Surfski Vacation 2013
The first annual TC Surfski Immersion Vacation was a great success and turned out to be everything I had hoped for and more. Although we didn’t get much wind and the water was still cold, we had warm and dry weather overall and had a phenomenal four days of paddling.
Thursday Evening – A Casual Paddle
As planned, the vacation started off with participants arriving Thursday evening. It was a beautiful night with very calm winds and clear skies. A group of us got out for a nice 6 mile evening paddle from Lee Point in West Bay. The group immediately took note that the West Bay water temps were still quite cold, but they were all blown away by the clarity of the blue water. You could easily see down 30 feet to the lake bottom. We kept a casual pace for the paddle just using it to loosen up and shake off the long drives.
Following the paddle we returned to the Lodge for appetizers, beers, and pizza from the corner restaurant, M22 Vines. As expected, there was lots of great conversation Thursday night about all things paddle and water related. Those who committed to the first annual vacation lucked out as we weren’t able to fill the lodge so they each got a private suite of their own to retreat to at the end of the night.
Friday – The Full Immersion Begins
The action kicked off early Friday with an 8:00 AM start. The two instructors Rob and Erik quickly jumped into the dry land training material while we waited for the temps outside to warm up a bit. With a variety of instructional aids, Rob and Erik held court and provided an excellent and in-depth overview of proper forward stroke technique.
After 2 hours of instruction we handed out splash and wind proof NRS paddle jackets embroidered with TC Surfski to all full camp participants and geared up to hit the water. We made the short 5 mile drive over to Lake Leelanau where we knew the water would be calmer and warmer than West Bay. Before getting into the water Erik had each participant demonstrate the forward stroke technique with a broomstick while he made minor corrections and tweaks. Once they had his stamp of approval it was out into the water to start applying everything they learned under the watchful eye of Rob and Erik
The group paddled for about 90 minutes with Rob and Erik spending time individually with each of them further critiquing their in-water technique and helping them to make and feel the necessary adjustments. We then broke for a well-earned, healthy and power packed lunch at the boat launch.
Following lunch it was time to gear up for the video analysis. The paddlers got back out on the water and had a few minutes to practice their best technique before we started the video camera from a pontoon boat. I had a lot of fun using my zoom lens to take lots of footage of all paddlers from all angles.
Rob quickly saw the opportunity we had with the pontoon boat and started showing the paddler how to surf the wake. Each paddler took turns riding the wave generated by the pontoon boat while we continued to get great footage. Some of the paddlers were a little timid at first, but with Rob’s encouragement they quickly got the hang of riding the boat wash and realized how fun it can be.
After a couple hours on the water we wrapped up the session with some remount training where Erik worked to ensure all the paddlers could quickly and comfortably remount their surfskis.
Beers and Thick Skin – Group Video Critique Is On!
We then headed back to the lodge for some beers and appetizers and to download the video and rapid fire photo footage I had taken. We went through footage of each paddler looking at both pictures and video while Erik critiqued technique. This proved extremely beneficial to the paddlers as they could see in slow motion, still frame, and live video exactly what they were doing right as well as what they were doing wrong.
Around 6:00 after 10 hours of pure paddle/surfski learning, it is safe to say all the participants had probably maxed out their intake capacity and it was time to relax a bit and let it all sync in. The group staying at the lodge headed into Suttons Bay for dinner at Boone’s where we had some great non-paddling related conversations just to mix it up a bit.
We returned to the lodge for a couple more beers and a bit of paddle talk and then retired for the night.
Saturday – A Little Less Intense
Saturday was a much smaller group, so we started the day a little more leisurely. Once again we started out on Lake Leelanau to do some additional forward stroke technique work before our planned adventure out on the bay later in the day. Before getting into the water Erik and Rob went over several very informative topics around outfitting your boat for comfort, safety and resistance training. This was extremely informative as they both shared tips and tricks I had never before heard of. It served to reconfirm in my mind that just when you think you can read everything there is to know on-line, there is still a wealth of knowledge from those who have been immersed in the paddle/surfski world that just never makes it into writing.
I found this session extremely helpful along with the on-water technique tips that Rob and Erik offered to me. It also confirmed to me that while you may think you know all the right things to do, there is absolutely no replacement for having a knowledgeable coach watch and critique your form, especially when you have video as well.
After a couple hours on the water we headed back to the lodge for lunch. The timing was excellent as the sun was just starting to really shine through and we were able to enjoy the rays on the front deck of the lodge. But there was still more paddling to be had, and we quickly wrapped up lunch and geared back up to get out on West Bay. Unfortunately the wind gods were not cooperating and we didn’t have any real downwind conditions to seize, so Erik, Greg, James, Rob, and I decided that with a light east wind, our best option was to head straight across the bay. When we reached the other side, James revealed that this had been a life long goal of his. We kept a solid pace and made the 5 mile crossing in well under an hour. On the way back Rob and Erik wanted to do five 9 minute intervals. The rest of us would try to hang with them as long as possible. I think I made it two minutes. This was quite an eye opener for me on what it takes to paddle at their level. With a slight wind at their back, they were doing the nine minute intervals at a pace of just over 8 mph
Our lone woman participant at the camp, Gretchen, joined up with my wife and while we were crossing the bay they had an equally fun time with a more casual paddle from Lee Point
The Grand Finale
After completing the 10 mile paddle we quickly headed back across the street to the lodge to rehydrate with a beers in the still warm, but slowly setting sun. While the group traded entertaining stories, I was off to throw together the grand finale appetizers and gourmet meal and desert. We all sat down to a fabulous and healthy gourmet dinner at the lodge to wrap up the official two days of the surfski vacation. In our conversation over dinner we discovered that Erik was actually the author of the article written nine years ago that triggered me to buy my first surfski from California. It was really neat to see it all come full circle and we joked that I’ll now know who to blame when this business bankrupts my family.
The Encore – Determined to Find Some Surfing
On Sunday I was off to run the M22 Course with my wife, but not to be skunked, Rob, Erik and Greg were determined to find some wind and waves and make sure they experienced all the paddling Traverse City has to offer. They opted for a 20 mile paddle from Leland out to North Manitou and back. The channel did not disappoint. On the way out they headed into a very light West wind, but by the time they turned around the wind was picking up and they had some 2 footers to surf all the way home. They had so much fun they Greg has suggested we organize a Molokai like downwind channel crossing this summer the day after the TC Waterman. If all works out, we’ll ferry our boats out to the island and surf the swells all the way back.
The First Annual Surfski Immersion Vacation was an overwhelming success by all measures. We had great paddling, phenomenal coaches, and most importantly everyone who attended made step change improvements in their paddling technique and truly had a wonderful immersion experience.
The tag team of Rob and Erik doing the coaching with assistance from Greg was simply unbeatable. The combined experience and knowledge they were able to share was amazing and ensured a connection was made with everyone.
I’m already looking forward to the next Surfski Vacation and I know there are a lot of paddlers out there who will benefit immensely from attending. I would like to get to a point of running two per year and I’ll be working with Rob, Erik,and Greg to figure out the best timing to make it happen.
Check out the video recap and be sure to get signed up for 2014.