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The Delmarva Difference

By Virginia Holman Delmarva Class of 2011

The first kayak class that I ever took was a mistake. Somehow, I was placed in a class that instead of educating me about how to make good forward and turning strokes, kayak nomenclature, rules of the road, or chart and compass reading, demanded that I teach all of these things I had never been taught. I was frustrated and baffled and had it not been for a combination of my own muleheadedness and the kindness and pity of a few of my fellow classmates, I might have forsaken kayaking forever. Everything seemed inaccessible. I left the class with a righteous indignation, a couple new friends, but most importantly a sense that, if given the right kind of assistance, I could go places and do things in my kayak that I'd never thought possible.


When I decided several years later to try Greenland kayaking, I began with the paddle, since I did not have access to a Greenland kayak. And I knew this time that I wanted a class that was student focused, not a class that was aimed at teaching me to teach. I also knew that if I wanted to learn well, I should start with the best interaction possible. I live on the Southeastern coast, not exactly a hotbed of Greenland kayaking, so when I saw a class offered by Alison Sigethy in Charleston, I knew that I wanted to attend and learn.


The Greenland kayaking class was much more suited to my personality. Not only did Alison teach and teach well, she respected each student's desires and needs. My learning style is "glacier"--slow but relentless. I would learn a few things, then max out and go off on my own to process and practice, coming back into the group when I was ready. I felt no pressure to be any other way from Alison or the group. In fact, when Alison was working with other students one on one, those of us practicing exchanged useful information and taught one another. I left that weekend happy.


After paddling all summer long with a Lumpy Paddle that owner Bill Bremer loaned me while mine was being made, I knew I wanted to learn more about Greenland kayaking. Again, I thought that learning from the masters was the best way to go, so I signed up for Delmarva Paddlers Retreat.


I was intrigued by the scene--when I looked at the website I wondered who were these strange Bergman like creatures with  skinny sticks? What was a Dubside? What if I mispronounced Maligiaq's name? Would this strange tribe of people welcome a southern, middle aged woman who had just learned how to pronounce norsaq?


My fears were unfounded. There was no cliquishness at all, only a welcome. I took classes with Jules Bodnar, Maligiaq, Helen Wilson, Greg Stamer, Kerry Pflugh, and others. Everyone teaching and in attendance was immensely knowledgeable, kind, smart, and open. I knew that I would not master every maneuver that I undertook, but each teacher gave me essential bits and pieces and all of them offered encouragement. I tried the ropes with Dubside, David Sides, and the Apgar kids and had a blast; I met kayakers in their twenties and thirties and kayakers heading toward eighty; I slept and ate well and left longing for a Greenland boat of my own as well as a thirst to learn more about Greenlandic history and customs.


My first experience at Delmarva has assured me that I will be back but mostly it has given me a sense of how the beautiful traditions of this culture are passed down and how I hope to pass them along as I move about in the world. That's a big gift to get in just three short days.

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