Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just Thinking...
Just got the newspaper and can tell it will be in the 80's(F) and humid today. It has been a hot summer, and the Great Lakes have been unusually warm. I may be able to paddle tomorrow and do some rolling before Lake Michigan begins to cool off.

As it turns out, I am about to leave to meet JB for 6:30 am coffee before teaching. I came across this picture of him in my files and realize such conditions were about six months ago and less than six months from coming around again. Just thinking.

Paddle safe...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Practice, Practice, Practice
The teaching season is about over. I had a class last Saturday and have a 2-day intro class this coming weekend. As in any job, teaching kayaking means a lot of repetition. It means teaching the same wet exit, forward stroke and what have you right from the beginning...over and over again. And, depending on the students, there is similar repetition within the class as we try to develop good habits and positive muscle memory.
Demonstrate it over and over before watching the students each do it over and over until, at last, they get it. Suddenly, it is all worthwhile. Whether in the classroom or afloat, that is what teaching is mainly about and, when someone can't get it the first time, figure out another way to explain or demonstrate it to them.

In any event, this group got it fast and did it remarkably well...even edging. I hope, it being late in the season, that they will get their butt-IN-the-boat-time and do all those repetitions until the muscle memory sets in.

Perhaps this technique will work in my Anatomy and Physiology class..."This is the hand...this is the hand, this is...

Paddle safe...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kudos to
Michael: ckayaker.blogspot.com
Derrick: kayakquixotica.com
Ron: ronskayakstuff.blogspot.com

for making the top 50 blogs of the year. Well done by fine guys. Check out the list here...


Paddle safe...

Friday, August 27, 2010

That's our puppy, as we still call him, photographed a few years ago. I like the shot because it shows him running and having fun. Lately, however, he doesn't do much of that. In fact, about all he does (when not sleeping) is walk slowly; and it is painful for me to watch him climb steps. Seems his  hips aren't working as well as they used to. I write about this all because Ansel is now, in dog years and for the first time, older than me.
We don't know his exact age. He was a stray, and we adopted him from the Humane Society about 13 years ago. That's a long time for a large dog. For all that time he has been a loyal and gentle member of the family. Like our other kids...and grand kids...he has learned to get his way on certain things. Actually, he mainly communicates by staring at me with an expression that seems to say, "I want something. You guess what it is." Oddly enough, I usually do, and it is usually one of his favorite treats.

He has never been cranky, he is always gentle. Our one year old grand daughter pushes him aside if he is in the way, and he follows her all over the house. It's as if he has elected to be responsible for her.

We're lucky to have him, and I just wanted to give him his due.

Paddle safe...


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fading Away
The moon looks full in the southwestern sky this morning. The air is cool and has that crispness of approaching autumn. By six am I am in slacks, shirt and tie and preparing for the first day of class at one of the colleges where I will be teaching this term. Although I still am scheduled for a lesson or two at Rutabaga in Madison, I can tell that summer is fading away.

This is always a bitter sweet time for me as my world moves along a cycle I know all too well. More than my birthdays, this change of season reminds my soul that another year has passed, albeit a good year; and I am thankful.

I pretty much got done what I'd hope to get done these past few months. I camped, got to symposiums, saw the grandchildren (more than once) and didn't get arrested. I met a lot of new people, most of them paddlers. I watched a lot of students "get it" and improve and took humble pride in knowing I had a little something to do with it.

As always, and if my health holds out, I will paddle right on through winter and into the next cycle of warm seasons. But for now, I have to go to school.

Paddle safe...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Black River Marsh
One of the features of the state park where we camped last weekend is the marsh formed by the very slow flowing Black River. It flows so slowly, in fact, that it heats up and gives up most of its oxygen while in the marsh. Because of this only a few species of fish are able to live in such an environment. At the park, they have done a nice job of providing a boardwalk into the marsh along
with informational signs with interesting facts about the area.

You won't see many (or any) animals as they seem pretty secreted in the marsh. You will, however, see a variety of plant life...,
but the pretty purple stuff is actually an invasive species from Europe, and an insect has been introduced to (hopefully) eat it up (here's hoping the bug doesn't turn out to be a problem).
In any event, it is nice to know that not all our tax dollars are going to paving the earth with concrete.
Paddle safe...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Say "Hi" to Greg
He is fit and has loads of talents and pluses in his column.
He is a chef, demands the exact ingredients and times things so his fish is superb.
He makes only proper fires starting with scavengered wood and one match. His results are perfect.
Still, his best asset is...

