First Symposium Advice

If all goes well, I’ll be attending my first multi-day paddling symposium. I’ve never done this before, but I know many here have. What advice would you share with a first timer that might not be plainly apparent?

A couple of categories come to mind:

  1. Are there gear concerns for a multi-day course that might be different from a 1-day session? For example, bring two sets of paddling clothes so you’re not putting yesterday’s wet stuff on again.

  2. Etiquette:do you tip the individual instructors, buy them a beer, etc?

  3. How is being a learner at a big symposium different than a 1:1 session?

Thanks in advance.

It will be fun! I participated in three symposia. Coming from a region of very few sea kayakers, seeing how many other paddlers existed was a real eye-opener.

Answers, based on my experiences:

  1. YES, bring extra sets of paddling clothes. With a drysuit, this only means extra sets of long undies—more for cleanliness than dampness, and with wool even that can be less important. But those don’t take much extra packing space anyway. Extra wetsuits, OTOH, are bulky AND important because the stuff doesn’t dry overnight unless in a very dry, warm, sunny area. And bring hangers for them!

  2. Never heard of that being done and I did not do it myself at the three symposia I attended.

  3. Totally different! Aside from the difference in ratio itself, which means YOU need to watch out if someone near you cannot maneuver his/her kayak adequately (i.e., avoid hitting others), the instructor’s time for what can be huge variations in student skill levels is restricted. It’s a class, not an individual coaching session. It will still be useful, but not in the same way that the latter is. One plus is that you get to observe other students’ paddling and maybe recognize similar problems or strengths in your own paddling.

The symposium might try to sort students by skill levels, but it is still a crapshoot. A certain amount of responsible self-assessment is needed, and many people are notoriously overoptimistic in that respect, especially if they have been (basically) lucky and nothing else when they “ran the Class Infinity river” or gambled on a stormy big crossing on open water.

If official skill levels are used for screening, that helps. It is not a guarantee. The cert might be from years ago, with no real practice in between then and now! I got mine back in 2011 and would never consider myself equally proficient right now, because after 2017, I did not practice the skills at that level. I could regain them more quickly than a first-time-rounder, but that still does not make me currently at that level.

"bring two sets of paddling clothes so you’re not putting yesterday’s wet stuff "

You may experience that you are wet mosts of the time, so having a lot of extra paddling clothes is not really an issue. If you ever go on a multiple day padding trip, plan on being in those wet paddling suits a lot, at the end of the day you put on dry clothes .