Wednesday, February 23, 2011

3rd Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium

On the eve of the 3rd Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium based in San Francisco Bay, the mood of the Pacific Ocean was decidedly wild. With 35-40 knot winds from the south howling through the Eucalyptus trees and big swell pounding the coastline Sean Morley, who co-organized the event with Matt Palmariello, was predicting some 'interesting' conditions for the weekend ahead.

This was to be my second appearance as a guest coach at a US sea kayak event. My first being the successful Storm Gathering USA held in New York last autumn. I must admit to being somewhat awe struck by the illustrious turn out of American All-Star coaches including the likes of Helen Wilson, Ben Lawry, Rob Avery, Tom Bergh, Tom Pogson, Jeff Laxier, Duane Strosaker, Marcé Wise along with San Juan Islands-based instructors Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin, to mention just a few. Such characters as Eric Soares - longtime member of the infamous Tsunami Rangers and Reg Lake - renowned paddler and boat design innovator also joined us on the water.

For GGSK ‘11 organizers Sean and Matt, however, assembling such a collection of paddling luminaries was only part of the equation for creating an event that focuses on skills development for intermediate and advanced paddlers in rough water conditions, not unlike the philosophy behind the UK Storm Gatherings. The other part of the equation is clearly about what the waters of San Francisco Bay can offer in terms of a healthy mix of big sea, surf beaches and rocky coastline. 

Prior to the main event, I had the opportunity to observe and work along side the somewhat legendary Nigel Dennis on a BCU 5* Sea training which was combined with an Open Water Navigation course also. Nigel is clearly a true impresario when it comes ocean kayaking anecdotes and ‘lesson learned’ from the sea, as well being highly respected as a 5* trainer on both sides of the Atlantic. He is quite erudite in expressing what he feels is the right level to be at for achieving the award, which is not about 'balls-and-brawn' in his opinion. Nigel was clear to point out that the 5* is about making the right decisions so as not to get ‘pasted’ in the first place which to him means handling moving water expertly, leading a group overtly, and having a keen sense of awareness about where to draw the line. In the end, the students had their fair share of gnarly conditions including chaotic seas on an ebbing tide beneath the Golden Gate, a couple of near misses in the surf zone, as well as a hail storm plagued night navigation session along with rescue practice and incident management. With such a master paddler as Nigel Dennis on the water, the students gained plenty of useful insights along the way.

As one might expect from a symposium such as this, the weekend was brimming with workshops looking at boat handling in tides, practical navigation, rescues and incident managment as well as more wacky sounding workshops such as 'Debacle Deterence & Chaos Control'. The event was timed to coincide with a large spring tide to ramp up conditions in what is noted to be one of the strongest tidal areas on the Pacific coast. However, what the Bay may lack in terms of boisterous conditions compared our more infamous tideraces and overfalls in the UK, it makes up for other things in spades. As Sean Morley remarked “Who wouldn’t want to paddle under such an iconic structure as the Golden Gate Bridge or ride the tide past Alcatraz?”.

One of the great things about being a guest coach at such events is you get to work with some interesting folk like Duane Strosaker who I co-ran a 'Ride the Tides' workshop with on the Friday. Duane favours Greenland style blades but is as happy with contemporary 'BCU' paddle techniques. In 2010, he crossed to all 23 Southern California offshore oil rigs to raise awareness of them, and survived a great white shark attack in the process! Dan Arbuckle made for great company also as our safety boater as we paddled that day first to Racoon Strait by Angel Island and then to Yellow Bluffs to find some tidal action for the participants to play in. After a good day on the water, everyone rounded off with the P & H sponsored party at the Presido Yacht Club where the South City Blues Band played well into the night.

Saturday had me team up with Duane again and the superb force of nature that is Helen Wilson for 'Fun, Balance, Games & Rolling' in Horseshoe Cove. Helen lives in Arcata, California and has gained renown for her Greenland paddling skills using traditional equipment. Most noteworthy, in what may be perceived as a relatively short paddling career, are her successes from competing in the Greenland National Kayaking Championship in Qaqortoq 2008 and Nuuk 2010, in which she has gained four medals in five disciplines. 

However, accolades aside, what impressed me about Helen was her clear, calm manner when teaching and her abundant joy for sea kayaking regardless of craft or blade style. She regards herself as a relative novice when it comes to coaching but Helen's innovative and enthusiastic style strikes an obvious cord with her students. It is so refreshing to come across someone who has a natural capacity to help others learn, without having gone through some formal indoctrination and certification process. Certainly, her approach to teaching and her mastery of the various traditional rolling techniques puts Helen in a unique position to help other improve what they do. This is nowhere more obvious than the superb 'Simplifying the Roll' DVD that Helen has produced and come highly recommended.

