Instructor Bios

George Gronseth -- Founder and Head Instructor

I've always loved the water and boating. I grew up on the shores of the Great Lakes and learned to row and canoe as a kid. After graduating from college, bigger water and mountains with year around snow attracted me to the Northwest -- I didn't know it was a kayaking Mecca until I moved here. Shortly after moving to Seattle I realized I had to have a boat, so I bought my first kayak and was immediately hooked.

Teaching is an art, and some have higher aptitudes for it than others. We all learn to draw, but few can become great artists. I was either born with the teaching gene or learned by osmosis while in my mother's womb. Both my parents were educators, as were two of my grand parents. In our family, discussions of teaching methods and learning styles were part of every day dinner conversation. From first grade on, other kids asked me to help them with schoolwork. My peers would tell me I was able to explain things to them better than our teachers could. All I did was reflect on what hadn't worked in our classroom, and then I'd think of another way to convey the same idea. I'd often take what I knew about my friends' interests and abilities to create an analogy they could grasp. In the process of tutoring my schoolmates I learned a lot about how to teach - and how not to. This teaching experience started with math, then science, and later I applied it to skiing. Now I teach kayaking - and coming up with newer and better ways to teach still comes naturally to me.

There's a thread to my intuition about kayak safety that begins with some of my earliest learning and boating experiences. My family has a deep and personal respect for the dangers of boating. Our branch of the family tree nearly ended one night in a storm on the North Sea when a rouge wave swept my great grandfather Lars Gronseth off the deck of a merchant sailing ship he was sailing. That night Lars was sailing the ship single handed because the captain and the rest of the crew were all too sea sick to help. A big wave knocked the ship on its side, and threw Lars into the cold sea. In the darkness he felt a rope in the water next to him and grabbed hold of it. Then the ship righted itself, and the rope which was part of the rigging from the mast swung him like a pendulum into the side of the pilothouse. He was banged up, but he was back aboard ship. Quick reflexes and the sense to grab that rope saved his life.

In my family we had one safety rule when it came to boating, "stay with the boat". That is a concept that applies to sea kayaking too. By the time I was four I learned to row a boat and was allowed to use my grandparent's wooden rowboat by myself on the bay in front of their summer cabin on L. Michigan. One time I lost an oar overboard -- I figured out that I could remove the other oar from the oarlock and use it as a paddle to retrieve the lost oar. I stayed with the boat, didn't give up, and got home safely. That incident taught me how quickly things can go wrong, and the usefulness of problem solving in an emergency. When I was a teenager, we lived on the water on that same bay, and I rescued many sailboats and powerboats that got in trouble in front of my parent's house. Seeing all these examples of boating accidents and learning what went wrong was a perfect background for my career at Boeing analyzing the failure modes and safety of airplanes. Later my engineering experience at Boeing crossed over into studying kayak safety and teaching kayaking. I started researching sea kayak accidents and analyzing what went wrong and what kayakers could learn from those accidents in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. (ref. "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble", by Matt Broze and George Gronseth) From that research came insight into what kayak students really needed to learn, and in what order to prioritize the skills during lessons. I evaluated the lessons the ACA, BCU, and other clubs and schools offered but couldn't find a program that emphasized what I saw as the practical skills and safety training that kayakers need, so I created my own curriculum and started the Kayak Academy.

After kayaking on my own for a couple years, I got serious about learning to kayak. I joined the Washington Kayak Club (WKC) and took both their whitewater and sea kayaking courses. The year after that I started to help teach the WKC's kayaking courses, and I lead trips for them and other kayak clubs. A few years later I accepted the position of Sea Kayak Safety Chairman for the WKC. Matt Broze (kayak designer and founder of Mariner Kayaks) read my safety articles in the club's newsletters and encouraged me to take over from him as the safety columnist at Sea Kayaker magazine. In 1997 the many year's of safety articles Matt and I published in Sea Kayaker magazine were collected into the book, "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble". Meanwhile I wrote a multi-year series of articles on modern paddling and rolling technique for Sea Kayaker. That project made me analyze every stroke in detail and find effective ways to explain how to do them. I also began giving presentations on safety, paddling technique, and expeditions at clubs and kayak symposiums. Around 1988 the WKC asked me to be their Sea Kayak Training Chairman, and in that capacity I completely revised the club's sea kayaking instruction program. Their old program was comparable to the industry's status quo yet today, but I turned it into the most modern sea kayak lesson program available anywhere at that time. I would like to have pushed the club's training program further into the future, but there are limits to what one person can do within the structure of a club. So creating a truly modern sea kayak lesson program had to wait, but the experience of developing a whole new curriculum based on the student's safety needs formed a kernel for the beginning of the Kayak Academy's programs. The new training program was a success, and word of my teaching ability got around. It seemed everyone was asking me for private kayaking lessons, but I had a day job at Boeing. In 1990 I left the corporate world, studied traditional kayaking in Greenland, worked as a guide in the San Juan Islands for a summer while I finished some writing projects. In 1991 I founded The Kayak Academy to make kayaking a safer, more exciting and interesting sport through education at all levels that goes beyond students' expectations and leads the way for the rest of the industry.


