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S2O Design Completes New Whitewater Park for the City of Fort Collins

LYONS, COLO. (August 13, 2019) – Coursing through the heart of downtown Fort Collins, Colo., the Poudre River is now home to the country’s newest whitewater park. Driven by river park engineering firm S20 Design and Engineering, the new whitewater park features a series of waves for rafters, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders, a wading area for families, a pedestrian bridge, and extensive bank reconfiguration. The project, located near Old Town at Vine Drive and College Avenue, brings the river back to a more natural state, provides the community a greater connection to the river, and invites economic development to the area.

“The Poudre has always been a classic Colorado destination for river running, and now its recreational amenities will be more accessible than ever,” said S2O Design founder Scott Shipley. “Not only is it a beautiful site for a river park, it’s also a perfect example of various entities coming together to create a great focal point for the town.”

Lyons, Colo.-based S2O Design provided design, planning, permitting, and construction services to the project. S20 was chosen because of its expertise with whitewater park development and familiarity with the market. The park will officially open in September 2019.

Design and construction of the Poudre River Whitewater Park was a complex process with several moving parts and a broad array of stakeholders. S2O Design was charged with converting the dangerous Coy Diversion Dam, which was a barrier to fish passage, into a usable park area that also encourages fish migration. The river features needed to provide low- and high-water functionality to a wide variety of users, with extensive bank restoration and reconfiguration to bolster animal habitat and improve stormwater management.

Funding the $12 million project was achieved through both public and private partners. The city’s Building on Basics tax initiative, a program introduced in 2015 for community improvements, contributed $7 million; the city’s Storm Water, Natural Areas, and Parks and Rec departments contributed $3 million; and private donations totaled more than $2 million, including a $1 million gift from longtime Fort Collins residents Jack and Ginger Graham.

“The Poudre holds a very special place in our city’s history,” said Jack Graham, former U.S. Senate candidate and Colorado State University athletic director who spearheaded the school’s new on-campus stadium. “It has been in need of some TLC for decades and the park’s environmental repairs and restoration, coupled with its recreational features, will bring needed energy and economic development to the River District and downtown.”

Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell added, “The river, and its new park, is a true treasure for our community and a legacy for our future. It will build community, strengthen our downtown, and contribute to our vibrancy and prosperity.”

Bringing the project to fruition was a long time coming. It was formally approved by voters in 2015 as part of the city’s Community Capital Improvement Program, but was in the works for nearly 20 years prior. “We first started talking about it way back in 1986, so it’s great to finally see it come to fruition,” says Tim O’Hara, a commercial photographer who served as the lead fundraiser for the project.

Previous efforts at building a river park there had stalled. Shipley, who holds a master’s degree in Engineering and is also a three-time Olympian and World Cup slalom kayak champion, was able to organize the project’s multiple stakeholders, navigate the long public process, and drive the design decisions that led to its final construction. “A lot of other companies had looked at this, but we were the only ones who were able to get it done,” said Shipley.

S2O Design has completed several other river recreation and restoration projects in Colorado, including the Eagle River Park, Durango Whitewater Park, Canon City Whitewater Park, and Bohn Park in Lyons, Colo.

About S2O Design
S2O Design is an engineering firm specializing in innovative river engineering, restoration, and community-focused whitewater park design. Our team of expert boater-engineers has planned, conceived, designed, and created some of the best in-stream whitewater parks as well as largest and most dynamic recirculating whitewater parks in the world. S2O Design is led by engineer, Olympian, and three-time World Cup Kayak Champion and Freestyle Kayak Champion Scott Shipley. For more information, visit S2ODesign.com.

Touring Kayak Review: Wilderness Systems’ Tsunami 145

person paddling Wilderness Systems’ Tsunami 145 touring kayak on a lake
Wilderness Systems’ celebrating 15 years of doing it all well. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

When the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 was added into the trio of updated Tsunamis to their light touring line-up in late 2018, they billed this latest iteration “the Swiss Army Knife of touring kayaks.”

Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 Kayak Specs
Length: 14 ft 6 in
Width: 25.5 in
Weight: 56 lbs
Paddler Weight: 180-245 lbs
Capacity: 350 lbs
MSRP: $1,299 USD/ $1,789 CAD
$1,519 USD/ $1,929 CAD (with rudder)

The Tsunami’s wide-ranging capabilities and functional aesthetic—enhanced by its unique outfitting (more on that later)—suggest a different epithet to us: the cargo pants of kayak touring. Unlike ephemeral fashion fads, however, the user-friendly Tsunami continues to be just as popular today as when it first debuted in 2004.

In the years since, Wilderness Systems has introduced three different Tsunami layups and tweaked and simplified the boat’s paddler-specific sizing—winnowing down eight options to just five. These updates take into account where and how the kayaks are being used, and who is paddling them. Translating this feedback into design refinements keeps a well-traveled offering like the Tsunami fresh and accessible for new paddlers, while giving existing fans more of what they already enjoy about the boat.

A 14-foot recreational kayak by Wilderness Systems’

Our demo Tsunami 145 is the largest of the three updated sizes, proportioned to afford larger paddlers a comfortable fit and fearless stability without completely sacrificing touring efficiency.

Also new this year is a Tsunami 140 kayak—offering similar performance for mid-sized folks—and a 125, which fits larger paddlers seeking a stable day tripper. Two long-haul options, the Tsunami 165 kayak and the Tsunami 175, remain unchanged.

Reimagining a proven design is a delicate endeavor, says Shane Steffen, director of product management for Confluence Outdoor’s boat division, which includes the Wilderness Systems brand. “We started with styling,” he explains, “we wanted to bring a more modern look to the Tsunami.”

The deck redesign isn’t merely skin-deep. It also adds stiffness across the top of the boat, improving durability and resiliency during re-entries and transport.

Changes inside the cockpit are more subtle: the updated Phase 3 AirPro seat system makes it easier to adjust leg lifters, backrest height and tilt on the fly, and now enables users to trim the seat fore and aft. The seat back can also be quickly removed or swapped for a low-profile backband.

Wilderness Systems’ best kayak for stability and tracking

After 15 years on the water, Steffen has some theories about these kayaks’ popularity.

“People love the Tsunami for two main reasons,” he says. “One is the stability profile—it feels comfortable from the first time you sit in it. The second is tracking: new paddlers can point the boat where they want to go and it gets there.”

Small refinements aim to enhance these novice-friendly features. Designers shifted volume out of the hull to flare the sidewalls and further increase initial and secondary stability.

In the rec touring market—especially models for larger and newer paddlers—it’s refreshing to paddle a design promoting advanced skills.

An extended waterline gives hull speed a boost, great news for those touring with friends in longer boats.

Meanwhile, the shallow-V, multi-chine hull profile is classic Tsunami. Two defined edges in each chine act like secondary and tertiary keels, lending this kayak its trademark tracking and predictable handling.

A high-performance polyethylene sit-in kayak

Steffen says product longevity was also a focus of the redesign brief. Along with the stiffer deck, there is a replaceable skid plate where the keel reaches the stern—a wear point when dragging from the bow.

It’s something Wilderness Systems should know a thing or two about. In 2012, adventurers Jon Turk and Erik Boomer chose a pair of Tsunami 135s to complete the first-ever circumnavigation of ice-choked Ellesmere Island.

The diminutive boats were the largest that would fit in the airplane needed to reach this remote Arctic outpost. For much of the 1,500-mile journey, the men skied or hiked pulling the kayaks—each laden with 250 pounds of food and supplies—over snow, slush and jagged sea ice.

Like their predecessors, the new Tsunamis are constructed from hard-wearing-but-hefty rotomolded polyethylene. I’m not usually a dragger, but I admit to using Turk and Boomer’s strategy when I find myself alone with our demo and a long expanse of snow-crusted turf.

It’s utility, comfort and style in one package—just like your favorite cargo pants.

Hoarfrost rimes the desiccated grasses and parched canopies of the oaks lining the banks as I slip into the mirror of the river. When a gust of wind disturbs the stillness, orphaned leaves scatter like clutches of skittish water boatmen. Where the channel narrows, deadfalls create a natural slalom course.

