Over the weekend some of us went out and paddled a couple of rivers in Southwest Michigan. First warm day of the season, and the rivers were still pumping. While out paddling, we were all obviously playing like river otters. But there was also focused practice taking place. We were all trying to ferry across the river and hit specific targets. You look across the river and see an eddy behind a rock and you aim for the rock. If you don’t aim, you miss the rock and drift downstream.  This is the essence of focused practice.

All the way back to my days playing soccer [football], everyone loved doing a scrimmage or 5 v 5 in front of the net. Even hitting a dead ball towards the net was more fun than some skills. No one liked doing focused practice on movement skills without the ball. The problem came when we were forced to exercise these skills in play.

 

How many times do you think he (Gareth Bale) hit the ball from that position before he could hit the ball up and over the wall (yellow metal cutouts) and down into the corner of the net?

Certainly this being Gareth Bale he does have talent. But I can tell you, he’s hit that in training thousands of times. Thousands. It’s crazy to expect expert level performance of ourselves as athletes from only having been introduced to skills briefly in a coaching session. I want to repeat that. It’s crazy to expect expert level performance of ourselves as athletes from only having been introduced to skills briefly in training.

In the video above where the woman peels out of the eddy, this is a skill we should all practice until it is fundamental. If this is the first time you’ve seen the skill why would we expect that you should be able to do it first time. And further keep doing it precisely without focused practice? Each of the skills is about timing, pace, and a dynamic environment. They are in fact way harder than the look on TV.

For paddlers, some of us really like doing focused practice. Others just want to paddle. Understood. But to actually improve at anything, you need to have focused practice sessions where you spend 10-15 minutes executing a skill repeatedly.

For any skill worth doing here are some thoughts on how to setup focused meaningful practice.

  • Get coaching to be able to fully understand the skill to be able to use it in context.
  • Setup practice in an area where the skill would be useful.
    • Sometimes the environmental factors as in the case of the peel out depicted above in the video need to be present. Make sure that the conditions are reliable and not too challenging, it’s about having an area to execute the skill easily. If it’s too hard, you won’t progress, if it’s too easy you won’t progress.
    • While you’re learning make it easy on yourself, warm safe learning vs. cold scary dunking where possible.
  • Set a time limit, 10 minutes then rest.
  • Set visual targets for your skill. rocks, trees, features in the water. You have to aim to miss.
  • Focus on getting the skill so that you can make it look easy. Don’t stop when you hit it, stop when you hit it with style and you’re relaxed.
  • Vary your practice, if you’re doing something methodically every time, try doing it fast, or the reverse.
  • Because it’s kayaking don’t do something on one side and not the other, do it on both sides.
  • Keep adding to practice and learn new stuff.

While we do say get coaching, the purpose of this is definitely about making sure the coaching is effective through practice. Without the practice the coaching is wasted. And we love to see students come back with skills they got just through practice.

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So we have changed our registration for this year to include a four day registration that is specifically about going to the Menominee to paddle in current. This means that for participants you show up a day early and get to focus on running the Piers Gorge section of the Menominee river in Norway Michigan.

The river provides an excellent opportunity to learn how to paddle in current. In this environment you get a feel for what it’s like to paddle in moving water in a sea kayak. We typically challenge the students with a variety of tasks such as, ferrying, breaking in and breaking out of the flow, eddyline turns, attaining, and even a bit of surfing standing waves. This type of paddling focuses skills and demands precision, especially in longer kayaks. In the past we have tried to dedicate a day to go to the river, but we have gotten so lucky with Lake Superior providing conditions that we have opted to not force students to drive. This year we are offering a four day registration to ensure students who would like to go to the Menominee get an opportunity to do so. This course would run on Thurs all day. Plastic boats are highly recommended. Please contact us early if you would like to find a plastic boat, and we will do everything we can to get you one.

Huge disclaimer right here: We are reserving the right not to go based on conditions. If picture perfect waves make themselves available on the Great Lakes and the forecast shows that the rest of the weekend will be flat as  a pancake, we will probably go surfing, and not go to the Menominee. 