Paddle safe...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Checking Back In
Had a nice weekend with Greg and Jennifer. I would have pictures for you, but PhotoShopCS just jammed up my computer for 20 minutes, and I have a breakfast meeting. In brief:
1. Kholer-Andrae State Park is a nice piece of real estate with beach, forests, marshes and 1,000,000 camp sites (some inches apart). It is apartment camping.
2. Managed to get the tents up Friday evening and get to Judie's for supper just as the thunderstorm with hail and 50mph+ winds hit.
3. Had a ball paddling Saturday. Spent a lot of it near shore going parallel to the surf. First time I've taken spilling waves (albeit small ones) on the beam. Great test of reflexes and bracing.
4. Jennifer makes great meals, and Greg knows how to cook (he is a chef).
5. The guy at the next site demonstrated the latest in fire starting equipment...a propane flame thrower!

Now, I throw myself into school prep and some paddling whenever I can. Life is good. I am lucky to have good friends.

Paddle safe...


Friday, August 20, 2010


(out at hip, shaft parallel to water)
photo by Leslie J
The car is packed with more stuff than I will ever use.The boat is on the car, and I am set to go camping and paddling with Greg and Jennifer and  some thunderstorms. Back Monday to face the academic year.

 Paddle safe...

Thursday, August 19, 2010


How am I going to get it all in, keep up all the skills. As it is, I will miss this summer's QAJAQ camp. I cannot remember when I was last in my skin on frame kayak. Am I trying to do too much?

As of now, it appears I will be teaching a total of 4 courses at three colleges/Universities. Most of my Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays will be spent in the classroom; and that doesn't include prep time and/or grading papers. As the days get shorter I will have less time to paddle. On top of it all, some of my weekends will be spent traveling to lecture on cardiology. This often consumes the entire weekend, although I do often get back early on Sundays.

Yesterday I wrote how teaching a lot can lead to deteriorating skills. I wonder what a lack of butt-in-the-boat time can do.

Paddle Safe...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Unintended Consequences

A subject that came up at the IDW was what happens to us after we become instructors. Well, lots of things. We become more engaged in the sport. We find ourselves reading on technique. We feel a part of another fraternity. We think about what comes next and, in many instances, we start to become less expertise in our own techniques! Huh?

It's true. Spend a lot of time teaching beginners and your technique starts to slip away. After a while you realize that you have been paddling only on flat water and have not been practicing your own stuff in conditions. One day you realize that it has been a while since you did a T-rescue in 3-4 footers or executed a scoop rescue. And when was the last time you did a high brace, a real high brace, where you went all the way horizontal before recovering?

All too aware of this, Sherri and I were out Monday in an offshore wind. There was just enough fetch across the harbor to produce nice clapotis slop along the inside of the breakwater. Although the pictures don't really capture the action, those waves were going over our laps. It was a chance to relax the hips and swing and sway with Sammy Kaye (did I just date myself?). Needless to say, it felt good to be in a boat that was dancing and on water that seemed to say, "Welcome back. Let's see how much of your edge you've lost."

Want to teach? Want to be a good teacher? Then take time to teach yourself and one another. To this day, a part of every one of my paddles is to work on one or two strokes or some technique. Hey, at my age I can't afford to lose my edge.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Then Came Sunday
(Passion: conclusion)
The 5 students, JB and I met on the beach and had a short briefing before heading onto Lake Michigan. The sun was out, and the winds were gusting up to 20 knots. There was the possibility of a small craft warnings later in the day, however, being mostly offshore the wind wasn't doing much to the near-shore waters. Once on the water, students were each assigned a technique to teach. Then it happened, I began to see the passion.
(get those elbows up over the shaft)
Will, the youngest of the group, stepped up. He let go of the idea that he had to prove himself to the older paddlers. It immediately became clear that he had skills, lots of skills and the confidence of one who knows a bit about his business. He was enthusiastic, he spoke clearly and he creatively took the class through the low brace drill. I smiled on the inside.
(get that top hand out over the water)
Susan, who has lots of experience in the corporate world, was alive and dynamic as she taught a draw stroke. Her voice inflection invited us to listen and learn as she demoed and taught like...well, like a certified instructor. And so it went for the rest of the time on the water and land.
                                                (get that top hand out over the water)
Chris (above), Ken (pictured yesterday) and Shawn (sorry , no pic...he is in the witness protection program) all stepped up, all showed how they could teach using their strengths and personalities. The day ended with JB giving each person an over view of where they are and what they needed to do before testing at an ICE.

At the end of it all I felt differently and better. I learned that my passion for teaching may not be identical to another person's, but that didn't mean that they cared any less or would not work just as hard. Above all of this, as JB pointed out to them, I saw people of various ages who we in the ACA want to see representing our sport. This is, after all, a serious business this teaching. Lives are in our hands.

