Paddler's Development Weekend - 2015

Organized by the Seattle Kayaking Committee, "PDW" is a gem of the organization's training events. Kayakers come together at Deception Pass for two days of clinics designed for advanced paddling skills in dynamic waters and build a community of experienced paddlers that carry out our mission.
Chris Williams Chris Williams
September 24, 2015
Paddler's Development Weekend - 2015
Kelp likes kayakers

Each year, Mountaineers kayakers come together to attend the advanced clinics sponsored by the Seattle Kayaking Committee at Deception Pass. Staying at the Environmental Learning Center at Cornet Bay, Mountaineers paddlers attend two full days of clinics that teach skills such as advanced paddle strokes, incident management, on-the-water navigation, introduction to moving and dynamic waters, and more! Being so close to the waters of Deception Pass for an entire weekend allows time for paddlers to spend more time learning skills and to connect with each other. 

Becoming an advanced paddler

The clinics taught this weekend (September 19th and 20th) were opened to recent graduates of the Basic Sea Kayaking Course more widely than in the past. Historically, the event had been used largely as a volunteer recognition and "thanks" for Sea Kayaking Leaders among the Everett and Seattle branches, but the Basic Sea Kayaking students who were invited were typically those who had shown the most commitment and enthusiasm in their course. This year, the event was opened up to everyone with a Sea Kayak badge on and the feedback was extraordinary. At this event, students are able to learn more advanced skills on calm water and then immediately transfer those lessons to the more dynamic conditions offered in the pass and surrounding areas. 

For example, in the "Rock Gardening" clinic,  students discover the fun of actively seeking to play safely where the waves and rocks meet. In "Managing Unexpected Situations On The Water," participants practiced how to manage various real-world scenarios that can arise on kayaking journeys; role-playing various situations. Then, in "Introduction to Moving Water," students learned how to understand tidal currents, "read the water" and practice maneuvers while crossing eddylines, ferrying and eddy-hopping. After demonstrating proficiency in basic paddle skills through the basic course, Mountaineer kayakers were able to get a flavor of the more dynamic (and exciting) situations that can occur on a trip at locations that attract people to the sport in the first place! 

If you would like to advance your paddling skills, consider attending this event next year (after you master the skills in the Basic Sea Kayaking Course) or enroll in one of our Intermediate Sea Kayaking Courses

Check out this action shot of Kitsap Leader Charlie michel:

Awesome action shot of Instructor Charlie Michel

Exceptional Feedback

Because of the new feedback system on, we can verify for everyone that the students for PDW UNIVERSALLY thought it was "outstanding"  and an "excellent course they would recommend to others." Every single participant who responded to the feedback survey selected these responses. Here are some of the other reasons The Mountaineers is one of the most amazing models for volunteer civic engagement in the country (from the survey responses): 


  • The great instruction and time to practice, the beautiful venue, the focus on safety, and the wonderful community of people.
  • The people I met and interacting with other paddlers.
  • The location and meeting paddlers from other branches.
  • PDW is a great and very well organized event.
  • Doing eddy turns.
  • I really enjoyed being on the water with paddlers who not only have amazing skills but also have the ability to impart knowledge to others.
  • Being on water and learning.
  • Really being able to improve my skills.
  • Learning new skills, increasing my confidence level and meeting wonderful people.
  • The full day focus on an activity that gave me time to refine the skill.
  • I have had this towing equipment for years but I wasn't sure how to use it. Now I know a whole lot more.


  • Protect our outdoor places through stewardship or advocacy (6 responses)
  • Spend more time with people I met in this course (7)
  • Volunteer to help with this course or other Mountaineers activities (6)
  • Spend more time outdoors (11)
  • Spend more time pursuing the activity taught in this course (11)
How rewarding would it be to paddle through this?

Photo of the currents behind a kayak at Deception Pass by Kym Ahrens.

The Mountaineers offers a huge "thank you" to Kay Gowan and all the volunteers who put on this event. Let's close this out by pointing out some of the reasons why becoming an instructor with us is so rewarding


  • The instructors are knowledgeable, experienced, and well-prepared for the day. Directions were clear and instructors demonstrated the skills before students were asked to try them. Instructors also clearly explained "why." For example, why the boat turns when on edge and why the eddy lines are created by current. They were also tuned in to the conditions of both weather and participants throughout the day.
  • Very well organized weekend. Awesome skilled, patient, supportive and helpful instructors who love the sport and sharing what they know with others. Beautiful location.
  • Instructors are very well organized, highly trained and they really care about improving the skill levels of the whole club.
  • I loved PDW and loved my clinic with Mike, Carol, and Karen. What a privilege to paddle with them!
  • Melinda was outstanding because she adroitly managed a diverse group in challenging conditions, she adapted to conditions in a way that increased group learning opportunities, she was personable and communicative, she was masterful at nudging students to test their abilities while staying safe. She did a great job of utilizing her help (Tom and Maureen). Tom was outstanding because he presented information very clearly and effectively, he was willing and able to get down and dirty to make his points (he spent a lot of time on the ground showing how to move legs and hips and how doing the wrong thing will cause you to capsize). He was a master at combining technical instruction with fun. He put together great progressions that allowed students time to practice the techniques. He provided plenty of feedback and helped students to understand the tasks and their purposes. He also showed imagination in leading students on a mini trip where they could employ the new skills they had learned through drills and exercises. Maureen was outstanding in her supporting roles. She skillfully demonstrated techniques and made sure that the group was kept together and safe. She was outstanding at talking students through a paddle through deception pass under conditions that were relatively mild yet still potentially intimidating for students.
  • The event was very fun and incredibly informative while also feeling casual and relaxed.
  • Friendly (with a smile!), inclusive, and amazing depth of knowledge And of course, safety
  • They always seem to display a really high degree of professionalism and substantive knowledge. Rarely do I think of any difference I might perceive between a professional instructor and a volunteer.
  • They were extremely knowledgeable and great teachers. Not everyone who is skilled is able to teach someone else a new skill. They were patient and able to tailor their instructions to the individual needs of the students.
"The Mountaineers enriches lives and communities by helping people explore, conserve, learn about and enjoy the lands and waters of the Pacific Northwest and beyond."

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Aly Waterfall
Aly Waterfall says:
Sep 25, 2015 10:55 AM

I was on the waitlist and was let into the weekend after the courses and choices were closed. I thought my clinic choices would be limited to just what I was given, but it was not the case and I did get to consider more options to improve my skills. And I think because I came in late, I was not offered the chance to weigh in my experience like the others. That said, I totally agree with all that I have read here in the blog. It was an excellent weekend experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat if offered next month. As a newcomer I was new to the whole group and all the workings involved. Next time I will jump in and add my energy to volunteering however I can. :*) Happy to now be part of the Mountaineers and very impressed with how well organized you all are! Thank you to all the hard work and dedication that went into making this weekend such a positive and fun learning experience!

Chris Williams
Chris Williams says:
Sep 25, 2015 11:33 AM

Thanks Aly!

Kay Gowan
Kay Gowan says:
Sep 25, 2015 06:50 PM

Nice blog Chris! Right! After attending PDW your skills will definitely advance and you'll have more tools in your toolbox to continue advancing. The instructors are top notch, dedicated to providing SAFE, FUN, LEARNING (in that order!)environments. Most are ACA trained instructors with many years of experience and able to teach to the level of their student's skills. The participants at the annual Paddler Development Weekend (PDW) self-select based on suggested skill levels for various clinics. Participants who benefit most from PDW are those who have directional control of their boat, have a solid grasp of basic strokes, and have had some experience paddling in currents.
Looking forward to next PDW 2016!