International Training with Adventurous Experiences
September 23-25, 2011
My bet with Dale Williams, founder of Sea Kayak Georgia, on Sunday September 25th: that I can get a smile from even one of the paddlers from Finland. We are headed down toward the Isle of Calf off the south end of Isle of Man. Southerly winds blew hard last night and are expected to go to Force 6 this afternoon. Yesterday, Dale and I took our 16 students surfing in two different groups with the help of local Isle of Man guides. They’ve sure been paddling and training with Keirron and George, as their idea of beginner/novice surf instruction had us in longish swell with some seriously noisy break. Nervous students don’t learn well; as the Finns mostly paddle in the Baltic Sea with no real swell or current, Dale and I quickly paddle a retreat to a more protected smooth spilling beach break. We best remember that our local Manx guides operate on a pretty crazy standard if they think that last ledge was a proper instructional area for novice/intermediate surfing.
Dale and I are visiting coaches at Keirron Tastagh’s Isle of Man Symposium, now in its 9th year. Keirron is a totally fun, mad Manx who’s actually even tougher and stronger than he looks – and as with the 3 legged Manx symbol, just won’t be knocked down til he’s dead. We’re centered out of his family farm base, where generations of strong, friendly folks serve great homemade food from this agriculturally based area.
Seems odd to be the "visiting coaches", since for over 20 years Dale and I both have imported U.K. paddlers to the States to provide the buzz and coaching expertise at our symposia and trainings. I mean really, do you want to listen to me - or Nigel Dennis, Phil Clegg, Pete Jones, Nico Middelkoop, Jukka Linnonmaa, Dale…or the indomitable spirit of Keirron Tasgah and his waves of strong, eager Manx paddlers?
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution gets creative with the triskelion symbol of the Three Legs of Mann. The history of the Three Legs of Mann goes as far back as Pagan times and was originally a symbol of the sun and of power and life. All the early examples of the Manx Legs show them running clockwise towards the sun. The symbol appears to have been adopted in the Thirteenth Century as the royal coat of arms for three kings of the Isle of Mann/Man, whose realm at the time also included the Hebrides in the Western Isles of Scotland. The Three Legs of Mann motto, “Quocunque Jeceris Stabit”, literally translates to “Whithersoever you throw it, it will stand.”
My Finn group has clearly trained for several years under Jukka, who brought 13 Finns down to this event. My primary job is introducing them to the seamanship of tidal streams and swells, rocks and ledges. They are adept, interested and want to do it all… and they will be with Keirron for four days after Dale and I fly down to Holyhead. Our pod travels south along the Westerly cliffs down toward The Calf. Weather started Irish Sea warm, sea state decent. Grey seals frolic just feet from our boats. We back into a few caves, work paddling as close to the cliff walls as our skills allow, try to solve rock garden moves with minimal elegant strokes. Occasionally I need to stop and ask one Finn to translate the lesson or the risks as the swell lumps up, winds increase, and the small tidal race comes into view. We establish a last safety or retreat spot before the last corner into the swift water. Ah now I’ve got their attention!
Calf of Man
Swells climb up the race and add a dimension to the rapids that allows us to drop below the increasing winds. We practice surfing the race, holding position, moving across the eddy lines, watching the wave shapes change, positioning ourselves depending on our various fun/fear indicators. On a ferry glide across to the protection of an island, one of the Finns is flipped by a refracting swell. He emerges out of the biggish white water with a developing lump above his right eye. Was it something in the water as he thinks? Or the bow of his rescuer? He’ll be a one-eye tomorrow! His story will be about the hungry wave that ate him, or some rugby or pub brawl that anyone would believe coming from Manx country.
Calf of Man Cliffs
The race is proving achievable to the Finns. I can see them starting to loosen up, to feel out the steeper breaks, to reflexively brace into the refracting angles... maybe I will win the bet. At least they are experiencing that their skills work in real conditions!
On the way back north, along the no-landing-zone-cliffs to our protected put-in, the swells are increasingly speeding up behind - making the timing of the attempted rock moves crucial to avoid more lumps on the head. "Don’t turn your back on the sea!" gets them studying the incoming swell energy. And with a bit of extra help on positioning and timing, I start to see all of them laughing nervously at their success in the rock gardens, in living for another day paddling! Yes, I even heard that triumphant laugh as a bigger swell projected one through the narrow gap. I believe I win this bet, Dale.
Tidal Race in Calf Sound
Maine Island Kayak Co