I want instructors to love what they are doing, be able to make lessons about the students and not themselves and to demonstrate excellent form to even a class of recreational paddlers. I just want to see some passion, and I believe I did.

Paddle safe...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Passion/Teaching Part 2
This all came up when I had an opportunity to observe (and maybe contribute) to an Instructor Development Workshop (IDW) led by JB. I jumped at the chance. I always learn when I am around my mentor, and I enjoy seeing others develop skills. Because of my oral procedure, I missed Friday's session; but I was in Madison on Saturday. Most of the day took place on the pond behind Rutagaga and out on a local lake.
I noticed a nice range of ages and inconsistencies in the skill levels of the paddlers. It was clear that all could paddle, but some seemed less than confident about what they were doing. The judgmental part of my mind wondered if they were ready to step up to being instructors and whether or not they could adequately model proper form to students.
There was a mother-son pair (Will and Susan) who had spent lots of time on the water teaching what sounded like skills one level below recreational kayaking. Will, in his mid-twenties, was the youngest member of the group (I guess I was the oldest...but I digress).
All seemed determined to succeed. As there was generally a lack of excellence amongst the forward strokes, I was asked to demo, on land and water, how I teach it. Folks listened, we went onto the water and JB videoed their stroke. The problem we saw was trouble with unlearning learned habits and old muscle memories. I was concerned about the group and said so on the ride back to Milwaukee with JB.

I waxed philosophical about who would carry on the high standards of ACA certified instructors. I went to bed wondering what things would look like on Sunday when we would be out on the big lake. I was not optimistic.....to be cont'd.

Paddle safe...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Grave Stone Exercise
Don't let the title fool you, this isn't about dying. Rather, it is about one's passion and what is truly important in one's life. Heavy stuff for a kayak blog, to be sure; but this was inspired by a kayak event which will be explained in a few of these blogs. But first things first. Let's discuss our grave stones.

In men's work we have a grave stone exercise in which you are told that you can only afford the smallest of stones. Because of the stone's size you will only be able to engrave a few words. In fact, you are limited to,   "Here Lies A...". The exercise is to choose only one or, at the most, two words to complete the stone. When I did this with my men's group a number of years back, they all smiled when it was my turn.

Surely, one man thought, I could not boil this down to one word. They reminded me of my passionate talk around photography, my Zen like state when playing jazz, my deep involvement in my medical practice and so on. No way, so they thought, would I be able to pull this one off. I was surprised. In my mind, this was an easy one.

All I had to do was ask myself the question, "What is a common denominator of all my interests and pursuits?" I looked at them and said, "Here lies a teacher." Just like that.

If you have ever received an e mail from me you may have noticed at the bottom is always the line, Teaching is my passion. And it is. My life is full of teaching moments, and little makes me happier than seeing a student of mine become a fine paddler, roller, doctor, nurse, judoka or better person. Teaching, passing it on and giving back are the simple guidelines that make my life so wonderful and decisions so easy to make.

That's the foundation of this story which I will continue in the next  post.

Paddle safe...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ecology 101
They're just pigeons in the picture, but there are bunches of gulls and geese there at our launch site. It is no accident that they gather around the "Do not feed the birds" sign because lots of people come to that very spot just to feed them. Parents lugging kids and bags of pop corn or stale bread are frequently there feeding the birds. Good thing or not so much?

Well, I think it is great that they are often there as families, and the kids really enjoy how close the birds come to compete for their booty. I am all for good parenting and, I guess, this qualifies...as long as the kid cannot read the sign and realize he is violating an ordinance.

The birds, I am sure, also like this arrangement. Unfortunately, they have become dependent on the hand outs and, in the case of geese, many no longer migrate for the winter. On top of all this, the area is often covered with birdie bowel movements, some of which can be surprisingly generous in size.

We have discussed what we can do about it and have decided on doing nothing. When one of our paddlers has said something to the felon feeders, the person has often responded with outright anger. These people, of course, remain in the area when we launch and are out of sight of our cars...not that they would vandalize them. For now, it goes on and on. I suppose there are larger issues in the world but, what the hell, I squeezed out another blog.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

News that shouldn't wait...

My mouth doesn't actually hurt much...yet. So, when I got this announcement about Aarond Stander's new  book, I had to pass it on:

SHELF ICE: THE FOURTH BOOK IN THE RAY ELKINS MYSTERY SERIES, follows regional best sellers Summer People, Color Tour, and Deer Season.

