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July 17-21, 2019

"This place will change your life"

news for great lakes sea kayak symposium

Happy New Year News

Happy New Year!

Congratulations to Lavon Court. She wins the early, early 2018 GLSKS registration raffle and a $500 gift certificate to The Power of Water! 

Lavon Court (center)

We are working hard on adding to this already AMAZING event. These are just some of the things on tap:

  • Grand Marais and Pictured Rocks
  • Street Taco Welcome Dinner on Wednesday night
  • Fresh perspectives from Chris Hipgrave, Bill Vonnegut and Traci Lynn Martin
  • “Hey Sunshine” morning coffee and tea station featuring the beans of Kalamazoo Coffee Company
  • 2 nights of live music
  • Commemorative tech T-shirt
  • Pasty Dinner Fundraiser
  • All of you and your positive energy

We are starting a new early registration drive that includes the T-shirt, both dinners AND entry into a raffle for a $250 gift certificate from The Power of Water. So take out that calendar and get signed up by March 31st!

To ensure the delivery of a high quality experience, we are limiting participation to 80 of you. So make sure you are a part of the fun.

This place will change your life.

Trey and the GLSKS team.

Chris Hipgrave Presentation

GLSKS is proud to present Chris Hipgrave and his presentation of the Antarctic Peninsula for 2018!

Antarctic Peninsula Trip:
In 2016 Chris undertook an adventure of a lifetime, literally. When he was a boy growing up in the UK, he had a front row seat at the Telly watching British troops investigate and reclaim Falkland Islands and was captivated by the rugged beauty of the place. More than 4 decades later he found himself exploring the seas and shores himself from the cockpit of his kayak. Join Chris for his Antarctic Peninsula slide show as he takes us with him on his 6 week journey.

“Introduced to kayaking while at school, the sport opened my eyes to a World of competition and exploration. That wonder and excitement is still burning stronger than ever today. Fueled by a passion for all things paddle-sports, I’ve competed through out the World in a wide variety of disciplines and explored from the snow capped Bhutanese Himalayas, to South America, Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Antarctic Peninsula, but will always find my way back home to the intimate beauty of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains.
Get out and explore your World. It’s smaller than you think and more incredible than you could ever imagine.” – Chris Hipgrave

Chris is a sponsored paddler for Pyranha kayaks, P&H Kayaks, Epic Kayaks, Kokatat, and Werner Paddles. You can keep up with the adventures and deeds of Chris by visiting his webpage a

GLSKS 2017 Wrap Up


community. learning. adventure.

"This place will change your life"

Well, you all really did it. Thanks you so much for making our first experiment a success. I am very excited to practice and implement all that I learned at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium this year and take 2018 to a whole other level.

The week was quite a blur and filled with too many special moments to isolate here. I think our group of photographers did an outstanding job of capturing the essence of the experience of the event. Community. Learning. Adventure. They deserve a huge shout out. April. Geoffrey. Jacob. Our volunteers delivered big as well, much appreciation. Kathy. Fiona. Marta. Deb. Lisa. All our coaches killed it too (their jobs, not you), as we knew they would.  And Doug, Kelly and Scott brought it as usual.

Lake Superior stepped up as she always does and brought us beautiful warm, calm days to start and finished with a playful session of legit surf on Sunday! Grand Marais was Grand Marais, enough said.

I do need to share one story anonymously. It kind of stressed me out to be quite honest. I was challenged by an amazing woman who told me on Wednesday that the only reason she signed up was because we said “this place will change your life”. And then each day she found me to provide an update and hold me to that commitment. The task was not mine but YOURS. Congratulations, one down and the world to go!

We have some special surprises in store so keep in touch. Oh, and Lisa Mary WILL sing for us next summer!


P.S. If you haven’t filled out the survey yet, please take a few minutes now to let us know your opinion.

P.P.S. Register NOW for GLSKS 2018, July 18-22

glsks boats on the beach

Live Music at GLSKS

GLSKS is pleased to welcome singer Lisa Mary to perform on Saturday, July 22 in Grand Marais! Lisa is a talented young singer who is starting to make a name for herself. Check out her bio on her Facebook page here: or on her website here:


GLSKS Course Announcement!

Keith Wikle will be leading an expedition course at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. Often when leading day trips for the GLSKS, it comes up in discussions with students that they have never camped out of their kayak or planned a trip. 

An expedition is one of the most enjoyable things about sea kayaking. Traveling somewhere, under your own power, with all of your gear in the kayak is one of the most transcendent experiences in our hustle bustle lives. Do you want to be untethered from land with no iPhone, no computer, and only a map and a compass to guide you? It’s the best but it also comes with some challenges of seamanship, risk management, paddling skills, and leadership when going afloat.

This course is intended to provide two days of on-water experience with sea kayak expeditions. We will plan an expedition in and around Grand Island. 

The course will cover the following high level skills, plus a whole lot more:

  • Risk Management
  • Leadership and Group Management
  • Rescues with loaded kayaks
  • Navigation
  • Launching and landing strategies with loaded kayaks
  • Directional Control in conditions
  • Incident Management
  • Towing

If you are interested in this course, please contact Keith ([email protected]) to coordinate details including necessary equipment.


keith wikle expedition course coach

My GLSKS Story – Doug Neal

I first discovered Grand Marais back in the late 80s on a family vacation. At the time, I was a teenager who was not interested (*at all*) in taking a family vacation, much less one to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But my parents decided I was too young to stay home alone, so they dragged me along, much to my disdain. For much of the trip, I sat in the back of our van, with my sponge headphones on, cranking out the punk rock on my cassette Walkman and wishing I were skateboarding with my buddies back in the Lower Peninsula.

