2020 Mentors

Ben Fontenot

Hey y’all, my name’s Ben Fontenot and I’m a southeastern transplant to the midwest and the inland seas. My immediate passion is finding exciting sea kayak surf adventures and making Greenland paddles. I’m an L4 ACA instructor and keen to tune paddlers in on new skills, techniques, and rolls for paddling in conditions.

Chuck Smith

I’m Chuck Smith, and I build things. I built my first SOF in 2004. Since then, I’ve built about 10 SOF’s for me, one woody, and one inflatable/folder. I’ve run some big group builds, some big SOF building classes, and many clinics at various events. Paddles, practice harpoons, norsaqs, neoprene stuff, float bags, whatever. I build things. I especially like helping OTHERS to build things. I also paddle things. Qajaqs, canoes, whatever. Right side up, upside down, somewhere in between – it’s all good. I like coming home at the end of a day or the end of a trip. I also like it when my friends come home. I like to help people learn skills that might help them either stay in their qajaq, get back in their kayak (with or without help), and most importantly, have some idea of the importance of matching their skills and gear with anticipated conditions.

Danielle Steffey

Danielle practically grew up at QajaqTC and over a dozen years later she is still coming back. She began her path as a mentor via the ACA and shortly after began paddling with a traditional paddle that she carved herself. It took a few more rounds of carving but now she rarely ever paddles with anything else. She is passionate about many aspects of traditional paddling, including ropes, rolling, and building. Her focus is on enjoying the experience and learning new things. She is happy to encourage you to try something new or different and will help you take your next step whatever that may be.

Doug Van Doren

Doug Van Doren has been a practitioner of the “Traditional” (Greenland Inuit influenced) style since he began paddling in the early 90’s. He is one of an early handful of North American paddlers to research, experiment with, and honor the traditional paddling style and equipment and to show its proficiency for padding in any sea condition. He is a regular instructor at several symposiums, and has instructed and done rolling demonstrations throughout the U. S. as well as Canada, Wales, and at the International Symposium in Llansa, Spain. He was also invited to instruct several high level British Canoe Union instructors in the use of the narrow blade. Doug produced and is the on-air instructor for the teaching video, “Greenland Style Kayaking: Instruction In Narrow-Blade Paddling Technique.” He was also featured in Justine Curgenven’s video, “This is the Sea Two.” Doug retired in July of 2018 after 40 years as pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ, a progressive, socially active congregation in Grand Rapids, MI. He serves on various national and local boards related to his denomination and social justice issues. He has been married to Colleen Mahon-Van Doren for 43 years and they have two sons, Camilo (deceased) and Aidan, age 23, who is an accomplished sea kayaker.


“Dubside is known internationally as an authority on Greenland rolling and rope gymnastics. He has appeared in Justine Curgenven’s “This is the Sea Four”, Bryan Smith’s “Pacific Horizons”, and magazine articles in “Sea Kayaker”, “Canoe and Kayak”, “Paddler”, and “Adventure Kayak”. He has his own series of instructional DVD’s. Dubside does presentations, demonstrations, and instructional classes for symposiums, clubs, and outfitters throughout North America and Europe. He is also an enthusiastic advocate of using folding kayaks to go kayaking via public transportation, which he calls “commando kayaking”. Watching, listening to, and learning from Dubside will get you excited about kayaking in general and using Greenland style paddles in particular.”

Henry Davies

I have been paddling almost exclusively with a paatit since 2001. I enjoy helping people learn and improve their rolls. What I really want to see is everyone move beyond just rolling and become proficient at paddling/maneuvering their qajaq. Qajaqs aren’t just for rolling, they are for hunting. I use mine to hunt for scenery! Nothing is more fun than hugging the cliffs along a Lake Superior shoreline, matching each rock and cove with the maneuvers of your qajaq — except maybe doing it in some wind and waves.

I mentor at several events each year. I paddle on multi-week expeditions once or twice a summer. As my summer job, I guide kayak day trips in the Pictured Rocks, where I also train the kayak guides.

Jeff Johnson

Jeff has been kayaking since 2000, when some friends introduced him to kayaking and using a Greenland paddle. Since then he has been paddling with a Greenland paddle on all his adventures around the Great Lakes. He has built his own paddles and has finished a skin on frame kayak. During the winter you can find him at the local pool, teaching rolls & rescues. Look Jeff up at training camp if you are a beginner to rolling and he can assist you in the finer points of the lay back roll.