So it must also be said that the three day registration may also include paddling in current. Because we base our event on conditions, if Lake Superior, or even Lake Michigan is not providing us with waves, we may have groups going to the river every day. But if the Lake has wind, we like to cut the driving to a minimum for your sake and ours. The three day event will provide all of the usual thrills and spills to ensure you get your fill and then some of the Gales.

So it really comes down to whether or not you want three days of fun, or four?

Registration is open now.

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We were very fortunate to have Aaron Heisohn attend the 2014 Gales Storm Gathering in Munising. Aaron quickly became the most visible photo on our website and on social media for obvious reasons. It was a pleasure to have him, and the other participants from Loyola at the Event.

Why did you sign up for the Gales?
I attended the Gales in order to improve my paddling skills for work in outdoor education and to network with excellent paddlers.

What did you come to learn at the Gales?
I learned much about kayaking and about the paddling community from the Gales. I attended workshops on efficient paddling in big conditions, on surfing, and on longboats in whitewater. These clinics helped me improve efficiency and boat control. The diverse coaches offered various new tricks that helped me break old habits and build up safer, improved technique. The Gales was the first kayak symposium I attended, and I learned how welcoming and supportive the paddling community is. Two of the coaches lent me a drysuit, and the coaches welcomed questions and answered with energy and passion. And I enjoyed playing and learning beside the other participants. In other words, I was reminded the best part of paddling is sharing the sea with good people.

What were the conditions like during the year(s) you attended?
Lake Superior provides dynamic conditions for play and for learning during the Autumn gales. Most notably, gale force conditions on the surf day challenged me. The actual risks of cold, gale-force conditions provide a unique environment for experimentation, challenge, and mistakes. I am grateful to have worked with such skilled coaches in such rewarding conditions.

What was the coaching like at the Gales?
The Gales coaches are internationally successful instructors. Such expertise brings diverse teaching methodologies, years of experience, risk mitigation, and an un-paralleled opportunity for learning. The coaches welcome learning and experimentation, while managing risks and providing feedback. The coaches are warm and amicable, and I am grateful to have paddled with these new friends after the event.

What was your takeaway moment from the Gales?
On the surf day, I accidently performed and landed a pirouette (something I had never done). The moment was exhilarating and a reminder of how fun our sport can be—even amidst such challenging learning environments as the Gales. Even more so, I enjoyed celebrating this moment later with friends and other conference participants. Sharing the sea and our learning—with its triumphs and challenges—may be our sport’s best reward

How has your paddling changed since attending the Gales?
I took what I learned about paddling efficiency, boat control, and instruction methodology back to my work in outdoor education at Loyola Chicago. Most notably, the networks I made at the Gales helped me find work as a kayak guide in Washington. I spent last summer paddling alongside orcas, humpbacks, and seals in some of our nation’s most beautiful, dynamic waters thanks to the friends I made at this conference. If you want to become a more skilled paddler, to enrich your seamanship, or if you are looking to play and learn alongside excellent paddlers and people, attend the Gales.

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We wanted to be able to tell you about the Gales in the most authentic way possible, in the words of participants who have attended. Our first testimonial is from Wade Dougherty. The above picture is of Wade Dougherty from our Saturday Surf Session in Marquette at the Gales.

Why did you sign up for the Gales?

I signed up for the Gales so that I could test my skills in big water in “conditions”. The Gales provides a great opportunity for that as the coaches are there to assess and monitor you. They can, and will, let you know if they think you are paddling beyond your current ability. The best part is, when you reach your limit, the coaches help you move your limits beyond where they were.

What did you come to learn at the Gales?

