SKCC Paddlefest and The Traditional Paddlers Gathering

When I arrived in Thunder Bay for the Superior Kayak & Canoe Club Paddlefest I couldn’t help but take a deep breath of the warm air. During my last visit temperatures had dropped to -37 celsius, and the water that had been frozen solid then, was now a comfortable temperature for swimming, canoeing and of course… kayaking.


Testing out a canoe.


And stand up paddle boards.


The weekend’s events at Boulevard Lake included a morning yoga session, strokes classes for both canoes and kayaks, a rescue and recovery class, an on-land incident management class, an evening presentation on my summer travels, paddle tricks, rope gymnastics and socializing around a fire. There were kayaks, stand up paddle boards and canoes to demo, and a surf ski, that was so tippy that it prompted a contest on who could paddle it the furthest without tipping it over. After two days of fun on the lake, I conducted some backyard private rolling classes for those who still had energy to play in the water.


A very tippy surf ski.


Paddle tricks.


Rope gymnastics.


This was my fourth visit to Thunder Bay, and it’s always great to see Joe O’Blenis and Diane Hogan of Joe O’ Paddles, as well as the rest of the Thunder Bay crew. Thanks for having me out again!

After spending several days in Thunder Bay I hopped on a plane to Minnesota and headed to Lake Carlos State Park for the Traditional Paddlers Gathering. This was my second year at this event, although the location had changed since last time. The new location is fantastic, complete with bunkhouses, a community room, a craft building that served as a yoga studio and a large fire pit that provided a great place to socialize during the warm summer evenings.


Deluxe accommodations.


The gang.


The parking lot.


Throughout the weekend I mentored students through rolling and rescue and recovery in skin-on-frame kayaks. Strokes was also offered, as well as rescue and recovery in contemporary kayaks. Jeff Bjorgo conducted his famous harpoon throwing contest, complete with styrofoam seals, and I did two evening presentations. Thanks to Jeff and Michelle Forseth and Tony Schmitz for organizing this fun event and for feeding and watering me throughout.


Hitching a ride.


Harpoon contest winners.


Mark your calendars for next year, September 6 to 9. Rumor has it that the event is going to put a cap on registration… so make sure you register early… and get practicing on those harpoons!

Photos by Helen Wilson, Alan Drummond and Chris Johnston.

About Helen

Helen Wilson is the owner and founder of Greenland or Bust. Helen is internationally known for her rolling and traditional skills instruction. She has traveled to Greenland several times to compete in the Greenland National Kayaking Championship and/or to guide expeditions on the east, south and/or west coasts. Helen performs rolling demonstrations, presentations and instructs at events worldwide. She is the organizer of the US Storm Gathering Symposium.

Helen has two DVDs, Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson and Yoga for Outdoor People, and has written skills articles for several publications; including Sea Kayaker Magazine, The Masik, Ocean Paddler Magazine and Canoe & Kayak. She is on the Board of Directors and the President of Qajaq USA, the American Chapter of Qaannat Kattuffiat—the Greenland Kayak Association, and is also the Editor of Qajaq USA’s publication, The Masik. Helen is an ISKGA Coastal Guide and an ACA Instructor with an ACA Rolling Endorsement. She holds the DGI Certification (Denmark coach certification) and is a registered yoga teacher (RYT) and a Wilderness First Responder. She is also the Executive Director of the Wind River Visitors Council and a NOLS Field Instructor.

Contact Helen at if you have any questions or would like for her to attend an event.

Road Trip

After my return from the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, I had a few days at home with Mark. We explored the local waters of Big Lagoon, Maple Creek, Trinidad, Mendocino and Crescent City before packing the car and driving up the coast to do some classes for the Olympic Peninsula Paddlers in northwest Washington.

Mark at Big Lagoon, California.

Maple Creek, California.

Trinidad, California.

A cave with a waterfall in Mendocino, California.

A tunnel in Mendocino, California.

Crescent City, California.

