George Gronseth -- Founder and Head Instructor
I've always loved the water and boating. I grew up on the shores of the Great Lakes and learned to row and canoe as a kid. After graduating from college, bigger water and mountains with year around snow attracted me to the Northwest -- I didn't know it was a kayaking Mecca until I moved here. Shortly after moving to Seattle I realized I had to have a boat, so I bought my first kayak and was immediately hooked.
Teaching is an art, and some have higher aptitudes for it than others. We all learn to draw, but few can become great artists. I was either born with the teaching gene or learned by osmosis while in my mother's womb. Both my parents were educators, as were two of my grand parents. In our family, discussions of teaching methods and learning styles were part of every day dinner conversation. From first grade on, other kids asked me to help them with schoolwork. My peers would tell me I was able to explain things to them better than our teachers could. All I did was reflect on what hadn't worked in our classroom, and then I'd think of another way to convey the same idea. I'd often take what I knew about my friends' interests and abilities to create an analogy they could grasp. In the process of tutoring my schoolmates I learned a lot about how to teach - and how not to. This teaching experience started with math, then science, and later I applied it to skiing. Now I teach kayaking - and coming up with newer and better ways to teach still comes naturally to me.
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 he was sailing. That night Lars was sailing the ship single handed because the captain and the rest of the crew were all too sea sick to help. A big wave knocked the ship on its side, and threw Lars into the cold sea. In the darkness he felt a rope in the water next to him and grabbed hold of it. Then the ship righted itself, and the rope which was part of the rigging from the mast swung him like a pendulum into the side of the pilothouse. He was banged up, but he was back aboard ship. Quick reflexes and the sense to grab that rope saved his life.
In my family we had one safety rule when it came to boating, "stay with the boat". That is a concept that applies to sea kayaking too. By the time I was four I learned to row a boat and was allowed to use my grandparent's wooden rowboat by myself on the bay in front of their summer cabin on L. Michigan. One time I lost an oar overboard -- I figured out that I could remove the other oar from the oarlock and use it as a paddle to retrieve the lost oar. I stayed with the boat, didn't give up, and got home safely. That incident taught me how quickly things can go wrong, and the usefulness of problem solving in an emergency. 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 and teaching kayaking. I started researching sea kayak accidents and analyzing what went wrong and what kayakers could learn from those accidents in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. (ref. "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble", by Matt Broze and George Gronseth) 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 the ACA, BCU, and 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 founder 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 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 and rolling technique for Sea Kayaker. That project made me analyze every stroke in detail and find effective ways to explain how to do them. I also began giving presentations on safety, paddling technique, and expeditions at clubs and kayak symposiums. Around 1988 the WKC asked me to be their Sea Kayak Training Chairman, and in that capacity I completely revised the club's sea kayaking instruction program. Their old program was comparable to the industry's status quo yet today, but I turned it into the most modern sea kayak lesson program available anywhere at that time. I would like to have pushed the club's training program further into the future, but there are limits to what one person can do within the structure of a club. So creating a truly modern sea kayak lesson program had to wait, but the experience of developing a whole new curriculum based on the student's safety needs formed a kernel for the beginning of the Kayak Academy's programs. The new training program was a success, and word of my teaching ability got around. It seemed everyone was asking me for private kayaking lessons, but I had a day job at Boeing. In 1990 I left the corporate world, studied traditional kayaking in Greenland, worked as a guide in the San Juan Islands for a summer while I finished some writing projects. In 1991 I founded The Kayak Academy to make kayaking a safer, more exciting and interesting sport through education at all levels that goes beyond students' expectations and leads the way for the rest of the industry.
Barbara Gronseth -- Youth Programs Coordinator and Lead Instructor
Barbara has thirty years of experience in the outdoor industry as an instructor/guide and in retail sales. Before coming to the K.A., Barb managed the water sports, ski and rental departments at the original REI store downtown Seattle. She also worked as a Product Manager at the Outdoor Research (OR) factory, and started Issaquah Paddle Sports which is now part of the K.A. Barb is Kayak Academy's Retail and Office Manager as well as a Senior Kayak Instructor and Youth Programs Coordinator. Her passion for the outdoors began with sailing when she was nine and grew through her teens and twenties as she got into mountaineering and skiing. She learned to sea kayak on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island and has kayaked locally in the Puget Sound and Washington coast as well as Baja and Alaska. Currently she is an ACA Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor, and she has the new BCU (British Canoe Union) Three Star Paddler Awards for both sea kayaking and open canoeing as well as a BCU Level 2 Coaching Certificate and 4 Star Sea Kayak Training.
When she was a kid, Barb enjoyed the freedom of being able to go sailing by herself on the coast of the Atlantic. Today's youth need outdoor experiences more than ever, but parenting has changed so kids today aren't likely to have the kind of opportunities Barb grew up with. Barb's passion is to provide appropriate opportunities for young people to learn to enjoy the outdoors. As a mother herself, Barb learned to develop programs that provide games and activities to fit kids developmental levels and stimulate learning with safety in mind. In 1990 she started teaching cross country skiing for 5-12 year olds. She went on to become an ACA kayak instructor and developed her signature "Kids Kayak Kamp". Now she has added the BCU's Paddle Power program and Stand Up Paddle Boarding to our youth day camps. Paddle Power is a very popular series of youth paddling programs that aim to develop a lifelong interest in watersports. BCU also uses games to develop skills, and to this they add goals kids look forward to and recognition awards for achieving them. Kayak Academy is one of the first schools in America offering the BCU Paddle Power program for youth, and we are excited about introducing it to the NW.
Dan has taught with the Kayak Academy for the past four seasons. He got his start kayaking by taking the Kayak Academy's five-day training camp course from George Gronseth. Dan teaches the SK101 class and is a regular at the Wednesday evening alumni skills events. He has built two wooden sea kayaks (Pygmy Arctic Terns) and kayaks year round for both fun and exercise. Recently Dan has started learning to river kayak and he is looking forward to practicing his white water skills this Spring on some of the rivers in our area.
Dan was co-designer of the Kayak Academy's web site. He lives in Bellevue with his four kids (all kayakers!).
Joe joined the Kayak Academy as a sea kayak instructor in 2010, and he teaches many of our SK101 courses. Joe began paddling on Lake Michigan in 1990 and has been paddling the Puget Sound since 1996. Joe currently races his surfski with SWIFT racing group in Seattle and attends as many local races as possible, including the Ski to Sea Race and the Deception Pass Dash.
Joe is a life long salmon fisher and often fishes from his sea kayak. He was published in the April 2006 issue of Sea Kayaker Magazine about catching his first fish in a sea kayak--a 24 pound chinook. His second fish was a 27 pound brown trout. Over the years, he has caught dozens of 15-pound-plus salmon and trout in Lake Michigan and a myriad of salmon and bottom fish in the Puget Sound, Alaska and around Vancouver Island. He also uses his kayak to crab, dive for sea urchin and locate digging sites for clams.
Joe enjoys overnight camping in his sea kayak with friends and hopes to eventually camp on all of the water trails sites in the Puget Sound. He has also had the opportunity to paddle in Baja, Florida, Alaska, Croatia, New Zealand and the East Coast of the United States.