Paddle safe...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dr's. Excuse

I am writing myself a Dr's. excuse from work, stress and blogging until next week. I am still in the middle of giving, grading, defending exams and posting grades and finishing folders. Later today I shall have some oral surgery which will involve cutting into my palate. Pain has been guaranteed, and JB has ordered extra whiskey.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ads Good
Form: Not So Much
Ok, I don't have the visuals I need to make the point of this post. Above is JB, my mentor, and his form is always good. If, on the other hand, you want to see truly bad paddling form, look in any kayak magazine. Any of them, and look at the ads. The paddling techniques are hideous (at times).

Either the paddler has the blade in the water a foot behind the paddler's (model's) hip, the top hand is in a boxers jab or something else glaring is wrong with their posture. What gives?
(At least his form is better than his Dad's)
I know. The commercial photographer shooting the picture is likely not a paddler. He or she is most interested in showing the product off and knows what appeals to themself. Unaware of proper paddling technique, they don't realize what the paddler is doing is less than perfect. Still....

Someone in the kayak business is paying for this ad and the costs of producing it. Surely (no, I am not calling you, Shirely) they realize that their to-be customers are paddlers and may recognize how sloppy everything looks in the ad. What would that say about the reliability or knowledge of the advertizer? Perhaps this is not such a big deal with rec boats and those meant for fishing. But sea kayaks?

I'm done. I feel better; but next time you have a kayak magazine in hand, check out the photos in the ads. You shall see.

Paddle safe...

Monday, August 09, 2010

Peak Performance
I actually coauthored a book by that name but, today, I am thinking about where I am and where I can expect to go with my kayaking skills. I have been blessed, to be sure, to be able to be out there at my age while many of my contemporaries have left this earth. And, while I continue to work on my skills and read to gain more knowledge, I know I will reach a point where further skill development will be hindered or arrested by the limits of my aging body.

I already experience more or less constant pain when I compress the joints where my thumbs join my hands. At the same time (oddly enough) I can rotate in the boat well enough to do stretches with a hand on the opposite side of the boat (behind me). I am willing to take the bad with the good.

I go out alone a good deal and sometimes spend that time practicing rolls. I have become aware that my Cetus is a wonderful boat but a bit large for me. If I had a buyer, I would get the MV model. In lieu of that, I am going to pad out the cockpit for a snugger fit. I want that feeling I have in my other boats. I want that feeling that in the event I go over I can roll right back  up.

For now, the game plan is to get up early every day, stay in the game, offer gratitude for what I have and work on the needless worrying I often do. Other than that, time will tell me when I have peaked and when to back off. I may or may not listen.

Paddle safe...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

I Am Sure That The Autopsy
Will Show I Was Right

I Am Sure That The Autopsy Will Show I Was Right[Image]In occupations that see a lot of death there is something we call gallows humor. It is a dark type of humor meant only for the ears of those in the profession, and it serves to relieve the tension inherent in those professions. I first learned it from my Chief of Cardiology when he asked me what I would say to a patient who called to tell me he had seen another doctor and was taking his advise and stopping all the medications I had prescribed. Go ahead, was to be the answer, but I'm sure the autopsy will show I was right.
I never, of course, said anything remotely like that to a patient or a paddler, but there were times when it came to mind. I wanted to say it to the big dumb guys in cotton shorts ignoring my advise to not paddle on a 75 degree day because the water was still 38 and I saw no pfd's.

[Image]It is all meant to encourage making good judgments around going out onto the water. Of course, there is the old saw: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Sometimes, sadly, bad judgment leads to an autopsy.

Paddle safe...


Friday, August 06, 2010

Pass or Fail?
I am engaged in a painful struggle over some of the nursing students where I teach. Two of them did not accumulate enough points on their 3 exams + final to pass my course. Seems straight forward, doesn't it? If you test for level 4 instructor and there are only level 3 conditions, you cannot pass. Often seems unfair to some. The person clearly has the skills and teaching techniques but cannot find a venue in which to test. But I digress.

Looking closely at these two students, I find that both would have passed but for one low exam grade. Both, in fact, passed the final (which is a small percentage of their grade). Do I pass them? How do I decide? It isn't as if I can have them send me a video of themselves performing in level 4 conditions. Can they do the rescues? Do they have the skills to go on and pass pathophysiology and to be competent nurses?
What if I am wrong and level 4 conditions are just too much for them? What if I pass them and they invest more of their money in school only to flunk out at the next step? Do I fail them and close the door on a career (although they can choose to retake the class) or risk setting them up for failure? And here's the big catch:
my decision will also play a part in the care/safety of some future patients/paddlers I will never meet.

