Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Author Bio: George Gronseth Co-Author of Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble

George Gronseth – Founder of the Kayak Academy / Director and Head Instructor

I've always loved the water and boating. I grew up on the shores of the Great Lakes, but back then kayaking hadn't caught on there. So my first opportunity to try kayaking came after graduating from college. Bigger water and mountains with year around snow led me to move to the Northwest -- I didn't know it was a kayaking Mecca until after I moved there. I soon bought my first kayak and was immediately hooked.
Teaching is something I was either born with or learned early by osmosis. Both my parents were educators, as were two of my grand parents. I teach kayaking: sea, river, and surf.

There's a thread to my intuition about kayak safety that begins with some of my earliest learning and boating experiences. My family has a deep and personal respect for the dangers of boating. Our branch of the family tree nearly ended one night in a storm on the North Sea when a rouge wave swept my great grandfather Lars Gronseth off the deck of a merchant sailing ship into the cold sea. That night Lars was sailing the ship single handed because the captain and rest of the crew were all below deck due to sea sickness. A big wave knocked the ship on its side, and threw Lars into the water. In the darkness he felt a rope next to him and grabbed hold of it. The ship soon righted itself, and the rope which was part of the rigging acted like a pendulum swinging Lars back aboard. He got smashed against the side of the pilot house, but holding the rope saved his life. In addition to telling that story, my parents and grandparents always taught me to "stay with the boat", and that is a concept that applies to sea kayaking too. By the time I was four I learned to row and was allowed to use my grandparent's wooden rowboat by myself on the bay in front of their summer cabin on L. Michigan. When I was a teenager, we lived on the water on that same bay, and I rescued many sailboats and powerboats that got in trouble in front of my parent's house. Seeing all these examples of boating accidents and learning what went wrong was a perfect background for my career at Boeing analyzing the failure modes and safety of airplanes. Later my engineering experience at Boeing crossed over into studying kayak safety. I started researching sea kayak accidents and analyzing what went wrong and what kayakers could learn from them in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. From that research came insight into what kayak students really needed to learn, and in what order to prioritize the skills during lessons. I evaluated the lessons other clubs and schools offered but couldn't find a program that emphasized what I saw as the practical skills and safety training that kayakers need, so I created my own curriculum and started the Kayak Academy.

After kayaking on my own for a couple years, I got serious about learning to kayak. I joined the Washington Kayak Club (WKC) and took both their whitewater and sea kayaking courses. The year after that I started to help teach the WKC's kayaking courses, and I lead trips for them and other kayak clubs. A few years later I accepted the position of Sea Kayak Safety Chairman for the WKC. Matt Broze (kayak designer and owner of Mariner Kayaks) read my safety articles in the club's newsletters and encouraged me to take over from him as the safety columnist at Sea Kayaker magazine. In 1997 the many year's of safety column articles Matt and I published in Sea Kayaker magazine were collected into the book, "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble". Meanwhile I wrote a multi-year series of articles on modern paddling technique and rolling for Sea Kayaker. That project made me dig deep into analyzing every stroke in detail and finding effective ways to explain how to do them.

This and other experiences lead to the development of a whole new kayaking curriculum based on the student's needs. In 1990 I left the corporate world, studied traditional kayaking in Greenland, worked as a guide in the San Juan Islands for a summer, and finished some writing projects. In 1991 I founded The Kayak Academy to fill the demand for kayak lessons of a higher caliber than those available from clubs and other schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment