North East Kayak Symposium

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Learning from experience makes a good paddler but listening and learning from peers and mentors makes a strong one. By sharing collective thoughts, ideas and techniques we all benefit, both as students and as coaches. One of the things I love most about sea kayaking is the universal inclusiveness of the sport. Seldom have I met another paddler whom I wouldn’t want to call a friend, nor one who might hesitate to help improve each other. There is an culture of passing on knowledge and experience, be it through action  or stories.

Kayak symposiums are just one way of doing this,  but from experience they tend to be dominated by the middle-aged and middle class. While this is by no means a bad thing, the concept of an event aimed solely at encouraging young student level paddlers seemed a great new take on an old sport. This was the concept of the first ever Northeast Collegiate Kayak Symposium (NECKS), an event offering student level kayakers a chance to hone and expand their abilities in the energetic, lively environment of their peers.

And so it was with little hesitation when offered to speak and paddle as part of it that I said yes. . . I was finally headed to the USA.

0F9A2030.jpgFlying over Greenland en route to Toronto – Montreal – USA – a special surprise! 

Hey, Sir….wait a second please! An air hostess panted. Out of breath we had raced each other across Toronto airport, desperate to make our connection to the next flight. We made it…just! In Canada for just 35 minutes, in transit to New York state,  my first impressions were of stereotypical kindness. I saw you running too…so I bought you a Tim Hortons (coffee)…she smiled. Ahhh Canada!

But I hadn’t flown across the ocean to the USA for coffee, I had come to kayak on my fourth continental shore, speak at the symposium then, climb some hills, catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

I arrived to meet Maeghan, who along with Steve Cerri organised the whole event. Maeghan and her partner Matt are great friends of mine from Patagonia, we shared a season working there together, and understand the challenges and rewards of working at the edge of the world. You may remember Matt from our adventures together here.

Kindly housed by the legendary Melissa and Steve Maynard. Steve is one of the main heads of the SUNY Plattsburg Expeditionary Studies degree course – (if Carlsberg did degrees), and a truly lovely man. We settled into old stories and new plans for the next weeks adventures in Maine.


A long 7h drive through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine was particularly spectacular in the ‘Fall’. Staying in a large wooden cabin in the woods we settled in for the symposium. While Maeghan and Steve set into action, Matt and I had the chance to escape together and explore the coast.

The low rocky shores, lined with pine and the burnt red leaves of maple and beech trees was particularly scenic, even on a grey day. While Matt lead the way along a shore he was familiar, we chased tide races and played on surf between short stretches of scenic coastal hopping.


As the three days of the symposium came and went I felt privileged to shadow some truly fantastic coaches, Don Cheyette from Seattle Adventure Sports, John Carmody from Sea Cliff Kayakers and Carl Ladd and Matt from Osprey Sea and Surf lead the highest ‘level 4’ groups each day who I chose to follow. Those I followed were just a handful of a large group of great coaches leading various levels. Each had their own infectiously great humour, style and skill and made the best out of some great conditions. The first and last day being perfect for tidal work and rock hopping, the second day some solid 5* ‘storm’ paddling.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure from the weekends paddling  was watching a building enthusiasm in a next generation discovering the magic sea kayaking. There was an electric energy in the air as levels of ‘stoke’ grew higher, on more than one occasion I heard the words- ‘Sea kayaking is pretty cool’ muttered with unsuppressed surprise.

The ability of the older coaches to craft lesson plans they had done a thousand times and adapt them for a younger and more dynamic group was exemplary and by rose picking the best bits from  their experience they allowed each student to blossom, and in doing so have seeded the next wave of budding paddlers.

The ocean carries limitless cliche analogies for progress, the next wave, a turning tide etc, but this symposium genuinely seemed to have that air about it. Without a doubt I’ll be back again in the future, and look forward to paddling with all those new friends made over the few days we spent together.

Some experiences are best told in photographs- so here are just a few from an action packed weekend. Book on for next year at



A massive thanks to Maeghan and Steve for the massive amount of effort they put into making the event happen! Also to all the coaches who attended and Garrett Cooper for the excellent talk on jungle adventures. Also to Steve and Melissa for being such lovely hosts in NY state, and for the lovely birthday dinner.


Ill be back America! 

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One Comment on “North East Kayak Symposium

  1. Nice piece Will and I am glad you enjoyed your birthday. I hope you are looking forward to being in one place for a few months now…..enjoy!

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