MARCO ISLAND — The Paradise Coast Paddlers Club 8th Annual Festival, held last weekend in Isles of Capri, is the Swiss army knife of paddling events. The festival includes something for everybody, from sea kayakers to paddle boarders to camp cooking enthusiasts, from beginners just “getting their feet wet” to grizzled veterans of the kayak world. Even surf skis were represented.
The two-day festival offered classes in paddling technique, serious and fun races, excursions through the mangroves and islands surrounding Johnson’s Bay, and the chance to win a $1,600 sea kayak. Held at the water’s edge behind the Capri Fish House Restaurant, the festival featured advice from some of the leading practitioners of paddling sports, up close and personal.
The use of Greenland-style paddles has become a trend in the world of kayaking. The Paradise Coast Paddlers Club went beyond just having the Greenland paddles available to try, they had a world record holder in Arctic paddling events, and the founder of the American chapter of the Greenland Kayaking Association (Qaannat Kattuffiat) on hand to spread the gospel.
Greg Stamer is the world record holder for circumnavigating both Iceland and Labrador in a kayak, and winner of a gold medal in kayak rolling. Saturday was the day for serious kayakers learning advanced techniques, and Stamer started them out on dry land, sitting with butts on the ground and feet pushing against another student sitting opposite. This simulates the position when paddling, and Stamer showed how to spread the work of paddling around all the body’s major muscles, how not to paddle with just one’s arms.
“Beginners tend to use their arms for everything,” he said. “It’s a whole body exercise.”
The Greenland paddles, slender-bladed wooden or carbon-fiber poles with blades not much wider than the central “grip” portion, are sometimes compared to a two-by-four compared to a traditional wide-bladed paddle. Both types are double ended, so unlike canoeists, kayakers never have to switch sides. Stamer said the Greenland paddles are much better at distributing the load, and easier on the arms, something important to paddlers no longer in the first flush of youth.
While he is an expert at the Eskimo roll, he does not recommend it as a strategy when racing, he told the students.
“No one is very fast when they’re upside down,” he said, adding that the K1 kayaks used for racing are quite prone to capsizing. “You part your hair, and it wants to turn over.”
His paddle trip around Iceland, said Stamer, took 33 days to travel the 1,300 miles, through water as cold as 28 degrees Fahrenheit; salt water gets colder before it freezes. “Most of the firsts have been done, so now everyone wants to be the fastest” for a given route, he said. Closer to home, he just posted a first place finish in the Everglades Challenge, racing off Florida’s west coast to the Keys.
Out on Johnson’s Bay, instructor Steve Scherrer gathered a group of over a dozen kayaks for practice in paddling, including draw strokes to move the boat sideways, and “bow rudders” for quick changes in direction. One paddler who headed out with no PFD was quickly sent back for it. The fashion statement of the day, in addition to the life jacket, featured spray skirts, which seal around the kayaker to prevent the boat flooding in waves or a roll, big floppy hats for sun protection, and a variety of water shoes.
The water behind Capri Fish House deepens so gradually that nearly 100 yards out, kayakers were practicing their Eskimo rolls in depths not much above their waist. On Sunday, Stamer and Jay Rose gave a demonstration of proper rolling technique. Rose and Chris Boland taught solo and assisted kayak rescue, and paddlers of all skill levels took a variety of excursions to Johnson, Sea Oat, and Cannon Islands.
Lisa Hamburg drove over from Pompano Beach for the festival.
“I want to get better skills, and hang around with people who don’t think I’m crazy,” she said.