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Extreme Sports

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Randy Carlson stand-up paddleboard surfing river waves at Sturgeon Falls on the Winnipeg River in Manitoba.

Life Skills and Appreciating the Outdoors


Randy Carlson

Randy Carlson

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Doug Dunham, computer science professor, and Ian Erickson, engineering student, surfing in California.

UMD's extreme sports clubs, which include: surfing, stand-up paddle-boarding, kayaking, and canoeing, introduce students to unique and exciting experiences. Not only do student’s learn how to paddle and catch the perfect wave, but also how to work as a team, lead groups, and solve problems. Randy Carlson, UMD alumnus and Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (RSOP) staff member and advisor to the extreme sports clubs, has inspired many of the participating students. 

Learning to Adapt
Take the experience of Wayne Gatlin, a student in the UMD integrated biosciences graduate program. He and a small group went kayaking and camping around the Apostle Islands on an eight-day excursion. The trip was part of the process to become certified to teach sea-kayaking and Carlson was their instructor. At the end of each day, their goal was to successfully paddle to the next campsite. 

One day the winds were blowing so strongly, it was hindering their ability to paddle to the next site. Carlson kept them in the bay until 2 a.m. when the winds finally allowed for the journey to proceed. The group was faced with the unexpected challenge of kayaking through the dark while at the same time trying to navigate to the next campsite. “I learned that when faced with a problem, you need to think of other ways around it,” said Gatlin. “The solution was to adapt and do something unconventional and in this case it was to paddle at night using the North Star as a guide. This ended up making for one of my best experiences ever. The stars were amazing.” Adapting by using different problem solving techniques is one of the many beneficial skills Carlson teaches.  

Hard Work and Persistence
Extreme sports encourage students to step away from their studies and learn unique ways to appreciate the Midwest. Jared Munch, a second-year engineering major at UMD, was certified by Carlson to teach stand-up paddle-board. During summer 2012, he taught all day paddle-board sessions to students and community members.

Munch said working with Carlson has made him become more confident as a person. “Teaching a sport makes for a hard work day, but getting through it is a great feeling,” said Munch. “I learned dedication and persistence.” 

Munch said Carlson teaches students the value of a strong work ethic. There is a lot of planning and prep work that goes into his trips, like equipment management, maintenance, and prior research on how to navigate.

Love the Sport
When students work with Carlson to help lead trips, they get to participate in both the preparation and the fun. Zak Winkler, former UMD student, played varsity football until he injured his shoulder, so he approached Carlson about surfing. Carlson took Winkler under his wing, and taught him about boarding technologies and more. Now Winkler is a sales rep for a company called Surf Tech. He travels around the Midwest selling surfboards and paddle boards. 

“Randy taught me that it’s all about spreading the love of the sport,” said Winkler. “That attitude feels right. It also makes it a lot easier for me to make sales because I am so focused on the satisfaction of the customer.” 

Improvise, but Don't Stop
Carlson also introduces students about how to deal with Duluth’s often spontaneous weather. For example, on UMD’s spring snow day in 2013, the blizzard created massive waves on Lake Superior. Gatlin spent the day surfing with Carlson. “Randy has taught me that no matter what the weather gives you, there is always something to do,” said Gatlin. “When it rains, go white water kayaking. When it’s cold and windy, go snow kiting. And if it’s a blizzard, go surfing.” 

Extreme sports help students alleviate stress by introducing them to physical and social activities. Students who work with Carlson spread the excitement to their friends about outdoor sports, such as white water canoeing, sea kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, and snow kiting.  

About Carlson at UMD
Carlson participated in UMD RSOP activities as a student and began to work with Ken Gilbertson, the head of the outdoor program. Carlson lead freshman trips and instructed white water kayaking and canoe courses. After graduating with his bachelors degree, he had the opportunity to stay and continue working with RSOP.  “I wanted to share with students who have no background experiences and provide them with unforgettable memories and knowledge,” said Carlson. “Skills learned from these activities put a twist on the student and make them stand out when applying for jobs.” Sitting in the library reading a textbook isn’t the only way to learn.

“With Randy there is always an underlying lesson,” Winkler said. From gaining skills applicable in a future workplace to learning to appreciate the great outdoors, the students that participate in UMD's extreme sports learn a lot. Winkler said Carlson believes in experiential education where participants learn by practicing. “ 'Watch one, teach one, do one' is Randy's mantra,” Winkler said.

Captions: Photo 1 - Randy Carlson's January surfing face. Photo 2 - UMD computer science professor Doug Dunham and engineering student Ian Erickson hit the Southern California surf over spring break. Photo 3 - Jennifer Buseman is all smiles over stand-up paddle board (SUP) river wave surfing in Manitoba. Photo 4 - Carlson and Joel Ness develop kayak side surfing skills on the Knife River north of Duluth. Photo 5 - Carlson SUP surfs river waves in Manitoba. Photo 6 - Carlson surfs the North Shore of Lake Superior. Photo 7 - Winter snow kiting on Island Lake, Minn. Photo 8 - The snow kiting launch area on Chequamegon Bay, Wis. Photo 9 - Wayne Gatlin prepares his navigation lesson plan in the Apostle Island. ¬†Photo 10 - Spring time white water kayaking starts with a Lake Superior shoreline tour. Photo 11 - All paddling and surfing options are available on the Winnipeg River wave surfing trip. Photo 12 - Zak Winkler on a March SUP tour of the Split Rock State Park shoreline. Photo 13 - Winkler explores the Lake Superior Shoreline in March

Story by Rosy Bray and Cheryl Reitan

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