It should be obvious by now that I am a big fan of the Ottawa River! Big water, warm water, and tons of great play make this river the best place to be in July and August if you want to play. Every year I spend about three weeks on the Ottawa. I have done instructor training under the World Kayak Federation banner for Wilderness Tours since the 90’s. The official name of the school is Ottawa Kayak School and it includes the Keener program. Right now Clay Wright, Stephen Wright, Nick Troutman, and myself are instructors for the Keeners. The Keener program is where you’ll see the best junior freestyle kayakers in the world come from in the next few years. Nick, Dane, Emily, Joel Kowalski, Katie Kowalski, “Deuce” and more all are “Keeners”. A Keener is a “keen and eager teen” and goes to “summer camp” on the Ottawa where character development and kayaking are the focus. The minimum time is 3 weeks and you can go all summer. Dane, who has the best paddling life of any 14 year old I know, can’t wait to spend this week with the Keeners. (that should say something).
I, however, taught a 5 day “EJ Clinic” last week and then a 2 day “EJ Clinic” this weekend. Last week my students came from Norway, England, Ontario, Oregon, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, etc. All over the place! We learned my entire “EJ’s Strokes and Concepts” program. “Ej’s Rolling and Bracing” (yes they learned to do hand rolls on both sides, one hand etc.), and some of “EJ’s River Running”, and some of “EJ’s Playboating” skills. It is a full on day for me each day. It is important that nobody leaves my clinic without having major breakthroughs in their paddling and having a great time. This is a little stressful for me since I feel so personally responsible for each person’s success. When they succeed I am thrilled. When they have a set-back, I am crushed.
We have had some interesting things happen. First off, I flew from Washington, DC to the Ottawa. Teaching until 7pm on Sunday night in DC and then teaching at 8am in Ontario the next day! Kristine drove the RV from DC to Canada the next day but only made it to just over the border before the transmission fried! 40 days before retirement, the RV decided that it couldn’t do it anymore! Kristine got the RV towed to a Ford Dealer in Brockman, Ontario where they ordered a new transmission that took 6 days to arrive. Meanwhile, we are lucky to have lots of great friends on the Ottawa River, including Nick’s parents, the Troutmans. Kristine and I slept in Nick’s room, while Nick and Emily are in their new home, the new Westfalia, and that is parked at the Put-in. We got to spend a lot of quality time with Rick and Paula Troutman during our stay at their house. I was teaching every day, and on the water at least 6 hours each day (sometimes 8 or more), under a bright sun, in warm water, with eager students so I was tired after each day and more ready to sleep than anything else.
After teaching for 10 days straight, I went straight to coaching Keeners. Stephen Wright is the head coach, with Nick, Moe, Clay, and myself also coaching, and Dane as an assistant coach. Day one for me was leading the “EJ’s Strokes and Concepts” Level 2 class, followed by a run down the main channel with 4 kids that had never done it before and 25 kids who had. 14 year old Theresa from Miami, Florida got a real change from the flatwater of Florida to the whitewater of the Ottawa! On Tuesday we spent some quality time surfing Push Button and Garberator, and then on Wednesday we had a freestyle competition on Baby Face. Before the competition , I spent 45 minutes teaching the kids as much about freestyle as I could. We went over how to train, how to compete, how to judge and score, and ultimately, the kids ran the whole competition themselves with only a little help from the coaches. Stephen has done a great job teaching the Keeners to be self-sufficient in running a freestyle competition.
I did an evening of instructor training for the Ottawa Kayak School instructors. At the Ottawa Kayak School they teach EJ’s Strokes and Concepts, Rolling and Bracing, playboating, and River Running techniques. They also evaluate each student on their skills in each skill and assign a level (1-5) using a form I designed for the WKF. This allows the students to leave with the knowledge of how well they do on each skill and know what to work on at home.
My final “horah” was a couple of sessions with Nick, Clay, Tiffany Manchester, Emily, and Stephen on Corner Wave and Baby Face. We played “pig” had mock rodeos, tried new tricks, and did a ton of surfing. I spent a lot of my time on Corner Wave just carving it up with aggressive front surfing, knocking the top off the wave on quick cutbacks, sidekicks, and throwing spray. Fun stuff! It is great to see the Ottawa crowd so into the new All-Star. I have finally designed the boat of choice for wave-surfing and hole-surfing all in one! The speed of the All-Star combined with the retentiveness even when you make mistakes makes it the top choice for people learning new moves or doing all of the hardest ones. In the 4 seasons with Jackson Kayak, this is the first one where I am having a full on run on a design. While, I am the most biased of any boater concerning my love for the All-Star, I can honestly say that it is changing my paddling life and just about everyone who gets one.
Kristine and I said good-bye to the kids. Dane is staying in the Keener program, while Emily is finishing her 1st semester of her senior year in high school and paddling on the Ottawa with Nick. We picked up the RV at 4pm on Friday night with a new Transmission and started off to Rock Island! We didn’t get past Sacket’s Harbor (on Lake Ontario) before stopping for dinner at Kristine’s favorite place, “the Tin Pan Galley” where the owner played live music (really good!) while we ate under a huge maple tree outside in 80 degree weather and clear skies. We didn’t attempt to drive after dinner, but I got up at 3am and started the day’s drive. We are attempting to get to our home tonight. It is 8am now and we just stopped for breakfast. The next time you get an update will likely be from Rock Island!