About midway through the two-week vacation, we set up tent camp at Twelve-mile Beach in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We were lucky enough to secure a campsite that was on the waterside, so we had an amazing view of Lake Superior from atop a sand dune. My Dad and I shared a tent and my sister and mom were in the other tent. My Dad and I had placed our tent as close to the edge of the bluff as possible, so we could take in the amazing horizon of Lake Superior. Later on, in the middle of the night, some tempestuous weather was rolling in and I could feel the tent lift up beneath me. I woke my Dad up and we unzipped the tent to see an amazing storm rolling across the lake, along with a fantastic display of lightning. As we sat watching, the wind built up to the point where we felt like it was going to carry us away, tent and all, if we did not take action. We proceeded to get out of tent, which immediately resulted in both of us holding a giant windsock and struggling to pull in what remained of the tent. Meanwhile, we are standing in what has now become a torrential downpour. Soaking wet, we grabbed the tent and scrambled into the van and dried off, trembling from the excitement and more than a little freaked out.

This was my first taste of the amazing force that is Lake Superior and its *amazing* power made for a humbling experience for me as a “know-it-all”-“seen-it-all” teenager. The next day, after a night of sleeping soaking wet in the family van, we consulted the map to find out where the nearest town was located. Soon after we took off down H-58 towards that nearest town, only to find out the “road”, which was really just a washed out 2-track back in those days, was full of ruts and potholes. It was so rough on the family van that we were collectively afraid we would never again see civilization. It felt like we driving further into the backcountry rather than heading anywhere promising! After what seemed like hours of driving in a rainstorm on this semblance of a road, we emerged in the town of Grand Marais, which had previously been only a small dot on our map.

In Grand Marais, we were able to find food, restock supplies and even get ice cream(!). It was a true oasis in what had been a rough and humbling experience for my brash teenage self. I was mesmerized with this small town. It had everything you needed to get by, but not too much. There were no chain stores or fast food restaurants, not even a stoplight in town. Grand Marais – I was taken by this place at an age when you are really not charmed or taken by anything.

Years later when I started kayaking, I made it up to my first GLSKS in 2005. I was pleasantly surprised to learn it was in Grand Marais, which I did not recognize by name. However, I had a weird shot of déjà vu as I pulled into town, down the hill and gazed out at the blue horizon of Lake Superior. With my 17-foot sea kayak on the roof of my Jeep, I was ready to test my mettle on the one they call Gitche Gummee… but wait, was this the same small town oasis on the big lake that I had been so taken to nearly 20 years earlier? I couldn’t miss it – very little had changed since I first rolled into town as a soaking wet (and very humbled) teenage boy.

After a couple of years of being a participant, I started coaching at GLSKS in 2007. I witnessed it change over to Down Wind Sports in 2010 and get a new jolt of enthusiasm. In 2014, I started helping to organize the curriculum and coaching staff, alongside Kelly Blades and Jeremy Vore, two great friends who I also met at GLSKS. Having worked with The Power of Water crew for several years, I am pleased to once again be on-board as a co-organizer for GLSKS 2017.

But the real kicker was when I met the love of my life, Lisa, in Grand Marais in 2012. Anyone who has spent time in Grand Marais knows that odds of finding true love there are not exactly stellar, so I have to think there was some odd force at work for me. We married after an intense few years that included a flurry of kayaking trips and adventures. Then in the midst of a UP-style snow storm in January 2015, Lisa and I were staying at the home of Jeremy Vore (and family) in Marquette, when our son Alexander decided he needed to be a bona fide “soil birth” Yooper. We are now the proud parents of another enthusiastic young paddler.

A lot can change and happen in short order, but in Grand Marais many things stay the same and this is one of its many appeals. As you can see, I ain’t telling fishin’ tales when I invoke the tagline of GLSKS, “This Place Will Change Your Life”. Come on up and see for yourself.

alexander neal age 1 1/2 holding a SUP paddle at great lakes sea kayak symposium

History of the GLSKS Pasty Dinner

At the inception of the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium over 25 years ago, the organizers were set with the task of not only providing beautiful scenery and top notch instruction, but also with the challenge of feeding sometimes hundreds of participants visiting the small town of Grand Marais, Michigan. This led to a unique solution. What if the people could enjoy an Upper Peninsula dining staple as well as benefit the community? The answer was the High School Pasty Dinner!

Every year the graduating class of Grand Marais High School comes together to prepare Pasties for our paddlers, serving them in the schools cafeteria/auditorium. The funds raised are used to support the annual Senior Trip. Some years are more work than others given that as many as 14 students and as few as 2 graduate from the district. It’s always a great time to enjoy the company of our paddlers and a meal that is distinctly “U.P.”

Never had a pasty? Here’s a song by Michigan’s Kitty Donohoe about this traditional Cornish meal, The Pasty

great lakes sea kayak symposium pasty dinner
great lakes sea kayak symposium pasty dinner table
glsks pasty dinner room

Message from Trey on the Transition

Thanks Bill and Downwind Sports for all your great work on this event. We will do our best to continue the amazing legacy of the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.

Wow, I did not expect to be here this week! Super excited and a bit overwhelmed (kind of like learning to kayak). Life and paddling are dynamic sports. So I am going to put my WHOLE blade in the water, use the BIG MUSCLES in my body (Doug Neal and Kelly Blades) and LOOK where I want to go….delivering to you the Community, Learning and Adventure that is the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.

We are all strong believers that this is a participant driven experience and YOU can be a part of something very special. So please give us a few days to make the tech transitions and embrace the logistical challenges. The new website and re-opening of registration will be available on Memorial Day.

This place will change your life.