posted Jul 13, 2014, 3:56 PM by Richard Sevenich

Kayak symposia can be very fun and worthwhile events to attend. Here I'll give my impressions of SSTIKS, which I have attended twice in the last few years, but not this year (maybe next?).

SSTIKS is a somewhat labored acronym for "South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium" and is oriented toward Greenland style kayaking using the Greenland paddle (often referred to as a 'stick' - hence the acronym). This event occurs around the first or second weekend of June and is held on Hood Canal at Twanoh State Park. Several event characteristics are attractive:

  • the venue means you can camp (although I stay at a nearby motel)

  • it is quite social - family and kid friendly

  • it is friendly to relative beginners who have some kayak experience

  • the lead instructors are, in general, superb

  • lunch is provided Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

  • there are evening potlucks on Friday & Saturday

  • on Friday the potluck is followed by an evening presentation

I'll describe my experience at the last SSTIKS I attended. I arrived Thursday evening and checked in at a motel (room with kitchenette) in nearby Belfair. The next morning, after my usual spartan breakfast, I drove the less than 10 miles to Twanoh where a huge number of colorful and drab kayaks lined up on the beach, eagerly awaiting launch. I checked in at the large event tent on the beach (coffee available), confirming my Internet reservation. Although one must preregister for activities, each morning there is the opportunity to select among available times on sign up sheets. The activities run the gamut from beginner on up. These include courses on strokes, maneuvers, rolling, and even a first aid refresher. There was also an activity where participants made their very own Greenland paddles to take home, and another demonstrating construction of a SOF (Skin On Frame) kayak. I didn't pay much attention to the kid activities, but they looked busy all day having fun.

I continued my dogged pursuit of the rolling skill, signing up for several beginning sessions. Once again, as I cycled through the various instructors, they were brought to tears. Nevertheless, I learned something, albeit not how to roll - which is actually useful information. For example, it became clear that the inflexibility of my compromised lower back puts "layback" rolls out of my reach. Maybe yoga or focused stretching exercises would help. [As a side comment, it is disgusting how quickly the little kids learn to roll.] Note that a few months later, I started having some limited success with rolls and the SSTIKS exposure ultimately proved useful. Also note that some people (likely aliens from another planet) do catch on quickly.

Additionally, I took the first aid refresher course from Marcel Rodriguez. I've also had him as a rolling instructor. He is outstanding as a teacher. He also started the kid's activity track at SSTIKS some years ago. These activities are fun to watch.

As I wandered about the site between courses and meals, I had a chance to visit and chat with assorted participants including

  • a cute family of four visiting from Sweden

  • luminaries such as John Lockwood (owner of Pygmy) and Donald Sterling (Sterling kayaks)

  • random but interesting people

There were many, many kayaks to inspect and even some to borrow - lots of SOFs, various Pygmy models, strip built kayaks (looking too beautifully artistic to use), lots of composite boats (e.g. many NDK Romany kayaks), and even a few rotomolded craft.

Although Greenland paddles are de rigueur at SSTIKS, you aren't out of luck if you don't have such - there are a large number set aside to borrow. However, I've seen no one with the temerity to use a euro (or worse a wing) paddle. In fact, there were none visible. There are typically a few Greenland paddles for sale. I bid on one at the evening auction event at a prior SSTIKS, and picked up a nicely crafted Greenland paddle - to complement one I brought from home (described by one instructor as a "club").

The main evening event was a slide show given by a native Greenlander. Part travelogue and part documentary, it showed how a core of Greenlanders are preserving and trying to bring back old kayaking skills and the related crafts. This was actually quite fascinating.

On the second afternoon (if my memory is accurate), there was a demonstration of most of the 30 or so Greenland rolls e.g. rolling with a brick and no paddle. There were maybe 5 participants led by the 'famous' Dubside. Some rolls were so difficult that only Dubside could do them – nor did everyone even try some of them.

It's worth emphasizing that this symposium is user friendly, even for relative beginners. Further, even though the focus is on Greenland kayaking, the skills and knowledge imparted are of general use to kayakers.