Clinic organizer, Jo Zuzarte, was a wonderful host, and she made us feel right at home. Throughout the weekend we did four clinics and I did a slideshow presentation. The lake that we worked on was gorgeous, and two days of classes surrounded by steep, stunning mountains was just the medicine the students needed to develop, improve on or expand on their rolling skills.

Happy paddlers in Port Angeles, Washington.

After the classes in Port Angeles we headed to Bellingham to pick up my new kayak, a P&H Cetus MV that I’ll be using for some upcoming trips. We then headed to B.C. and took a ferry to Saturna Island, one of the Gulf Islands. Our friends John and Sandra live there and I hadn’t seen them in a couple of years. Saturna Island was just what we needed, and relaxing with friends, doing Qigong, walking and inhaling a little island air was wonderful. Of course, the best way to see an island is to paddle around it. So that’s what we did. John and Sandra also pulled together a last minute class and we had six eager students working on their rolls in the warm summer air.

A kayak is born.

Checking out the San Juan and Gulf Islands from Saturna Island, B.C.

Paddling around Saturna Island.

We then hopped on another ferry to Victoria, and met up with Michael Jackson of the South Island Sea Kayaking Association. I hadn’t been to Victoria since I was a kid and it was nice to be back. Summer is going strong on Vancouver Island, and it was tons of fun to teach strokes, maneuvers, bracing and beginning, intermediate and advanced rolling.

Mark in coaching mode.

Forward finish norsaq rolls.

Practicing maneuvering strokes.

On our way back down the coast we met up with Mark Peloquin of Bluewater Kayak Works. It was fun catching up with him while he installed a pump into my Cetus MV.

Mark about to install a pump into the Cetus.

Now Mark and I are driving down the coast back to Arcata, where we’ll have one day to unpack, repack and hopefully squeeze in a swim in the river and a hike in the redwoods before driving to Southern California to go to Disneyland before teaching classes in Dana Point on Saturday and visiting with family.

Pictures by Helen Wilson and Mark Tozer.

Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium – Grand Marais, Michigan

I am on my way home from an exciting six weeks of travel that ended in Michigan at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. It was my first time at this event, and I was there to instruct and give the Saturday evening presentation.

I flew from Denmark to Michigan on Monday, and spent Tuesday catching up on time zones and watching movies on my computer from the comfort of a hotel room. On Wednesday morning I rode with event organizer, Bill Thompson of Down Wind Sports to the event, located in Grand Marias. I then had the day to explore the quaint town and went on a walk along a beach to two lighthouses. I marveled at the surf break, reminding myself that despite appearance, this wasn’t an ocean, it was Lake Superior.



A beach on Lake Superior

On Thursday I was a guide for the Grand Island West Side Trip, a 20 mile trip along stunning cliffs. The lake was calm and clear, and the sun was bright. The group stopped often to play in rocks, go through archways, play under waterfalls and marvel at the incredible scenery. We stopped for lunch at the north end of the island, then made our way back along the same route, smiling and ready for the weekend.

An archway.

And another.

This rock has a face.

A waterfall.

On Friday I instructed Boat Control in Wind and Waves with Steve Scherrer and several other instructors. I spent the afternoon hanging out and teaching rolling with some other instructors in the designated rolling area, and on Saturday I conducted two rolling classes.

A glance at a whiteboard told me that someone had entered me into the GLSKS Race. After finding out that my total water time for this particular race would likely be under five minutes I decided to leave my name on the list. What I wasn’t told was that participants were expected to run to their kayaks (many of which had been filled with water and had their footpegs moved), then zigzag through a series of buoys going in so many directions that the race easily turned into a “contact race.” I paddled through something that was being referred to as the “Tunnel of Death” (a lovely area where buckets of cold water were tossed at race participants… by this time I’m thinking that I should’ve dressed for immersion instead of left my cotton t-shirt on, or at least taken the extra few seconds to attach the sprayskirt after hopping in the kayak) and then an area where a couple of swimmers were drifting around grabbing kayaks and shaking them. Then of course, there was Ben Lawry, who picked a few lucky participants to knock over, thereby getting himself disqualified (thanks Ben for picking me as one of your victims 😉

The official race vest, which the winners will keep until next year.