Mike Bielski

The highlight of summers growing up in Mike Bielski’s hometown of Vassar, Michigan was the Pioneer Days festival.  It featured lumberjack skills like log rolling and axe throwing, and more interesting: canoe races.
Mike’s love of canoes led him to John McPhee’s book “Survival of the Bark Canoe,” which ended his interest in Kevlar and led him to Adney and Chappelle’s “Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.”  That’s where he saw his first skin-on-frame kayak, and he soon discovered a newly founded group called Qajaq USA and discovered that people were actually building SOF kayaks, which was well suited to his experience as a former art student and professional cabinet maker.
Part of his interest in historic and traditional paddling is the idea of experiencing what it was like paddling a kayak like that, which led to an interest other types of gear, including the harpoon.  Throwing a harpoon is a fun thing to do, but learning how to throw one properly will save you a shoulder injury, so be sure to get some instruction before you pick one up and give it a try.
Mike Bielski is president of his local paddling club, the Toledo River Gang, which is a mainly whitewater-focused club founded in the early 1970s. He directs the club’s adult kayaking classes and founded a kids kayaking program at the local YMCA.  His writing on woodworking has been published in Fine Woodworking, Wooden Boat, and The Masik.

Peter Strand

Peter Strand hails from Wisconsin and is the current organizer of the Traditional Paddlers Gathering in Minnesota. He is a member of the Qajaq USA advisory board and is a mentor at many local events. Taking many years to learn to roll using videos on the internet and a euro-paddle, Peter is dedicated to decreasing the learning curve for others. Leading several club trips a year, both local and international, Peter paddles as many days as possible. In 2017, Peter traveled to Greenland and participated in the Greenland National Championship.

Renee Dufresne

Renee DuFresne is a director of the board of Qajaq USA,  the Qajaq USA Membership Coordinator and past lead organizer of the Traditional Paddlers Gathering. Whether it is the artistry of the forward stroke, or the beauty of a well-executed roll, sharing, passing on, and preserving traditional paddling skills and culture are her passion. Renee loves working with beginning rollers, and firmly believes that a solid base “on land” will get a new roller going fast in the water. She also loves playing Inuit Games, both on and off the water. Not just passionate about Greenland paddling, Renee is an ACA Level 3 Instructor, with both Traditional Skills and Rolling Endorsements. She also holds a BCU3*. Renee qajaq toured in Aasiaat Greenland and participated in the Greenland National Qajaq Championship in 2017. She would love to tell you that she had a “gold” finish in every event that she participated in, but, being the oldest female competitor, (and the only one in her age group) it didn’t really count. Roll on…..

Next stop, #St.JudesIM70.3Memphis2020. Some of you will know what this means.  Come run the beach with her!

Sharon Bustamante

Bio Coming Soon

Sipke deBoer

When Sipke raises his harpoon the styro-foam seals of Minnesota turn tail and swim hard in the other direction. Unquestionably the mighty hunter of camp, Sipke loves to share his passion for throwing the harpoon as well as his knowledge of the history and use of the Inuit hunting tools. Having a fully equipped hunting skin-on-frame qajaq, Sipke is uniquely equipped to both educate and entertain, oh and I should mention he is a talented yodeler too…

Tamara Story

I am proof that kayaking and rolling is for the young at heart not just the young in years. I started kayaking around the time I was 60 and am still at it 15 years later. I have earned my Paddle Canada Level 3 Sea Kayaking skills award, my BCU three star, and am a certified Paddle Canada sea kayak and rolling instructor. Most of my paddling experience is on Lake Superior as we have a home there on the shore of Whitefish Bay. My longest trip was 10 days doing Pukaskwa (x4) and my furthest was doing the northeast shore of the Isle of Skye with Gordon Brown. Rolling did not come easy for me. I spent many hours in the cool waters of Lake Superior getting those first rolls. Then, I discovered Greenland rolling and it all became much easier, thanks to Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson’s tutelage. In the right conditions I think that I enjoy hanging upside down as much as being right side up. I will never forget my first experience in hanging upside down in warm salt water and watching the water swirling over me as a wave broke. There was a peace and calmness that I can’t quite describe. I likened it to being in the eye of a hurricane. Of course, I knew I was going to catch the top of the next wave and roll up and was only in a few feet of water. Working with people who aren’t quite sure they want to do those wet exits, or hang upside down long enough to get a good setup is one of my favorite parts of mentoring. Learning what your boat looks like from underneath, where things are and being comfortable underwater can really improve your roll. I recently came across this quote from After We Were There by Lisa Wingate: “We must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn’t suit the moment.” At this moment, I am still dancing to the music of my kayak. I am looking forward to assisting others with hearing how their music wants them to dance in their kayak, be it right side up or upside down.

Unkel Dave

“Unkel Dave” is known to show up at events with multiple kayaks but never get wet. He is occasionally seen near the water, perhaps on the dock, but not IN the water. Usually it appears that he is trying to escape from the water. How is this possible? Well, as a former gymnast and coach, Dave took to Greenland Ropes like a duck takes to wa…no that’s not right… more like a monkey! Using his 20+ years of coaching experience, he is an excellent instructor and safety-conscious spotter. He is especially good at getting first-timers doing ropes skills. Unkel Dave’s philosophy is “Pay it Forward”—once you learn something, pass it on. Oh yeah, and he paddles too!