This year we were blessed with clear skies, warm sunshine and calm waters. These were ideal conditions for Qajaq Camp, the Mid-West’s traditional paddling season kickoff event. Qajaq Camp is a 501(c)(3) organization that is affiliated with Qajaq USA. Based in Minnesota USA, 2018 is Qajaq Camp’s fifth year of operation.

This winter, the Qajaq USA board proposed that events attempt to integrate competition into their offerings. The use of competition would more closely align the USA events with the way in which the Greenlanders use competition to propagate their qajaq skills. At Qajaq Camp we divided the attendees into four teams, each team competing against each other for points. After dinner on the first night, Thursday, we had each team come up with their own team name and design a team flag, which was subsequently flown throughout the event. Each team also nominated a spokesperson to represent the them. A scoreboard was setup with each team’s name, and their accumulated points were tallied and displayed each evening.

The “official” rules awarded teams points both for participation as well as demonstration of skills and results. This was designed to encourage people to try activities that they might otherwise not have engaged in, such are rope gymnastics and harpooning. Each morning we started at 7am with a yoga session designed to help develop flexibility in the spine and torso rotation for paddling and rolling. This year it also included a meditation to help develop mindful presence during rolling to calm the mind. Friday, we had rolling, strokes, harpooning, rope gymnastics, and a group paddle. In the late afternoon we ran the 90-minute qajaq build competition with each team producing a skin in frame from basic materials and tools. This year we had some exceptionally built vessels, including a replica West Greenland a replica East Greenland qajaq, and two of slightly dubious ancestry.

The teams hard at work building their 90 minute kayaks

The evenings were spent watching movies such as the Amphibious Man, and Rolling with Malligiaq, followed by sitting around the camp fire telling tales and discussing strategies for the competition. Some of the younger campers spent the evening practicing yoga asanas on balance boards.
Saturday morning was filled with more on water classes. The afternoon was full on competition, starting with a race using the kayaks built by the teams on Friday. The race included a portage, an around-the-buoys paddle, a change of paddlers, and finally a roll-off. Much hilarity resulted.
Following the race, we held team competitions for harpooning and Rolling, this time in people’s own kayaks. Tom Wile was the clear winner in the harpoon competition. Sipke DeBoer ran the harpoon event using the same setup that he had experienced in the competition he competed in last year in Greenland. It was great to see so many people trying the harpoon this year, with over half of the camp attendees attending either a class, or the competition, to throw a harpoon at least once.

Aidan practicing for the harpoon competition

This year we had more people than ever practicing and competing with the Harpoons. The team competition format really helped to motivate people to explore all the activities, it even got me to try the Greenland Rope Gymnastics for the first time in a long while. It was heartening to see the overwhelming interest in harpooning and the hunting equipment needed to be successful in hunting with a skin on frame qajaq.

Sipke DeBoer

The rolling competition became a show down between Ethan Pope and Danielle Wile, both burgeoning, youthful, rolling aficionado. Ethan eventually claimed victory with 25 different rolls executed cleanly.

Tom Wile – Harpoon Competition champion and Ethan Pope – Rolling Competition champion.

Coming to Qajaq Camp was an incredible and memorable experience. The skills training and mentorship pushed me to become a better paddler and the teamwork-based games and competitions allowed me to grow close with many new friends throughout the weekend. I left camp inspired to keep practicing, excited about the great community of paddlers that I met and looking forward to next year!

Ethan Pope

On Saturday evening, we had hoped to burn the home built kayaks in a pagan ritual. However, our pyromaniac tendencies were thwarted, as the wind rose steadily all afternoon, and instead we spent the evening watching Greenland rolling movies, discussing the hunting equipment of the Inuit, and fooling around doing more yoga asanas on balance boards. Sunday morning the lake was calm again, a group took off to the Eastern shore from breakfast and the remainder took to the waters to roll, paddle and generally relax for the last few hours of camp. As always, the food was excellent and plentiful and the comradery and new friendships developed will remain for many seasons to come.

The change in event format, to include the teams and competition, really seemed to drive engagement and broaden people’s appetite to try activities that previously they may not have considered. We are excited to learn from the attendees what they thought and use their feedback to improve still further the event next year.

Another first for Qajaq Camp this year was fund raising. Using its newly approved non-profit status, Qajaq Camp received over five hundred dollars in “in-kind” donations from volunteer’s employers, including Microsoft. Additionally, a silent auction of clothing and books raised an additional four hundred dollars. In 2019 Qajaq Camp is hoping to become a Qajaq USA sanctioned event. Sanctioning plus the event’s fund-raising activities will help bring Arctic paddling mentors to allow the attendees to learn firsthand how the ancient traditions of the Inuit hunters continue to remain relevant today.

If you have never been to Qajaq Camp and are interested in attending next year you can stay connected via the event website at http://qajaq.mn

The teams proudly displaying their 90 minute kayaks at Qajaq Camp 2018