Barbara Gronseth -- Lead Instructor and Class Coordinator

Barbara has thirty years of experience in the outdoor industry as an instructor/guide and in retail sales. Before coming to the K.A., Barb managed the water sports, ski and rental departments at the original REI store downtown Seattle. She also worked as a Product Manager at the Outdoor Research (OR) factory, and started Issaquah Paddle Sports which is now part of the K.A. Barb is Kayak Academy's Retail and Office Manager as well as a Senior Kayak Instructor and Youth/Family Programs Coordinator. Her passion for the outdoors began with sailing when she was nine and grew through her teens and twenties as she got into mountaineering and skiing. She learned to sea kayak on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island and has kayaked locally in the Puget Sound and Washington coast as well as Baja and Alaska. Currently she is an ACA Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor, and has completed the BCU (British Canoe Union) Three Star Paddler Awards for both sea kayaking and open canoeing as well as a BCU Level 2 Coaching Certificate and 4 Star Sea Kayak Training.
Barb's passion is to provide appropriate opportunities for all people to learn to enjoy the outdoors.



Daniel Joy

Dan has taught with the Kayak Academy for over ten years. He is a level 3 certified ACA Sea Kayak Instructor. He got his start kayaking by taking the Kayak Academy's five-day training camp course from George Gronseth in 2007. Dan teaches the SK101, SK102, SK110, rolling and other classes. Dan has been known to assist with the overnight San Juan class and the Deception Pass tidal rapids class. He has built two wooden sea kayaks and kayaks year round for both fun and exercise. 

Dan developed the Kayak Academy's web site and is the co-founder of LogicMatter, Inc - A Seattle-based company that does data analytics and reporting for critical environments. He lives in Seattle Washington. All four of his kids have become kayakers!


Robin McQuinn

Robin has been kayaking for over 20 years, buying her first boat by mowing lawns and walking dogs for a year. Every summer through high school and most of college she worked with Pacific Water Sports, where you could learn anything from kayak building to kayak navigation and coastal foraging. Since then she has become a raft guide, swim coach, professional geologist, and amateur artist. She has kayaked around the world in places as far flung as Australia, Alaska, Argentina and even places that don’t start with an A. She is an ACA Coastal Kayaking Instructor (Level 3) and Coastal Water Enthusiast (Level 238). She teaches sea kayaking techniques with the Kayak Academy, can do 10 kinds of rescue, and 14 kinds of kayak roll (12 of which are entirely unnecessary). She specializes in extended answers to simple questions, and will happily spend hours inventing new kayaking tools and gear that we’d be better off without. 

She looks forward to seeing you on the water. 


Kyle Ritland-at large

Kyle has been kayaking off and on for the past 20 years, while really getting back into the sport in the last 2 years. He grew up in the Seattle area, learning how to kayak on Lakes Sammamish and Washington, the Puget Sound and the Washington Coast. Along the way he got introduced to white water kayaking and has been down the Main Salmon River in Idaho and many local rivers in Washington State. With an ACA Kayak Touring Instructor certification acquired spring 2019, years of kayaking with George Gronseth and an education background in science, Kyle likes to take concepts and skills in kayaking, break them down to their essentials and not just explain them but talk about why we use them and why we should.


Steve Cherkas

Steve has been kayaking since 1999 and is an ACA Certified L3 Coastal Kayaking Instructor. He has been with Kayak Academy for nine years. He was first introduced to kayaking during a course with the Seattle Mountaineers and discovered that everything is better at sea level. 

Steve has spent years climbing some of the highest peaks in Washington State and has brought that focus and strength to kayaking all year round. 

Steve loves to instruct and watch his students grow throughout the day. He has developed a style of teaching that calibrates to each student’s learning style. So whether you’re a beginner, have some experience, or just want to learn more about kayaking safely, he's got you covered.

At the end of the season you can hear Steve say as he racks his boat…”See you next season. I’m going to look for snow.”