It's not easy being me.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Because of a teaching-traveling (medicine, not kayaking), I will be missing this summer's camp in upper Michigan. I realize that it has been much too long since I've taken down my skin on frame which hangs majestically over Lady Linda's car. As those of you familiar with these boats know, they are an incredibly tight fit and not easily wet exited. It behooves one to be careful and have a bomb proof roll and/or an able paddler along side when going out in them.
For those of you not familiar with QAJAQ: It is an organization that promotes everything about traditional paddling. The boats, paddles and dress are all modern versions (we don't kill seals) of the 9000 year old design upon which all sea kayaks are based.
As in all of kayaking, it is populated with people you will like and enjoy being with. Everyone, from beginner to expert, come together here to teach and learn the many many techniques that can be done with these techniques. And, no, you do not need to have a SOF boat to get into it. Check them out.

Paddle safe...


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I see a lot of mismatches in kayaking lately. I suppose they have always been there, but I am now noticing them more and more. To be clear, I am not talking about the matching up of a paddler with the right boat. I am talking about skills, the order in which they are acquired and in what order they are learned.

Once someone has a good handle on the basics and has a forward and somewhat decent sweep stroke and low brace, they usually start looking at going out in more challenging conditions. After all, they reason, they have learned and practiced T-rescues and can, should all fall apart, wet exit and be rescued. So it seems, at least in the calm conditions they have experienced. Now, they want to get out in the big stuff.

This occurred when I was giving a class at a symposium. The title of the class was Bumpy Water, and the men who showed up wanted to get out in those waves outside the harbor. I told them that part of the class would be a wet exit and a rescue. Sure, they all said, that would be fine. So off we went.

At first it was all bows to the wave as the white knucklers carefully paddled with somewhat rigid postures (a sure sign of discomfort in conditions). Gradually, as they acclimated to the water, I could see them relax. So, I started taking them more and more parallel to the waves with instructions on how to edge into the on coming waters. At first they could not understand how I could sit there and take photos while they struggled to stay upright. I assured them it was a butt-in-the-boat thing and would come with experience. Then it was time to do a rescue, and this is where a glaring mismatch really showed itself.

Over a man went as another charged in to do the rescue. But wait, this was in conditions that none of them had ever experienced and certainly had not practiced. What each of them discovered was that they could not get to the bow of the over turned boat. Try as they might, they would approach only to be washed away by a wave. Then, of course, it took for ever to turn around for a second go at it while the other man soaked in the drink. I ended up doing the rescue.

What they lacked was the ability to do a hanging draw stroke and to do one in waves. It was one thing to stay upright in waves but quite another to face one's work, get both hands out over the water and let the paddle support them as they drew up to the other boat (when I teach rescues I emphasize the importance of getting to the bow fast, on the first try, and to never let it go).

We all know that if we are in conditions of, say, #3 and want to try conditions #4, we need to do so in the company of paddlers comfortable in #5. If we want to go out in conditions it would serve us well to have rescue skills and to have practiced them in those conditions. That would be a good match.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Moment
A photograph generally represents 1/25th to 1/1/000th of a second of life and is expected to capture "the moment". Something may have happened a fraction of a second before or after the shutter clicked, but the observer is only presented with the permanent image and is left to draw their own conclusions. What these images stir in the looker is what separates good from great photographers. Of course, some people operate on the theory that even a blind chicken will get a kernel if it pecks long enough. So, they take dozens of shots in hope of getting a good one. Actually, most fashion and sport photags operate in this manner.
   So what do you see in the image above? Three wise men, Ala the Malta Conference? Which one is Stalin? Churchill? Stalin?
   How about this one? Is Aaron chocking? Is that an EMT coming to his rescue? Or is it just someone adjusting their gear?
Hmmm. Two lovers being coy?  You get the idea.

Paddle safe...

Monday, August 02, 2010

We Had Fun
Jay and Angelo (sp?) are from Illinois and were in Madison for the two-day intro to sea kayak course this past weekend. They are a bright couple, eager to learn and fun to be with, both on and off the water.
At 6' 5", it was near impossible to find Jay a boat in the teaching fleet. He ended up in a Delta boat that barely accommodated his long legs. He liked analyzing and having a full understanding of what he was learning and why it was worth covering.
She learned quickly, wanted to practice everything (including wet exits) and became the fastest student I ever had that actually did a good supportive low brace in the first 20 minutes of the exercise. She, of course, wanted to learn "that stroke" when she saw me doing a sculling draw. She learned it and immediately took on the air of a pro.
They left with a lot of skills and left behind (with me) memories of a fine and fun weekend.
Paddle safe...