The event was a huge success, with a unique charm and fun (yes, that’s the right word) all of its own. And now I am on a plane, waiting patiently for the drink cart and looking forward to a few relaxing days at home with my partner before we drive up the coast to Washington and Canada for a little more time on the water.

Ben and Suzanne in the market for a new car.



Adventures in Europe – Part 2

For the past month I have been hopping around Europe. I’ve taught classes, met amazing people and have had lots of fun playing in the hot sun and on toasty beaches. Most of my time has been spent in Sweden, although since my last blog entry my travels have also taken me to Estonia. I’ve been teaching classes in rolling, strokes, rescues and balance and bracing. Many of the classes were co-instructed with Johan Wirsen, who is always a ton of fun to work with. I’ve spent lots of time paddling new (for me) spots. I also went sailing on Johan’s home-built sailboat, got some great tours, tried lots of local food, went to a paddle-in movie theater and got a tour of Tahe Marine.

Now I am on a train to Copenhagen for a morning flight back to the U.S. (for the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium). I think back over the past month and the adventures that I’ve had. Thank you to everyone that was a part of this tour; the organizers, the people that hosted me, and of course, the students.

Following is a picture blog of my recent travels. I look forward to being back next year!

Kalmar, Sweden.

Vaxjo, Sweden.

Taby, Sweden.

Nynashamn, Sweden.

Borgholm, Sweden.

Sailing with Johan.

Radmanso, Sweden.

Tjorn, Sweden.

Grebbestad, Sweden.

Tahe Marine, Estonia.

Tahe Marine warehouse, Estonia.

Tahe Marine factory, Estonia.

Attention to detail, Estonia.


My class in Estonia.

A beach in Estonia.

Paddle-in movie theater, Estonia.

Archery in Old Town, Estonia.

Cooling off behind a waterfall, Estonia.

Pieces of Summer

Last week I was chased by an elk and a sea lion within a period of just a couple of days. Although it may seem strange, this makes me smile because, in a way, these moments symbolize to me the start of a very exciting summer season.

Highlights in June so far have included leaving my “day job” for the season and a visit from Mark Tozer. We had time to go sight seeing, walking in the redwoods and playing in Humboldt Bay, Trinidad and Stone Lagoon, as well as visiting Kokatat who Mark is a UK Ambassador for.

A walk through Fern Canyon.


Wild Elk.

We also headed to Redding, California to conduct three rolling clinics for the kayaking Club, Just Kayak More. This was the second year that I’ve instructed for this enthusiastic Club, and it was great to see how much they’d progressed throughout the last year.

A little tandem rolling.

Last Thursday added another piece of summer when I headed up to Washington for the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium (SSTIKS). SSTIKS is a special event for me, because it is where I was first introduced to the wonderful world of traditional kayaking. This is a family friendly kayaking event filled with instruction in traditional skills (including rolling and harpoons), games, races, presentations and all around fun.

Harpoons anyone?

Rolling class.

After SSTIKS I hopped on a plane to Denmark, and now I am in Sweden, on a month long teaching tour throughout Europe. Classes start this afternoon, and I’m looking forward to an exciting month and more highlights!


Photos by Helen Wilson, Mark Tozer and Michael Morris.

OOPS, OOPTIKS and a Gorgeous Lake

Last week I meandered up the West Coast to do a presentation on Israel for the Oregon Ocean Paddling Society’s (OOPS) general meeting. OOPS is based out of Portland and is an active Club with a full range of paddling opportunities. I drive through Portland a lot, and it’s somewhere that I always tell myself that I need to stop and actually see. I had two days off before my rolling clinics, so Joanne Barta, Don Beale and myself explored the City. We visited outdoor stores, old furniture stores, vintage stores, and I got sucked into Powell’s, the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world, where I managed to spend an entire day. One evening Joanne and I rode an aerial tram over Portland, checking it out from a bird’s eye view.

