Seventeen-year-old Gig Harbor High student and kayaker Jack Capper doesn’t like to beat around the bush when it comes to paddling. If he’s doing something wrong, he wants to know what it is, and how to fix.
His desire for a direct coaching style is one of the big reason he, and several others, followed Holm Schmidt to the Keystone Paddlers club, which launches out of Horsehead Bay.
“I prefer an experienced coach, and that’s what he is,” Capper said. “I just like the direct way he coaches you. There’s no fluffing around. If you’re doing badly, he tells you you’re doing badly. There’s no sugarcoating anything. ‘You need to fix it, and this is how you’re going to fix it. (he says)’ It’s all laid out for you. Also, obviously, the experience. He has results. He has Olympic athletes, world champions. Obviously, it works. Something is going right there.”
Schmidt, who came to Gig Harbor from the East Coast in 2012, parted ways with the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team in December 2016. It was a messy situation that has now left Gig Harbor with two canoe and kayak racing teams.
Many of the team’s paddlers followed Schmidt after the split.
“Holm is an awesome coach because we can train to the highest ability,” said 17-year-old kayaker Anders Carlson, a Gig Harbor High School student. “It’s just a great opportunity to train with how we want to, and be the best we can in our races.”
High-performance coaching was what Schmidt was hired for with GHCKRT in the first place. Now, he’s continuing his training regimen with the Keystone Paddlers on the other side of the harbor.
“It’s what I came here for, to teach kids who want to take this to the highest level,” Schmidt said. “I want to give kids the opportunity to make it there. It’s a long path. It’s hard with the lack of funding. I’m trying to find opportunities to bridge from high school, through college and maybe even later. It starts at an early age. This is why these athletes choose to come to me.”
Capper and Carlson, both sprint kayakers, are two of the paddlers who stuck with Schmidt. Capper took sixth in the K1 200-meter race at the Olympic Hopes Regatta a year ago, and has now qualified for Junior Worlds in late July in Petisti, Romania.
The high-performance team currently has 11 members. There are an additional five younger members learning the basics with Keystone Paddlers. While Schmidt’s specialty has been coaching high-performance athletes, he said the club is all-encompassing and welcome to young kids who want to learn the sport for the first time.
“It’s never just been only high performance,” Schmidt said. “I know how to teach a little kid how to paddle. I’m teaching kids in Crescent Lake right now.”
Schmidt’s vision, and seriousness about training, is more intense than that of many of his coaching peers.
“If you want to win in an international competition, you’ve got to be the best in the world,” Schmidt said. “Those people have to live and breathe the sport. It’s structure. The parents are informed. You sacrifice a lot. It’s, ‘Are you willing to pay this price?’ When they’re young men and women, they’re not going to be goofballs. We have too many of those in the world right now.”
One paddler who has bought into that vision — for quite some time now — is 22-year-old Pennsylvania native Jesse Lishchuk, who has come to Gig Harbor for the past three summers to train with Schmidt.
Lishchuk was part of the original Keystone Paddlers Club in Pennsylvania, joining when he was 14 years old. He has qualified for the U23 World Championships, also in Romania in late July.
“Holm has stuck with us,” Lishchuk said. “I started training with him in 2007 and have worked with him every since.”
Like others, Lishchuk said he appreciates Schmidt’s honest coaching approach.
“I think just the practicality of it,” he said. “I’m always surprised when I talk to him, there’s always something I can learn. It’s just surprising every time. There’s always growth and room for development with him.”
And spending the summer in Gig Harbor isn’t a bad perk, either.
“I love the nature here,” Lishchuk said. “And the people make it awesome. The people who live here do for a reason.”
The club, which is still in its infancy, is still growing. The athletes are excited and motivated to help foster the team’s growth.
“Once we get set up and get everything nailed down, I think there will be a lot of growth,” Capper said.
Schmidt believes in the club’s potential.
“The kids will decide this path,” Schmidt said. “I’m here with the knowledge and enthusiasm, but it’s their program. It’s also where I’m different than some coaches. I’m not making them do this. But I want to see it grow. There’s always going to be kids who want help in the boat.”