Saturday evening was spent relaxing in convivial company at the Marin Headlands Hostel where most of the attendees and coaches where staying. There was a chance to try a hand (and body) at Inuit rope games courtesy of Duane and Helen, before listening to a number of entertaining presentations. The night was brought to a close by Eric Soares, Commander and co-founder of the legendary Tsunami Rangers giving the key-note speaker talk entitled “Tsunami Rangers Retrospective”. A talk that was an intense thrill ride in itself! So when Sunday dawned, it was with great relief it brought about a change in the weather conditions. Having endured rain, hail, wind and almost snow, though there was a covering on Mt Tamalpais, it was nice to see sunshine and feel warmth again. Especially as on this day I was teamed up with the equally bright Marcé Wise along with Reg Lake and Tom Reilly as we set of with a team to ride more tides but this time around Alcatraz and Angel Island. When paddling with Marcé expect some glamour on the water as she brings with her a sunny smile, pink dry-top, purple kayak and matching fingernails. She is handy on a wave too!

Once again, it was a wonderful experience to be a guest coach and a privilege to be part of such a great symposium. Special thanks go to Helen Wilson for providing me with fresh insights into Greenland style paddling as well as our discussions about the inspirational and therapeutic dimensions of sea kayaking. Bob Burnett, professional kayaker and social catalyst, for providing me with an Xcite HC to use and guidance throughout. Ed Hand, Rob Avery, Tom Bergh and Reg Lake for their wisdom and kindness. My sponsors Kokatat for providing me with new Ronin Pro for the season ahead, as well as some solid paddling shoes. And by no means least, all the folk I got to share time with on the water during GGSK '11, some very cool people indeed.

More pictures of GGSK '11 are available here, here, here and here

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Social Intelligence and Leadership

It has been observed that while some people may have strong intellectual abilities, they seem to struggle to master social skills which enable them to interact successfully with other people. This ability to 'get along' with others has been recognised amongst scholars as a form of competency or even a specific type of intelligence: social intelligence.

Social intelligence can be described as a combination of abilities: the first is a basic understanding of people (ie. a kind of strategic social awareness) and the second is the skills needed for interacting successfully with them. In other words, the ability to get along with other and to encourage them to cooperate with you.

Social intelligence can be thought of as encompassing five dimensions:

Presence – your external image or sense of self that is perceived by others, eg, confidence, self-respect or self-worth

Clarity – your ability to express yourself clearly, explain concepts clearly and using language effectively, while persuading with ideas

Awareness – your ability to understand social contexts that influence behaviour (ie. “read situations”) and to choose the behavioural strategies most likely to be successful.

Authenticity – the way of behaviour which gives a perception of honesty.

Empathy – your ability to create a sense of connection with others and to encourage them to cooperate with you, rather than work against you, as well as an appreciation for the emotions and experiences of others

The likes of Daniel Goleman argue that social intelligence alongside emotional intelligence are leadership competencies which are often overlooked, when considering how skilful a leader might be. So by embracing these dimensions of intelligence, and understanding the effect that leaders have on others, may influence how you approach future leadership interactions and as a consequence create overtly positive experiences for both parties. This is something that can be learned, although it can be hard to do so without appropriate self awareness or the help of others.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Kokatat Supports Sea Kayak Cornwall

Kokatat, the 40 year-old independent paddle wear and accessories company, is proud to support the expedition efforts of Kokatat Ambassadors Simon Osborne and Jeff Allen, owners of Sea Kayaking Cornwall, an adventure kayak guiding company. Osborne will depart Feb. 15 for the “Kayaking Korea” expedition, while Allen will depart April 22 for the “Round Ireland” circumnavigation.

Simon and expedition partner Marin Medak will attempt to become the first people to successfully paddle the coast of South Korea. The expedition is expected to take 4-6 weeks and cover over 1200 kilometers. Regional political instability could present challenges to the duo, not to mention average winter temperatures below zero. 

“With the cold wintery climate and completely new culture this is set to be one of the greatest challenges to date,” said Osborne. 

On April 22, Team Expedition Paddler, comprised of Jeff, Chris Millington and Harry Whelan will commence their record attempt to circumnavigate Ireland by sea kayak. In 1990, Mick O’Meara and team set the current record time of 33 days; Allen and team are aiming to complete their expedition in 28 days. 

“Ireland is a special kind of challenge,” said Allen. “Besides the challenge of establishing a new speed record we will also have to journey down Ireland’s remote and exposed west coast, high cliffs, heavy surf and strong winds. It will test the team’s commitment to the full.” 