A pristine classroom.

On Saturday I taught three rolling clinics on a beautiful lake. We got lucky with the weather, as the West Coast seems to have had continuous rain for several months.

Don Beale working on his rolls.

On Sunday we drove up to Skamokawa in Washington for a one day symposium called Oregon Ocean Paddlers Traditional Inuit Kayaking Symposium (OOPTIKS). OOPTIKS is a practice event for the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium (SSTIKS), a much larger event that takes place next month. It was great to see the SSTIKS people. This year SSTIKS celebrates its 10 year anniversary. It was the event that introduced me to traditional kayaking, and I’ve been there every year since. If you’re thinking of going to a symposium this year, SSTIKS is a wonderful one to attend.

The Lower Columbia River.

Maneuvering Strokes Class.

OOPTIKS takes place in a gorgeous location on the Lower Columbia River. I instructed the Manuevering Strokes class with Joanne in the morning, and taught rolling all afternoon. There was also an entertaining safety and rescue demonstration and lots of informal instruction. After OOPTIKS I made my way back down the coast, looking forward to its sister event next month. Hope to see you there!

Rescue demonstration.

2011 East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival

Last Wednesday I hopped on a plane to Charleston, South Carolina for the 21st annual East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival. It was my first time attending this event and I was greeted by friendly people, warm sun and incredible food.

The event takes place at the James Island County Park, which resembles a resort with its water park, climbing wall and playgrounds, and I stayed in one of the charming cottages on the property. I soon felt like I was in paradise as I stretched out in a rocking chair on the porch to watch a Cardinal flit from tree to tree in the surrounding marsh.

A little piece of paradise.

The Park is huge, and a bike provided transportation from the cottages to the dining hall, to the lake where classes took place all weekend. Vendors lined the shore, and it was great to chat with local outfitters at their booths, as well as others in the outdoor industry, such as Kokatat, P&H, Outdoor Research and Qajaq USA.

Kayaks, kayaks and more kayaks.

Bob Burnett demonstrating the easy way to empty a kayak.

Participants tried out kayaks while watching for turtles that swam around in the warm water. Both on-land and on-water classes took place throughout the weekend, and I had a blast instructing my classes as well as jumping in to work with other instructors. I also tried a stand up paddleboard for the first time, and had tons of fun figuring out how to maneuver the thing.

One of many turtles.

Alligators... I looked, but I didn't see any.

Enjoying the sun.

Evenings were filled with conversation, beer, delicious food and socializing, as well as a Friday evening presentation on Greenland and a Saturday evening on-water presentation put on by the instructors. Throughout the weekend I saw many people smiling as they loaded new kayaks and gear onto their cars, heard lots of people talking about the skills that they’d learned and listened to people comment that this event often feels like the beginning of kayaking season… and I think I have to agree.

Dancing with water in unlikely places

I spent a lot of my childhood in Orange County. Many weekends were spent at Wild Rivers, the local water park. I’d head straight for a wave pool called Monsoon Lagoon, and would make my way through all of the people to the very front of the pool where I’d spend the entire day on a boogie board in front of the wave machine. I can still picture the noise that the machine would make as it generated wave after wave. Every wave was the same size, had the same interval and the same amount of power behind it. Every two hours or so the wave machine would turn off and the water would go flat for several minutes. I remember lining myself up in the flat water waiting for the machine to kick in. When it did my heart would jump in anticipation of the waves that would follow.

Gorgeous morning on Humboldt Bay.

