HOUGHTON - With an abundance of settings for kayakers on both open and inland waterways, the Keweenaw Peninsula is a paddler's paradise.
Women from around the U.P. are coming to the Copper Country this weekend for a one-of-a-kind chance to learn more about the sport and culture of sea kayaking at the Ladies of the Lake sea kayak symposium.
"The Keweenaw is unique in that depending upon which way the wind is blowing, you can always find protected water," said Arni Ronis, owner of Downwind Sports in Houghton and one of the organizers of the event, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday. It offers female kayakers a chance to try out equipment, learn paddling techniques and safety skills and fellowship with other kayakers.
Participants in the Ladies of the Lake sea kayak symposium take to the water during a trip from the Lily Pond to Hancock Thursday. (DMG photo by K.D. Warvie)
"Everybody at Ladies have become one big family, because we tend to come back year after year after year," said Pat Henry of Butler, Pa.
About 55 women are expected to participate.
One of the reasons the event was established was to provide women a comfortable environment to learn the sport, including workshops taught by female instructors.
"There's a lot of camaraderie. The girls help each other out and it's a great learning environment," Ronis said.
Lisa Daujotas came to this weekend's event from Burlington, Wis., to improve her skills, especially in safety techniques. She participated in a British Canoe Union class Thursday to work towards a BCU 3-star award.
"I really enjoyed that because it was a good, thorough overview of many different things," she said.
Food will be a major theme of this year's symposium, namely cooking in the outdoors. Workshops will discuss dehydrating and freeze-drying food to preserve it for the trip, as well as a hands-on workshop in single-burner baking with minimum ingredients and equipment.
The event features workshops tracked for three different skill levels. Classroom instruction at the Ramada Inn in Hancock will include the basics of boat selection, paddling and personal flotation devices. On-water clinics, at Sandy Bottom Community Park in Dollar Bay, will give participants an understanding of safety techniques like rescues and rolling in case of a tip-over, and refining strokes for increased power and efficiency.
"The kayak instruction is absolutely world-class," Henry said.
Of course, just as important as the in-classroom formal learning is the out-of-classroom exchanges between paddlers.
"That's what a symposium's about, talking to other paddlers and learning things. You'll always pick up something," Ronis said.
Saturday and Sunday will also include opportunities for paddlers to try out new equipment from a variety of vendors at Sandy Bottom Community Park.
In the days to come, participants can also sign up for longer excursions sponsored by local outfitters, including one to Isle Royale.
Henry, who brought two friends with her from Pennsylvania for the weekend, is excited to participate in what she calls "an incredible symposium."
"You get into a boat, and you're 16 again," she said.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.