The team has dedicated their expedition to raise money and awareness for the Ovarian Cancer Action Charity. Check out the website for more info: 

Kokatat is proud to sponsor both expeditions and will provide select key gear including the GORE-TEX® Expedition Dry Suit to survive the expected cold and variable weather conditions.

About Kokatat Watersports Wear 

For the past 40 years, Kokatat has built a reputation as a friendly company of paddling enthusiasts, dedicated to creating innovative paddlewear and accessories. Kokatat is a highly trusted brand known for its independence, high level of quality in addition to an extremely well respected, service-driven business model. Kokatat is an incredibly strong brand and is known for authenticity and launching game changing paddling products. 

As always, Kokatat continues to support experienced paddlers attempting first descents and expeditions. The company proudly provides the athletes with the best paddling gear in the whitewater industry.

Please visit and follow Kokatat on Twitter “@kokatat” or via the blog

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Spiritual Intelligence and Leadership

Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, in their co-authored book Spiritual Intelligence - The Ultimate Intelligence [2001], suggests that empirical evidence is available for the existence of spiritual intelligence and for the existence of a "God spot" in the brain. This not about proving the existence of God but rather of a distinct type of intelligence within the human brain, alongside cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. 

Danah Zohar sees SQ as the intelligence that unifies experience, seeks meaning and drives us towards transcending and transforming our current reality. In other words, it is SQ that pushes us towards creativity. Therefore, according to Zohar, creativity is fundamentally a part of every human being. Much of her research incorporates reports gleaned from the reflections of acknowledged creators - artists, composers, sculptors, discoverers, scientists - who speak of the moment of creation as being akin to a spiritual experience.

Zohar distinguishes between the three types of intelligence thus:

IQ: cognitive intelligence is generally acknowledged by academia and education. It is essentially serial in nature, being logical and deductive; it is goal-oriented in nature, accurate, precise and reliable.

EQ: emotional intelligence, identified by Daniel Goleman [1996], and recognised as associative in nature. It makes links between emotions, between emotions and bodily feelings and enables us to recognise patterns like faces or smells, as well as to learn skills and to interact with others in social contexts. It is influenced by experience by virtue of being pattern-related. It becomes tacit learning, in that the experience, through practice, becomes part of the person.

SQ: according to Zohar spiritual intelligence is meaning-giving, contextualising and transformative. Understanding is essentially holistic and is linked to this unitive thinking. From here it is possible to rethink, to recontextualise and to create. Zohar sets out a number of dimensions:

1. Self-Awareness: you know who you really are and you know that you are connected to the whole universe.

2. Vision & Values Led: or Idealism. Children naturally want to serve, and so do we. Being vision and values led is definitive of our humanity.

3. The Capacity to Face and Use Adversity: owning our mistakes and adversity to learn

4. To be Holistic: seeing the connections between things. Being open to and interested in everything.

5. Diversity: thriving in and celebrating diversity. I look at you and see what is different in you and I say "Thank you for that!"

6. Field Independence: a term from psychology that means the courage not to bend to external forces but to remain independent.

7. The Tendency to Ask Why?: Questions are infinite. In Quantum Physics questions create reality.

8. The Ability to Re-Frame: putting things into a wider meaning.

9. Spontaneity: this is not about acting on a whim…it comes from the same Latin roots as response and responsibility. It is appropriately "responsive to" the world.

What does this add to our understanding of ourselves, our creativity and others? Just this: spiritual intelligence as the basis for all creativity - however great or small - means that the creative process is neither accidental nor trivial. Thus creativity is fundamental to the nature of human beings. It can be linked to our search for higher meaning. If high-level creativity is situated at the edge between order and chaos then perhaps we need a higher level of intelligence, that of spiritual intelligence, to help us navigate through the process.

Thus, far from being at the margins of our lives, creativity is central to who and what we are - and we need to be aware of this in our work, our play, our relationships and our development of self.

If all of this now seems a little too beyond the pale, it is worth remembering that Maslow's concept of self-actualisation suggests something very similar, though without the scientific framework offered by Zohar and Marshall. Jung's ideas of consciousness resonate with a similar idea to the concept of transformative thinking and transcendence.

The potential importance of this concept for the workplace lies in the emphasis that an organisation might place on values, principles and ethics.  At a leadership level, the implications are interesting. If a high IQ does not guarantee a good leader and high EQ has been correlated with success. What then if SQ is added to the melting pot. A practitioner may wish to consider taking a deeper approach to knowing themselves by accounting of their values and a sense of spirituality. However, the application of SQ in a leadership setting has yet to be fully tested and as such should is still very much open to debate and discussion.