By Conor Mihell
Published: February 11, 2011

An all-star cast of sea kayak coaches is set to convene in San Francisco for third annual Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium, Feb. 18-20. The roster includes Welsh sea kayak icon Nigel Dennis, east coast paddling veteran Tom Bergh, San Juan Islands-based instructors Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin, and NorCal locals Eric Soares and John Lull, longtime members of the infamous Tsunami Rangers.

For event director Sean Morley, assembling some of the world's finest sea kayak luminaries was the first step in creating a symposium that's all about learning. The second half of the equation is offered in spades by the waters of San Francisco Bay, which serve up a healthy mix of tide races, surf beaches and rock gardens.

The fast-growing event is the brainchild of Morley, a British ex-pat and paddlesports professional, and San Diego-based outfitter and instructor Jen Kleck. The idea was to create a North American symposium for intermediate and advanced paddlers based on the British model of rough-water sea kayak gatherings. The dream came became a reality three years ago, when Kleck introduced Morley to Matt Palmariello, a freelance event planner and part-time sea kayak instructor. Palmariello was immediately drawn to the idea of a symposium catered to skill development, as opposed to the commercialized norm.

"It's definitely the conditions and the caliber of the instruction that sets it apart," says Palmariello. "We have no sales and no demos. It's purely instruction in one of the most dynamic locations in North America."

This year, Morley and Palmariello have put together a pre-symposium program including three-day training in the gold standard in sea kayak leadership—the British Canoe Union 5-Star award—and a two-day BCU 4-Star assessment. The weekend itself is chockfull of workshops on tidal paddling, rock gardening, rescues and navigation, among others. Once again, it's all timed to coincide with a pushy spring tide to amp up conditions in one of the strongest tidal areas on the Pacific coast. And while the sea conditions aren't quite as boisterous as some of the famed British overfalls, Morley says the Bay Area delivers on other fronts. "Who wouldn't want to paddle under such an iconic structure as the Golden Gate Bridge or ride the tide past Alcatraz?"