May 2008

Sometimes this is the only time of the year I see them…

What a great time it was. I know that I say that every year after SK102, but every year it gets a little better. This year, Brian Blankinship and Laura Butterbaugh signed up 100 students and 31 instructors for a weekend of camping, training and paddling. Of course not quite that many showed up. The weather for Saturday and Sunday was not predicted to be the best. There were showers expected for both days. I believe the final count was still about 85 students and 30 instructors. That is quite a large number of people to share a weekend with.

Photo by Dave BissIt all started early for some people. A few of the kayakers who spend much of their time training just to go as fast as possible showed up a couple of days before everyone else for a clinic. Holm and Melissa Schmidt held a kayak racer’s training camp. Holm is a former German sprint kayaker who trained for the Olympics and who has trained many professional sprint kayakers in the past. He has a rigorous program and he shared it with a few of the enthusiastic kayak racers who showed up for this training.

Then on Friday afternoon, CPA members started coming in for the heart of SK102. Remember that Lake Anna in VA is partially a cooling pond for a nuclear power plant. The water on the cooling pond side is regularly warmer than that on the normal side. That means that in early spring, for kayakers, warm water can be had for training of paddling skills and rescues, and even rolling. Why not get started with the fun early in the year!?

Photo by Brian Blankinship

Photo by Brian BlankinshipBy Friday evening, what was an empty field had blossomed into a grove of tents. Colorful kayaks were lined up in rows along the shore, and clusters of nylon domes had formed wherever friends had found other friends to camp beside for the weekend. At first, Friday progressed as a sort of controlled chaos. Lots of people were trying to find out where they would camp and where they would park. Everyone was trying to find Brian and Laura to register for the event and pick up their schedules. Last minute details were being taken care of and signs were going up. But by the time evening approached, everything slowed down and took on a relaxed atmosphere. Almost everyone got ready for the evening paddle out onto the lake, and the camp got quiet and peaceful. A few of us just lounged around and talked with those we had not seen since last season, while watching the lines of lights traveling across the water representing the kayakers out for the paddle. Eventually even this settled down to a night of sleep in anticipation for the busy day yet to come on Saturday.

Saturday mornings at SK102 always break early. Everyone gets up and goes about getting gear ready for the day and trying to take in a quick, hearty breakfast before the day starts. Soon we all heard Brian make his expected announcement that the morning meeting would start. Over a hundred people gathered in anticipation to hear what the day would bring. After a brief introduction of all the wonderful volunteers who make this event possible every year, from the event coordinators, to the host of the property we use, to the volunteer instructors, to those who supply the food for everyone and even to the grill master who cooks the food, we all broke up to head out to our classes. For the next three hours everyone worked on skill in an on-water class situation. Some people did wet exits and rescue training, others did basic strokes. Some more specific classes focused on topics like Greenland Style paddling, forward stroke technique, advanced strokes, and more.

Whew! Kayak classes can be a workout. Three hours later, everyone took a break for lunch. While we all rested and snacked and got prepared for another session in the afternoon, we learned about some special gifts that were being circulated. 2008 was a milestone for the SK102 event. It has been presented with the hard work of Brian and others for 10 years; a true feat of effort and coordination. To honor this, some spirited folks in the club got together to give gifts to Brian, Laura, and Dave Compton (who’s property we use every year). Nelson Labbè handcrafted a wooden Greenland Paddle for both Laura and Dave. Gina and I created a collage photo for Brian showing cool scenes from past SK102 events. Everyone at this year’s SK102 got to sign all three of these tokens of appreciation.

And then we were back at it for another couple of hours. Often in the afternoon, in addition to stroke and skills classes, people get coached on rolling. This is really really hard work. To get your roll working regularly, people usually spend many hours trying again and again, usually with a willing assistant to support them. Some people get close to a reliable roll, but many others see that lots of practice is still ahead of them. All have fun!

On Saturday evening, when everyone’s muscles are sore, we gathered to cheer on our Grillmeister, Barry Marsh, as he set up the grill and started to work on our evening meal. This year, Barry showed his true colors. The usual grill broke, and would not provide enough heat to cook the food. Resourceful Barry found a way to get a couple spare grills down to the waterside and worked to get the situation remedied. Whoo Hoo! We all got to eat well.

Photo by Brian BlankinshipGreg Welker always provides an opportunity for sea kayaker’s to see what those flares we all carry around actually look like when set off. He lets the Coast Guard know we are testing, and then lets people fire expired and still valid flares of various types. Sometimes it is a great lightshow to see; sometimes it just forces home the real failure rate of the standard hand-held flare. This night, as the rain gently started falling, we saw many more duds than successes. Next, the bon fire was lit and all circled around to enjoy. What happened next, I cannot say, since I was so tired from the day’s activities that I crawled into my sleeping bay and quickly slipped off to sleep.

On Sunday there were lots of special clinics going on. There was navigation, Greenland paddle making, fixing a latex gasket, wing paddle technique, knot tying, packing a kayak, Greenland ropes, and even the sale of CPA logo gear. There was so much to see and do. As these events were winding up, the rain started to fall. Maybe to show how sad everyone was to have the weekend come to an end, it was very symbolic. We all slowly packed up our camping gear and our kayaks, and one-by-one headed on our way back home.

I know that to many paddlers SK102 is an unparalled opportunity to get lessons in paddle strokes, open-water rescues, and even rolling by experienced instructors for very little cost, but I must say that what I look forward to is the people and the camaraderie. To have over 100 of your paddling friends together for a week is such an unusual thing, that I know we all will talk about it all year long. And for me it is my only chance to see many of these friends; here at Lake Anna. The coming together of all these paddlers for this event is really a display of kayaking at its best. So many coming to share what they love with others. That is what it is all about.

It may be that I will not see you until next year. So until then, enjoy your time on the water, practice all that you learned at SK102: 2008, and come back next year. I look forward to it, as always!

Thanks to everyone who participated in this 10th SK102. Whether you planned the event, or just came to play; it would not be without all of you. The photos in this article were taken by myself and Brian B. To see other photos, click on one of the images.

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