In Humboldt County, California we have a surf break that forms in the middle of the Bay if conditions are right. There are three underwater sand spits in the middle of the Bay that line up nicely with the mouth of the Bay. If the swell coming in the mouth is large enough, the tide is ebbing and the tide is low enough, waves appear over the spits. In theory, the waves can be surfed from one end of the spit to the next, and then the kayaker ferries off to the side and the current carries them back to the start, where the process can be repeated. The waves will often disappear for minutes at a time and then suddenly pop up right behind you, in front of you, next to you or directly under you. The moving current, flat water and no identifiable features make it easy to lose place of where the underwater sand spits are located, and when the waves appear the adrenaline kicks in, but unlike Monsoon Lagoon, their size, shape and strength is completely unpredictable.

Wondering if this is the right spot.

Same spot, seconds later.

Yesterday I was sitting in the flat waters of Humboldt Bay waiting for that surf break. I found myself thinking of something an instructor (thanks Steve) once told me. “It’s not the sea that is confused, it’s you that is confused.” How true is that? The ocean knows exactly what it is doing, people however, often don’t.

Location, location, location.

We played in the surf break for a couple of hours, riding what was rideable; forwards backwards, sideways. We punched through surf, and sat in an awesome spot where small waves come from every direction crashing into each other and shooting water high into the air. I played in this spot for awhile trying to position myself so that I’d be right in the middle of this convergence, which is relatively gentle, but there’s something really fun (and hysterical) about getting hit in the face by a poof of water from the sea.

Dancing water.

It’s these unknown and unlikely spots where water dances that are often the most fun.

– Happy paddling!

Pictures by Michael H. Morris and Helen Wilson.

On another note, the Necky Chatham 16 in these pictures is for sale. For information, e-mail

Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium

As I drove down the coast Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t help but laugh. Strong winds were rattling the kayaks on the roof, heavy rain and hail were crashing into the windshield and then snow… and lots of it. I was on my way to the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium (GGSKS) and hadn’t seen weather like this along the California coastline since last year’s event.

Not so typical weather.

Pot of gold?

This was my third year going to the GGSKS, and it ranks up there as one of my favorites. The event focuses on open water kayaking, and the location provides a good mix of everything from rock gardens, unique play spots, currents and tide races, not to mention the impressive Golden Gate Bridge looming over the water. Everyone stays at a charming hostel located in the Marin Headlands, and as I hauled my bag through the door I was greeted by many familiar and friendly faces, and quite a few new ones as well. Everyone was smiling and many already had tales of adventure from classes that had been taking place throughout the week.

Over the weekend I co-taught Combat Rescues and two classes of Fun, Balance, Games and Rolling. It was wonderful to work with Leon Somme, Deb Volturno, Rowan Gloag, Mark Tozer and Duane Strosaker, as well as all of the enthusiastic participants, who are the people who really make this event happen.

Just another day around the Golden Gate.

A little fun and balance.

P&H hosted a party Saturday night, complete with pizza, live music and dancing. One of the things that I really enjoy about symposiums is the evening chats of adventure, lessons learned and realizations made. Everyone seems to have a mischievous sparkle about them.

Nigel, Tom, Shawna and Leon.

Saturday evening was dinner at the hostel, followed by Greenland Rope Gymnastics in the basement and then a slideshow presentation by Eric Soares of the Tsunami Rangers. Eric took us all through the journey of the Tsunami Rangers over the past 26 years. This group of people are truly inspiring, and if you ever have a chance to listen to their tales of adventure, fun and friendship, I suggest you do it. Eric released a book this year, Confessions of a Wave Warrior, (available at I’ve read it and highly recommend it. Later that evening was a raffle drawing with lots of great prizes. Proceeds went to The Marine Mammal Center.

Tsunami Rangers, Eric and Steven.

The weekend was awesome, with way too many stories and adventure’s to list here. Thank you to the organizers, Matt Palmariello and Sean Morley, the fantastic kitchen staff who kept everyone well fed and somehow managed to keep smiling the entire time, the sponsors of the event and to new and old friends. See you all next year!

A bunch of troublemakers.

More pictures can be viewed in the Gallery.

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