I had two primary goals at the Gales – first, I wanted to learn the basics of surfing. I’d surfed on Lake Huron for the first time in the spring, and couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. I wanted to do more of that! Secondly, I wanted to test my rolling ability in big water, without the danger of doing it alone. It’s one thing to roll in the pool, or a small lake with mild conditions, but you’re not likely to get knocked over in a pool. I needed to know that I could depend on my roll when I actually needed it.
I’m happy to say that I was able to meet both of these goals at the Gales. Sharon and Keith were my primary coaches for the surf sessions. Amazingly enough, the surf class got me started surfing, and dumped me over enough times that I was able to be pretty certain about my roll 😉
What were the conditions like during the year(s) you attended?
The conditions the first day were relatively mild, I think 2-3 foot waves and 10-15 knot winds. There were some small waves to help in the surf class, but we had to search for them. We went out to Grand Island to find some larger waves, and finished the class there.
The paddle home was a blast! The wind was channeled between the island and shore, and that combined with the waves made for a fast and furious paddle. The wind would bring us up close to the cliffs, and then the wave would push us off. It was better than a roller coaster ride, and I love roller coasters! If you were tired, or didn’t want this, you could just stay off the island by a few hundred yards.
Saturday , the conditions were better for surfing. The wind had had been building throughout the day Friday (to 20-25 knots, I think), and there were forecast waves of about 4-6 feet. We went to a few beaches, and the coaches deemed the conditions unsuitable for surfing. We found a slightly more protected beach, and had glorious waves. 4 to 7 feet, perfectly shaped. Plus, the wind had backed down, and it made for fantastic surfing. Scott Fairty asked me that evening at dinner if I knew how great those waves were. I said no, this was only my second time surfing, so I had no clue. He told me that he had paddled on the Great Lakes for 25 or 30 years, and those were the best conditions he’d ever seen. I guess I picked the right day for a surf class!

On Sunday, winds stayed down, and it was a clear, sunny day. The lake had mostly flattened out. We went for a paddle out from Miner’s Beach. It was a nice end to a fantastic weekend.

What was the coaching like at the Gales?
The coaching was superb. The coaches were helpful, knowledgeable, and confidence inspiring. If you had a hard time figuring something out during class, the dinner/social hour provided an opportunity to speak with the other coaches, who could often explain a concept in a different way.
I never felt I was being ridiculed or looked down on because of my paddling skills (or lack thereof). I was just being helped when I required it, and guided in ways to improve my skills on my own once the weekend was over.

What was your takeaway moment from the Gales?

I don’t know that I had a takeaway moment – the thing I remember most was that it is fun to paddle with people who all want to learn and improve – and Lake Superior is a great place to do that.

How has your paddling changed since attending the Gales?
I’ve become more confident in challenging conditions, and learned how to better judge conditions to know whether I should go out – or not.

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Faffing – Just Don’t Do It

Inevitably, in a group of paddlers there are one or two people that are extraordinarily gifted at taking forever to get ready to launch or to finish packing up at the end of the day. In the UK the term Faffer or the act of faffing is used to describe these folks. Roughly translated it means to do everything except the thing you need to get accomplished.

Causes of faffing relate predominately to either being distracted or being disorganized.

You may be a faffer if:

Everyone in your group is loaded and ready to go and you’re still walking around in your drysuit.

You’re standing around in your paddling clothes talking to someone else who is loading their boat or getting changed.

You’re talking politics in a wetsuit.

You’ve looked 3 times under the car seat for that glove.

You spend 10 minutes deciding which layering piece to put on.

You’re fiddling with your windshield wiper blade while everyone else is carrying boats to the water.

Next level faffing:
Worse than just being and individual faffer is if you’re a faffer who causes a faffalanche – your initial faff causes another to faff and they cause someone else to faff and on and on. For example, you announce to the group that you’ve decided to add a layer under your drysuit, someone else rethinks their decision and also stops to add a layer, someone else decides to go for one last pee as long as the other two are changing. Faffalanche! Now you’re launching half an hour later.

To reduce the faffing factor try these tips:

Develop a routine. Doing something consistently the same way can make you more efficient and make it less likely that you’ll forget something.

Be organized. Keep your gear sorted and organized in different bags. Things that need to get packed in the boat in one bag, extra clothes in a different bag, things you’ll wear on the water in one bag. Make a checklist if you need to, either mental or written.

