by Steve Bulwicki
I’m relatively new to freestyle canoeing and have to admit I’m hooked. It provides all of the relaxing, enjoyable elements of flat water paddling and adds an exciting technical challenge.
I attended the third annual Wisconsin Canoe Symposium, held at Pine Lake Camp in Westfield, Wisconsin in June this year, and wanted to share some of the highlights and thank those who made it possible.
The venue was perfect. After traveling on the fast paced interstate system, it was nice to slow down and drive through a small Main Street town, then wind through the countryside for a few miles on a two lane road leading to camp. I knew I was at the right place when I pulled into the parking lot and saw canoes strapped on top of all of the vehicles. Following the freshly staked signs, I made my way up to the spacious dining room, with its vaulted ceiling, knotty pine paneled walls, and a huge rustic fireplace in the center. This is where we met up throughout the weekend and had all of our meals. The food was prepared by the staff and served up family style. Everyone seemed to enjoy the varied menu and most of us helped ourselves to seconds and sometimes even thirds!
There were quite a few lodging options, including nicely wooded campsites, cabins with bunk beds and comfortable hotel style rooms. Of course you can’t have a canoe symposium without a lake, and it was picturesque, with a nicely groomed beach to launch our boats from, that also doubled as a spectator seating area for the evening events. The mature trees that surround it met the shoreline and offered a much appreciated wind shadow for times when it got gusty.
The water was clear enough to allow a view of the many bluegill and bass that inhabit it along with a number of blue heron in search of a meal.
There were plenty of classes, events and activities to keep everyone busy too. This was my second symposium and again, I was very impressed by the quality of instructors and their willingness to share their knowledge. The classes were small enough that each student received a lot of personal attention and was able to work on their needs and meet their requests. Not only was it enjoyable and rewarding to improve my own paddling skills, but to watch others learning and building confidence as they nailed the rail for the first time.
The slalom course race on Friday night was a lot of fun for everyone, and included everything from the semi-serious solo contenders to a giant eight man canoe paddled by camp staff members in full costume. There was an award ceremony afterward and everyone who entered received a prize. First place went to Mickey Venero who maintained the family tradition of his previously unbeaten father.
The freestyle exhibition on Saturday night was a beautiful display of the properly executed maneuvers set to music. Ron Young did a great job as the master of ceremonies and kept everyone entertained between routines. There was a large turnout of spectators including many camp goers from other parties and everyone cheered aloud and enjoyed the show.
One of the most memorable events took place Saturday night after dark. Bruce Kemp and Anita LoVan organized a candlelight paddle and supplied enough small, battery operated candles to mount to the bow and stern of each canoe. We then paddled into the darkness on a perfectly calm lake and maneuvered around a number of randomly placed illuminated buoys. I could not help but appreciate the serenity, but also the skills of everyone who paddled within inches of each other and avoided any collisions. The other thing that struck me was how much more in tune you become with the movement if your boat and the feel of your paddle in the water.
Other highlights of the weekend included the food, the root beer float get together and the Saturday evening barbeque. There were also small impromptu gatherings for acoustic music every night which rounded out the day nicely. Another part of the symposium that I really enjoyed was talking with others about each other’s gear and the occasional boat swap. It’s a great opportunity to see, feel and experience the different equipment options available to us freestyle paddlers.
The event was very well organized, from the location choice, meal planning and attendee contact to the signs, name tags, assignment sheets and countless other details. None of this would have been possible without the effort and dedication of Paul Klonowski, Tracy and Cathy Hunt. Thank you very much, and I’m looking forward to next year’s WCS!