Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium 2011 BRAVO!

by Eric Soares on February 24, 2011

When I left my house in Oregon to drive down to the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium last week it was snowing—all the way to Shasta Lake.  Bad omen.  Then it rained cats and dogs all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the Bay Area.  Frankly, I was worried.  Worried that I would get hypothermia in my wetsuit while teaching an all-day class on advanced rock gardening in pouring rain.  I kicked myself, saying, “Cheapskate! Why didn’t you buy a stinkin’ drysuit?” 

Our class marvels at the Golden Gate Bridge

By the time I got to the Marin Headlands hostel on Saturday evening, the rain had subsided.  I was grateful.  The weather report called for sunny skies on Sunday, the day of the class.  I was praying that just this once the weather guys would be right.

Tsunami Rangers Retrospective Slide Presentation

The first thing I noticed at the hostel was that everyone was upbeat—even after two or more days of kayaking in the rain. That buoyed my spirits.  After we watched an amazing slide show on orca and humpback whales, it was my turn to talk.  I showed old and new surf and rock action photos, recited the history of the Tsunami Rangers, and gave credit to Steve Sinclair and Force Ten for encouraging us to really go for it on the ocean back in 1984.  I was happy to discover that in the audience was a new ocean whitewater kayaking team—the Hurricane Riders. 

Eric Soares hams it up during his Tsunami Rangers Retrospective presentation

Wending through the three phases of the Tsunami Rangers, I was encouraged by an enthusiastic audience who helped me get into the zone.  Out spewed never before told stories of Reg Lake putting me back in my slalom kayak in the Bolinas surf before the next wave hit me in 1986 (phase one), and of Michael Powers crawling around our rocky camp at Big Sur last summer because of his bum knees (phase three).  It was a fun show for me.  The theme?  “Don’t paddle where it looks good but feels bad; but rather, paddle where it looks bad but feels good.”

Advanced Rock Garden Class

Sunday morning Steve King (who took the onwater photos here), John Lull, and I drove into Horseshoe Cove in Sausalito at 0830 for the photo op—I mean the opportunity to help teach the advanced rock garden class.  Even though the weatherman came through and delivered a sunny (but cold) morning, I anguished over the safety of the students.  I wanted to launch from Rodeo Beach at the west end of the Marin Headlands, since I knew the area well, but wasn’t sure the students (who I knew nothing about) could handle five-foot surf and rocks at the same time.  John convinced me to launch at protected Horseshoe Cove with the other classes and scoot around the Golden Gate Bridge to Kirby Cove, where we’d get good rock action.  Since I had never been to Kirby Cove, I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. 

The Magnificent Seven Coaches: Deb Volturno (kneeling), John Lull (left), Eric Soares, Gregg Berman, Jeff Laxier, Roger Schumann, and Paul Kuthe

Fortunately, John and I were joined by five great instructors, and everything clicked into place.  We all made it under the bridge against the incoming tidal stream and landed at Kirby Cove to discuss the itinerary.   We split into two teams and spent the morning paddling around rocks, led by John and Roger Schumann.  Gregg Berman then took the entire class a half mile farther west to Black Sand Beach, where we crash landed in small but dumping surf and wolfed down a skimpy lunch. 

As time was of the essence (the tide would strongly ebb at 1530), we needed to get back on the water and under the bridge while we could.  We divvied up into three pods.  John and I would leave first with anyone who wanted to cruise back and practice basic skills here and there.  We were the A Team.  Yeah.  Deb Volturno and Jeff Laxier commanded the B Group, and they planned to play a bit more on the way back.  Paul Kuthe, Gregg, and Roger were in charge of F Troop, whose mission was to maximize rock garden fun on the return trip.

Eric Soares watches Jeff Laxier coach a student in a rock garden

At the agreed upon rendezvous time, A Team arrived at Kirby Cove and practiced positioning at a perfect little teaching rock in the surge.  Deb and Jeff’s pod joined us and also worked on skill development.  It was very rewarding to both help students myself and watch other instructors do the same. 

Fifteen minutes later, fun-loving F Troop had not yet arrived at Kirby Cove.  Jeff, Deb, John and I made an executive decision to boogie under the bridge and wait for F Troop in the sheltered waters of Horseshoe Cove.  We battled the strong ebb current before it really started cranking and made it to safety at 1510.  Twenty minutes later the F Troopers rounded the corner just in time and everyone was back, safe and sound. 

The Good, The Bad, & the Beautiful--Reg Lake, Eric Soares, & Helen Wilson

As we left the symposium, John and I both agreed it was a huge success.  In addition to sharing a quality rock garden class with keenly motivated students and giving a well-received show, I received a bonus reward by meeting up again with my hero Reg Lake and many other fine people.  I thank organizers Sean Morley and Matt Palmariello for putting on a great symposium—in the middle of winter!

No doubt next year’s GGSKS will be just as rewarding, so mark your calendars.

Please feel free to add to (or correct) my recollections by pushing the “comment” button below this post.  I would love to read the thoughts and feelings of fellow teachers and students about their GGSKS symposium experience.  

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Kakuk February 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Sounds like a fantastic time! Good story and pictures, reminds me of the early days when we first started exploring Pt. Bonita in the ’80s and the years that we held the Tsunami Ranger race around the point that featured the Golden Gate as a backdrop. Good to see such a turnout for the symposium and the continued success of this event. Kuk


Fat Paddler February 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Eric, did someone throw pots of paint at your boat? And why does your outfit remind me of a Fremen Worm-rider – haha! As you can probably guess I’m just jealous I wasn’t there. Maybe next year. 🙂


Eric Soares February 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Ha ha! Well, I painted the boat myself. I was going to name it Antares, but had to settle for The Lava Boat after my paint disaster. I hope you can make next year’s GGSKS, it was groovy.


Eric Soares February 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Yeah Jim, it did remind me of our Golden Gate Kayak Race in the ’80s. The energy was really incredible and reminded me of our first symposia. And I fibbed above, because actually I have been to Kirby Cove–I just didn’t know it at the time, as I was in the middle of a kayak race and a tide race! By the way, two of our students in “The Class”, Hugh and Jack, surprised me by enrolling in the GGSKS class. And Paul, the baidarka student in our rock class from 10 years, also took the class, so it was like old times.


Tess February 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm

You are a great story teller Eric, thanks for the recollections and the pics. Maybe there will be an Aussie contingent there next year or you can all come down here where you dont need a drysuit!


John Lull February 25, 2011 at 10:47 am

Drysuit?! We don’ need no stinkin’ drysuit!!!

And no, I don’t have one and yes, I’m really really glad it wasn’t pouring down rain and cold at the same time. Cold air, cold water, and warm sun means I was fine in a wetsuit. Actually for paddling rock gardens, if you end up in the water, you might be better off as a swimmer in a wetsuit. But that’s another topic.

Had a great time paddling/teaching the class. There were a lot of students, so we couldn’t go into any great detail or offer a fully comprehensive course, but I think everyone got something out of it.



Deb Volturno March 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I don’t know, John, I guess you don’t need a “stinkin” drysuit, when you already have a well aged “stinkin'” wetsuit!

Really GREAT teaching with you again!


John Lull March 3, 2011 at 2:25 am

Ha, ha, ha, actually it’s a relatively new custom wetsuit from heatwave! It smells like flowers in a dewy meadow at dawn.


Moulton Avery June 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Would that be the oriental flower that reeks like a rotting corpse? Ha Ha!


Moulton Avery June 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Very good point, John. A wetsuit is arguably a lot easier to swim in. It also still works if you hole or tear it. The protection afforded by a drysuit declines dramatically if even a small amount of water (eg. a pint) enters and wets the torso area. My personal caveat on wetsuits is that wearing one is just too darn painful for me below 45F. Like you say, it’s another topic – but it’s a good one with a fair amount of confusion swirling around it. Maybe we can persuade Eric to tackle it as well. He appears to be fearless…


John Soares February 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Eric, sounds like you had a great time and that the conference was a big hit.

I shared this on Facebook and also tweeted it.


Eric Soares February 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm

John, I also enjoyed our siblings hike on my return North. It was nice to visit the old swimming pond at Spring Creek. I’ll do a future post on “swimmin in creeks and rivers”.


Eric Soares February 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Tess, Thanks for your kind words. I reckon Jim will deliver the goods in Australia while he’s there, so our Aussie friends can check in on that to get a taste of what went on at the GGSKS. Also, con Jim into teaching a rock garden class!

BTW, I want to get a hold of Reg Lake, and I’m hoping he’ll read my blog post, since he’s in it. Can you help me with that?

Finally, drysuit or lycra? Lycra sounds mighty good right now if I were only in a warm place like Oz or Hawaii. And, it’s again snowing at my house! Will it ever end? (Actually, I love it, cuz that means skiing).


Tess February 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm

You get to enjoy the sports of all 4 seasons without leaving town Eric, we just have Hot, Hotter, Stinking Hot and maybe a month of Brass Monkey weather (Cold).
I think Jim will be a hit with the locals on and off the water!
I’ve sent you an email with Reg’s details.


Kenny Howell February 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Eric, did you get the card that I gave Tammy to hand over to you last Saturday night? It was a note from August explaining why we couldn’t attend your presentation – he had a plane to catch to DC. Sorry we let you down, but sounds like the crowd lifted you up! Is sea kayaking alive and well in this world, or what?!! I paddled out the Gate on Sunday in a surfski race after racing in the freezing rain on Saturday. Do you remember a dude named Steve Kaspar, an iron worker from Benicia who built a baidarka? He did a few of the Tsumani/Gypsy races He now races surfskis with us. Steve is older than you are I think, and kicking ass in these races right now! I hate getting beat by older racers…Paddle on.


Eric Soares February 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Kenny, Yes, Tammy gave me August’s card, and I really liked it. Thanks. Tell the young August that he owes me big time for missing the show, so he’s going to have to make me a light saber or something equally cool. Tell him I’ll send out Jango Fett if he doesn’t come through. Or worse, I’ll let Jar Jar Binks be his padawan.

Your Sunday race must have been a lot warmer than Saturday’s! I definitely remember Steve Kaspar, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that he’s kickin’ it in surfski races. Paddle on….


Reg Lake February 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Great catching up with you at GGSKS. You are a great ambassador for our sport.



Kenny Howell February 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Reg, so great you could be part of this event. Wish I had time to paddle around with you. I learned some things from my students in the forward stroke clinic. Just like the old saying, “if you want to master a skill, learn to teach it.” John Dye is still one of the best – paddlers and coaches – and we’re fortunate to have him in the mix.


Reg Lake February 28, 2011 at 1:00 am

Thanks Kenny, great memories of California paddling and those early days. A few of us paddled in the Gate with Steve Landick and Verlen Kruger in 1981 and there were very few sea kayakers in the area. Bob Licht mentioned that he was going to phase out Watercourse Ways and start Sea Trek. A few years later I sent 11 letters out to all the active sea kayakers I knew to see if there was interest in starting a sea kayaking club. That turned into BASK. Good to see that a lot you folks are still at it in leadership roles.
It was especially nice reconnecting with old friends.
I intend to get in a couple more California trips this season. Let me know if you are heading to B.C. I am not far off of I-5 at exit 260. About 15 miles from BC.




Eric Soares February 28, 2011 at 8:50 am

It’s interesting that you bring up “the good old days.” In 1981, while you were paddling with Verlen Kruger, I was slalom kayak surfing alone in Santa Barbara, oblivious to the wide world of sea kayaking. I was a babe in the surf.

Thank you for helping Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK) get started. It’s been around for 25 years now, and has helped a lot of people get into the sport. I was busy at this year’s GGSKS, but didn’t see many BASK faces. It would make the GGSKS even better to get some of their competent pool of instructors on board.


Daniel Arbuckle March 2, 2011 at 9:09 am

It was great to meet you and hear your talk at GGSKS. Your presentation really help feed my stoke and encouraged me to get out and push my comfort zone. Your crew is an inspiration to us younger boaters. My hat is off to you for all you have done for the sport.

Dan Arbuckle
P.S. It sounds like I might be hooking up with Rowan and some of the Hurricane Riders for a paddle to Big Sur later this year to retrieve the message in a bottle.


Eric Soares March 2, 2011 at 11:19 am

Dan, thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate them.

I’m hep that you, Rowan and the Hurricane Riders may take us up on our Big Sur Challenge to retrieve the message in a bottle. I will put some information about it in my blog in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

BTW, I need to get a hold of Rowan. Can you give me his emal?


Deb Volturno March 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

What a great event the GGSKS is, in one of the best kayak training locations in the world! What an extra special treat it was to be teaching a rock garden class with you and John again! Warmed my heart A LOT! What a talented crew of instructors we had for the Sunday class. I’m still laughing at you doing the “Hand of God” rescue on one of the students! (otherwise known as the “Hand of Eric” (!!) rescue) You made it look effortless! Can’t wait to play on the water with you again soon! –Deb


Eric Soares March 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Deb, It was a pleasure and honor to work with you again, as always. Regarding that “Hand of God” rescue in the rock garden, truly, it happened so fast, I can hardly believe it. And to think I used to consider it a ‘pool trick’.

That reminds of that rock garden class we team taught at Moss Beach years ago when you took me aside and said, “There’s a white shark spy hopping right over there. What should we do?” We agreed to gently herd the students in to shore, then tell them. It goes to show you never know what’s going to happen.

I understand you are one of the instigators for the Port Angeles Sea Kayaking Symposium coming up in April. That sounds exciting. I’d like to know all about it.


Andy December 9, 2014 at 5:28 am

Awesome post.

web page (Andy)


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