We meet a lot of paddlers who tell us they know how to do a rescue because they did one last year at a symposium. But if they haven’t practiced since then, we know that their rescue skills will be inefficient at best, and possibly not effective or even safe.

That’s why every class at the Gales begins with a conversation between the coaches and all the participants where we ask, “How do you get back in your boat?” In other words, what is your go-to rescue if you are out of your boat. We also ask, “When is the last time you did a rescue?”

Neither answer tells us any of the following things: Will they be able to get back into their boat themselves? Will they be able to help someone else get back into their boat in the conditions expected that day? Is their self- or assisted rescue safe, effective and efficient?

Rather, the first one tells us what to expect each person to try first, should they capsize and come out of their boat. The second gives us some sense of how fresh or rusty their rescue skills are. If they haven’t done a rescue recently, we know we can’t count on them to help themselves or others in the group.

That’s also why we begin with rescues when we get on the water. We need to know that everyone is comfortable capsizing in the conditions we have that day. We need to know that they can safely help one another get back into their boats in the conditions we have that day. (Often, some instruction on contemporary techniques is required.)

And they need to know what will happen, and what they can and should do, if they or anyone else comes out of their boat. Because if you’re worried about capsizing, it’s hard to learn or have fun.


We solicit feedback for the Gales every year to try and understand how to make the event better. We evaluate what we can do to be better coaches, event organizers, and pass that on in an experience that makes things better for people who come to the Gales.

I’ve said this at several Gales before. It bears repeating. I made the Gales to be an event I would want to attend. I was a young man when I first got into kayaking (late twenties). There were no sea kayaking instructional events that focused on playing in rough water on the Great Lakes back in 2000. The original Gales, for which we are named, was more of a sink or swim, (mostly swim) for attendees. It was suffering without fun. I wanted to make an event that was fun. I didn’t want any stories of broken boats and near death experiences on Lake Superior.

Our image was unfortunately tarnished by an incident in 2016. Nobody was injured, but a boat was destroyed. And as the organizers, we took it very seriously. We heard all of the accounts, from both the coaches and the participants. We documented them. We posted them publicly immediately after the event. We learned from it. It was the fine edge of fun or disaster. The fun was immediately sucked out of the event that year. We had to work hard to both understand our failure and to course correct. Some of that change was not pleasant. But it is my job to take it on the chin when someone criticizes our safety.

You can still read the entire account if you so choose. There are specific lessons from that incident to be learned. My aim in writing this is to put forward a lesson learned from all 8 years. If I had to put forward Lesson #1, it is fun. Where is the fun? Who’s going to have it? How are we going to make it fun?

Here’s a secret no one wants you to know. You can have a gas with very little conditions. While we may have photos of people pitchpoling and dodging rocks. Riding a tiny swell over a big rock is just as fun as dropping down a steep face. We’ve learned that it takes very little to challenge even students who consider themselves “advanced”. If the conditions are easy, we can simply increase the difficulty on tasks and all the sudden we have people totally engaged. However we cannot dial down conditions. Without the ability to shelter students, the fun is gone. Fun is a very fine line. And it’s always better to get smaller than it is to have unavoidably larger conditions of wind and waves. We want to make a mountain out of nothing, rather than have a mountain be able to do nothing with it.

Last year’s gales was a prime example of making great challenges out of small conditions.

Below is a short series of images depicting paddlers running a fun slot between rocks in Marquette’s Middle Bay. The water was going up and down about a foot and a half. We spent most of the day doing this with various challenges of how close to the rock, how big the wave was, running it dry, running it high, no paddle strokes, hitting a turn on the inside, running it backwards. Alec Bloyd-Peshkin and I gave increasing levels of challenge. Our students had a mix of aims and ability and we managed to make the most out of not very much. To me this was a pretty picture perfect Gales afternoon. People were warm, happy, engaged and having fun with very little drama. Finding this sort of fun is a #1 lesson learned for the Gales.


Our 2019 Registration is open. We will be announcing more specifics on the Gales as the year progresses. As usual we love having everyone signed up early so we can fully staff the event with the best coaches. Look forward to seeing you in 2019. Best, Keith

Registration is on this link and in the nav.

Would you like to coach at the 2019 Gales Storm Gathering? If you’re an ACA Level 5 Sea Kayak Instructor, we’d like to hear from you. We are seeking a diversity of coaches: gender, geography and coaching style. And we pay!

If you’re a Level 5, please contact Alec at kayak.bp(at)gmail.com.


Sam Crowley’s kit for one of his solo trips.

Every night, Gales attendees gather for dinner at our headquarters at 387 Restaurant & Beer Parlor. On Saturday, we’ll also have a presentation about solo expeditioning, featuring three remarkable paddlers. They are:

  • Greg Anderson, who completed a solo circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in 2017.
  • Sjana Shanning, who paddled around Lake Superior “mostly solo” in 2018
  • And Sam Crowley, who has more than a dozen solo expeditions to his name, including a circumnavigation of Ireland and other daunting journeys.

Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin will be moderating a panel discussion with these three intrepid kayakers, seeking to learn more about why they chose to paddle solo, how they prepared for those adventures, what was rewarding and what was challenging about being alone on the water so long, and what lessons they learned for their next adventures–or yours! There will be lots of time for asking questions, too.


We’re watching the weather. Are you?

updated Tuesday, Oct. 2

Last year, Greg gave an evening presentation on waves and coached participants on how to paddle and enjoy them. He’s back this year, bringing his big bag o’waves for the Munising shore.

Coaching thought: I learned to kayak on the Great Lakes. The opportunities our Inland Seas provide, and the quality coaching available in the Midwest gave me the skill and confidence to be a successful expedition paddler.  At the Gales, I look forward to helping new and advancing paddlers expand their comfort and  confidence in conditions so that they can carry them forward on their own adventures.

Paddling thought: I am very fortunate. I am able to spend my summers expedition paddling. I paddled over a thousand miles up the inside passage in 2015, circumnavigated Vancouver Island solo in 2017, and canoed exciting whitewater on the Thlewiaza River in Nunavut for the better part of a month this past summer.

Neal, from Ironwood, Michigan, gets the short commute award.

Coaching thought: I’ve been working this season on developing a paradigm on training & certifying ACA L4 instructors as I seek to move from L3 to an L4 IT (Instructor Trainer).

Paddling thought: This season, I had the privilege of kayaking the Pacific coast of Baja & in Croatia, yet always cherish my time in the Apostle Islands.

Dale Williams wins the longest-commute-to-coach award for this year’s Gales. Based in Tybee Island, Georgia, Dale is taking a weekend away from the salt water to join us on Lake Superior.

Coaching thought: What I’ve been working on in coaching is how to make use of time in transit for higher level students  that require a journey of some sort. Quantitative stroke analysis for later discussion is one way, using Body/Boat/Blade as a base, but adding analysis beyond that. To reiterate what I’ve been working on. How to differentiate the needs of advanced student needs from those who are less so, how to give quantitative information without inferring a value judgement and how to do some of this while underway through reciprocal teaching/learning.

Paddling thought: As Keith Richards once said in response to the rest of the band telling the Hampton, VA audience how good it was to be in Hampton, “I’m just happy to be anywhere!” Never-the-less, I’d say my happiest to be there moment was paddling around the Blaskett Islands in Ireland this July, in all that highly textured water with a handful of close friends and my most amazing wife.

We sent this out some time ago by email, but spam filters are hungry these days. So if you need another copy, here it is!