Just shut up and get your stuff done. There’s lots of time for socializing at the pub, on the water or when everyone is ready to go. Not many people can tell a story AND unload a boat or get dressed. If you make someone else stop what they’re doing to listen to your story, you’re spreading the faffing virus, don’t do it. This doesn’t mean we need to be antisocial while getting ready but we do need to stay focused.

Just make a decision. You’re no more likely to make a good decision after mulling it over for 10 minutes than you are making the same decision in 30 seconds.

One anti-faffing strategy for the end of a day of sea kayaking:

  • Land on the beach, pull that empty mesh gear bag out of the hatch and load all the gear from the hatches into the bag and walk it up to the car.
  • Go back and tandem carry 2 boats with a partner
  • Load the now empty boats on the car or trailer
  • Get changed, load wet gear into appropriate bags or bins
  • Drive away

It’s not hard to avoid being a faffer but it may take some intentional focus if faffing has become habitual.

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The Gales Storm Gathering attracts participants who want to gain comfort and skill paddling and handling situations that arise in “conditions,” by which we generally mean waves, wind, current, surf and other dynamic waters. That’s why you attend, and that’s how we choose locations and organize our coaching.

But it’s not really about us; it’s about you. And more specifically, it’s about what’s going on in your brain. Let us explain.

Zones

You may have seen this concept before in some other context, but its application to paddlesports is perfect. If we always stay in our comfort zone, we don’t improve. We may even become worse. We’ve frequently heard instructors who exclusively teach beginners or lead calm water social paddles talk about how they are losing their skills. The same is true of paddlers who have complained to us that they almost exclusively go on flat-water paddles with the local club.

We need to be challenged to improve. The more we move back and forth between our comfort zone and our adventure zone, where we feel somewhat anxious and learn to control those feelings, the bigger the adventure zone becomes and the better we become as paddlers.

But this depends on us and on those we paddle with to recognize where our adventure zones begin and end. If we put ourselves in or allow ourselves to be led into the disaster zone, where we are terrified, we will lose confidence and our adventure zone will shrink back again.

We know paddlers all a wide range of levels who have been pushed into conditions that terrified them and then struggled with a form of post-traumatic stress, no longer able to feel comfortable and happy in lesser conditions they previously enjoyed. But similarly, we know people who refuse to venture into conditions that induce even mild anxiety, and therefore don’t progress.

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At The Gales, we are committed to helping participants expand their adventure zones and avoid their disaster zones. That’s what good coaches do. And if that’s what you’re looking for, we hope to see you at The Gales!

 

 

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Greetings! Last year we hit our 5 year anniversary for the Gales. It was a landmark year. One that I felt was very important for our fledgling event to hit. We had great conditions, great students, and some amazing growth opportunities. This article is a note on the purpose of the Gales.

In an effort to answer the proverbial question “why the Gales?” we are writing a series on coaching philosophy. This article is titled “feedback loop”.

Many events will provide instruction, and even great feedback. But feedback to students is why they are there. Students crave feedback, but they want it at the right time and in the right circumstances, with the right intent. We’ve strived at the Gales to be as dedicated to giving the right feedback, at the right time, in the right tone.

Here are some thoughts on feedback from our perspective that may help you understand why this event is so special.

Feedback has to be timely, thoughtful, and make an impact, or to use a made up word “impactful”.

A few thoughts on timely feedback.

Feedback has to be given at exactly the right time. The right time is relative to when the student needs to hear it. Picture skiing down the slope at high
speed and having someone shout, “face your torso down the fall line”. Maybe helpful, or thoughtful, but certainly not timely.

The timeliness of the feedback is relative to the student and the skill. You have to think first, why am I providing feedback? Is it to improve performance, note/reinforce a good performance, make an important note about safety, or is it just to fill empty space? If you are interrupting an activity that someone is engaged with to provide feedback, do you really need to to do that? Probably not? When we think about the right time to give feedback to a student you have to be thinking about how they are perceiving the skill, or task they are performing. If the task is hard, and they are struggling, they will look up and seek a way to improve. If the task is easy, they will do the task and then probably either move on to doing it in a more difficult manner, or sit with their paddle in their lap.

