the group through Jack's Cut around Little Tybee.  Funny thing how when you're piloting, you need to pay attention for more than the first five minutes.

We stopped for lunch, after which Ben drew a series of diagrams in the sand and we paired up to explain them.  Then a bit of surf practice.  Use your balance, not your paddle to stay upright.  If you're going to crash, crash big.

Then it was over, and how did it end so quickly?  We had a group debrief, then met one at a time with John and Ben to get some feedback on things to keep practicing.  Then dinner, and crash, and the next morning headed for home.

What made the camp so special?  A shared philosophy that it was better to learn it right than jump ahead on shaky foundations.  (Better to learn to surf well on baby waves than to survive on 3 foot waves without knowing what you're doing.)  Being able to devote the time that each different topic needed, and keep revisiting things over the four days to take them deeper and understand them better and look at them in different contexts.  Superb coaches, and a great ratio of coaches to students, so there was regular feedback.  Everything was taught with an enormous amount of inventiveness and creativity and fun and enthusiasm.   We all had a chance to help each other.  Wonderful organization from Elizabeth (Ben's wife), as well as some great cooking that was much appreciated after long days.  Pelicans and gulls and the whole seascape that's such a treat to a Midwesterner, especially when the snow drifts at home were still over my head in places.  

Gosh darn it, we may all be suffering from a big fat mid life crisis, but who cares.  This kayaking stuff sure is fun.

Photos are here.

No comments: