My latest flight over the “pond” was hectic. A preteen boy sitting beside me threw up in his barf bag, filled it, and then used mine; someone’s urine splashed over the toilet bowl and onto the bathroom floor; a bratty screaming toddler threw her soother at me twice; and the gentlemen sitting in front of me was ill. I didn’t sleep well. I was jet-lagged and smelled unpleasant while in the shuttle van taking me to the event I was going to in north Wales. But it was worth it. I had the honour of being asked to be the keynote speaker at the Welsh Open Canoe Symposium’s 25th anniversary. This is one incredible event. I was there in 2013 and again in 2016. I was ecstatic to be asked back again.
Apart from evening presentations, the symposium is made of various paddling workshops. You can learn how to pole a canoe through shallow water, sail it across a windy lake, maneuver it through technical whitewater, push it quickly along with a bent-shaft paddle, or take it for a solo ride. Each activity has an experienced coach and the possibilities throughout the three-day event are endless.
I arrived at Gwersyll Glan-Llyn Outdoor Education Centre where the symposium was being held, located just outside of Bala. I booked myself in, had a wee dram of whisky, and said hello to the cows just outside my cabin window. The centre is set in the semi-wild Welsh countryside, alongside Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake). Then I went looking for the main organizer, Ray Goodwin, and the group of volunteer paddling coaches who make this event a success. We had dinner, then I went off for another wee dram of whisky back in my cabin. I didn’t present to the 200 attendees until later that night. I was praying my fatigued body didn’t collapse beforehand.
Kevin CallanIt “chucked” down rain on the Saturday, then again on the Sunday. It rains a lot in Wales and the paddlers there are hardy souls, especially the ones who chose to camp out rather than rent a cabin room. The Welsh have over 50 names for rain, similar to the various words Inuit have for snow. The Welsh have less words for sunshine.
The Open Canoe Symposium rotates annually between Wales, England and Scotland in a three-year cycle. Ireland has a smaller paddling group, so they just visit all the shows and cause a fun ruckus. Its aim has always been to bring together people of all levels of experience and ability in a sharing of enthusiasm for and knowledge of all aspects of open canoeing.
I gave another talk on the Saturday night. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. During the day on Saturday and Sunday, I wandered around and filmed highlights of the event and interviewed paddlers, asking them why this symposium is so special.
Check out my video series of the event on my KCHappyCamper YouTube channel.