They key point is that we are watching you to see when you are looking for feedback, and trying to give it at the moment you make eye contact, to ask a question, or even just to confirm that you completed the task.

There are sometimes environmental considerations involved where giving feedback is really challenging. Surf is the big one where the environment is so dynamic that you have to sometimes wait for long periods to get back to shore to give feedback. Or wait until you are way outside the breaking zone to give any feedback.

It’s important for us to not try to give complicated feedback in a dynamic environment, because you’re not going to hear it anyway, you have to wait until people can focus and think. In current this is often in the eddy where the water is holding students in place.

Next a few thoughts on thoughtful feedback.

Simple direct feedback is often best. There is a great apocryphal story about Einstein getting a golf lesson. I don’t even care if it’s remotely true for the record. Einstein goes to a golf pro to get a lesson. He’s trying to learn how to drive, so the guy is telling him, tilt your hips, swing your arms, keep your eye on the ball, follow through etc. He keeps giving what he thinks are helpful tips on driving the ball. But Einstein is clearly getting more and more frustrated. Einstein finally picks up the basket of golf balls in frustration and throws them at the Golf Pro, and says, “catch one”.

Thoughtful feedback should also be taking into consideration the student’s aims. This is especially important to understand for the Gales. While it is regarded as a rough water paddling event. Rough water is relative for every student. We are not interested in frightening students, we are interested in challenging students. And that is different for each person. So, if a student’s aims are simple, such as;”I just want to get comfortable in little waves”, our feedback should be centered on comfort, not performance. “You looked very loose, and you braced well in that clapotis Larry!” Is probably enough. While, feedback such as “You might really need to think about, upping your cadence and dropping your hands more”, might be less thoughtful as an example. Or if a student is trying to learn how to get comfortable in waves. Where if we are working with a student in an environment where they are confident and they are working on performance, that feedback might be just what they need.

Impact, or our made up power word of “Impactful” feedback is last.

When you are going to make an impact on the student’s performance you have to make a decision about what the biggest problem is and choose to say only that.
This should be based on paddling fundamentals, (posture, power transfer, connectivity), but this is a whole separate article. Suffice it to say our coaches are always thinking about the most concise, impactful, nugget they can give based on the students aims. Often this is based on observation and other good coaching practices. This impact, is what we hope makes a difference to our participants, and make you come back for more. I know I’ve had that impact statement from many coaches, and it’s what makes me love the coaches and their influence on my time on the water.

And this is where we have to plug the coaches we have for the Gales. We have been very fortunate to have the BEST, coaches in the midwest and from around the country, they have consistently demonstrated over a long period of time that they can really bring it.

We look forward to seeing you in October.

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Registration for the Gales Storm Gathering is OPEN!

The Gales is offering two different packages.

Gales Plus: Four days! $475. 

Gales Plus runs Thursday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Oct. 9

The first day will feature paddling in current on the Menominee river in Norway, MI. It will be limited to 15 participants. Plastic boats are strongly recommended.
Sign up for the 4-Day Registration – Gales Plus

Gales: Three days. $375

The Gales runs Friday, Oct. 7 through Sunday, Oct. 9.

All three days will be on the Great Lakes (Superior and possibly Michigan). We may go to the Menominee if conditions make that a good option, but that is not the plan.
Sign up for the 3-Day Registration – Gales

We prefer that you register online. If you just have that uncontrollable desire to fill out a form by hand, write a check, put it in an envelope and (gasp!) mail it, then you can send us the following information:

Name, full address, email and phone number.

Make your check out to “Keith Wikle” and mail to:

Gales Storm Gathering
c/o Go Kayak Now
316 Edgemoor Ave Kalamazoo MI 49001

Questions about registration? Contact Keith at kjwikle (at) gmail.com

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photo credit: photodream

As we mentioned at the Gales, we really value your input and your feedback. We have continued to evolve and shape this event based on your comments.
If you attended this year’s event, please complete the Gales 2015 Participant Survey on Survey Monkey.

Thanks!

The Dates for the Gales 2016 are announced, October 7-9. We will be re-opening registration shortly!