Achieving tight-radius turns in the Tsunami necessitates putting the kayak on edge. Fortunately, cockpit fit and contact points are optimized to facilitate edging and bracing proficiency.

In the rec touring market—especially models for larger and newer paddlers—it’s refreshing to paddle a design promoting more advanced skills.

Wilderness Systems’ touring kayak accessories and features

Late in the afternoon, the sun peaks unexpectedly beneath clouds swollen with snow. Decanted golden light spills onto the river, illuminating three sleek otters fishing below a swift. The scene has me reaching for my camera, conveniently tucked in a deck pocket.

Replacing the behind-the-cockpit day hatch of previous Tsunamis, each new boat ships with a pair of mesh deck pockets. Removable cargo pockets for your front deck, these are Wilderness Systems’ solution to the question of accessible-on-the-water storage.

The pockets put small essentials within easier reach than a day hatch and are lower profile than an aftermarket deck bag, but there’s an obvious downside: they don’t provide dry storage.

The design team eschewed a more conventional third option—a cockpit-fitted deck pod—in favor of an open tube mounted under the front deck. The engineering is pretty basic, but it’s a convenient spot to stash a water bottle and doesn’t noticeably impede foot- or legroom.

Whether playing quiet waterways or venturing into open waters, the Tsunami 145 continues to offer larger paddlers a satisfying fusion of rec kayak stability and longboat efficiency. It’s utility, comfort and style in one package—just like your favorite cargo pants.

Celebrating 15 years of doing it all well. Feature Photo: Virginia Marshall

5 Steps To Plan An Epic Kayak Expedition

Your kayak can take you places most people will never see. Going into unknown and less traveled locations and completing a trip you researched, planned and executed carries a great sense of accomplishment. And it gives you a deeper understanding of the area when you’ve spent time preparing for the rivers and cultures you’re headed to enjoy.

There can be drawbacks to these endeavors, especially the exploratory type missions. They can, and often do, require more suffering than enjoyment when water levels don’t work out, or the access trail you’d planned to use doesn’t exist. Know your group’s willingness to adapt, and plan your trip accordingly. If you are going somewhere remote, you might not want to push your limits as much as usual.

Here are the fundamentals to help budding explorers go out and plan their own adventure.

  1. Do your expedition research

Hunt out guidebooks and search online for blogs, photos or videos. Don’t limit yourself to kayak specific searches; climbers, canyoneers, and hikers often travel to similar locations as kayakers. There is so much information out there and chances are your area has been explored and documented in some way. Google Earth can also be an amazing tool for scoping out the landscape you’ll be venturing into.

Maybe you know someone who has already been where you want to go? Buy them a beer or give them a lift to a river and pick their brains.

You’ll want to know where exactly you want to go, what to expect of the rivers, when the rivers will be in good condition and have a rough idea of logistics. In some places like Nepal, you may need permits/permission to access certain areas.

Make an of estimate of how much this will all cost.

Step 2: Find your group. | Photo: Mark Mulrain
  1. Find a good group

A group can make or break a trip. When you are going to spend an extended period of time in each other’s company, it’s important you get along well and trust one another.

Ideally, everyone will bring something different to the team. That might be leadership on the river, cooking skills, even a sense of humor can be an asset.

The group should ideally all be around the same ability level too, so you can all take care of each other.

The ideal team for a multi-day trip has:

  • Someone who has already paddled the river to lead the trip
  • Experienced expedition paddlers
  • Someone with emergency first aid training
  • Super keen and fit people willing to push the group to paddle/portage faster
  • Access to lots of camping/cooking/safety equipment
  • A good rapport between each and every group member
Everything you need and then some. Photo: Mark Mulrain
  1. Go guided? 

A few years ago, hiring a guide service would be something I would have never considered. Why pay more to do something I could do myself?

As I moved away from student life and got myself a real job, I found I had less free time and more money. I wanted to make the most of my free time, and a guide made this possible. You can spend less time gaffing and more time doing the fun stuff! It’s certainly something to consider if your time is valuable to you.

Even if you are managing the trip yourself, you may need to work with a travel agent to book private travel or organize permits. Your research will shed some light on this.

  1. The right skills

Does everyone in the group have paddling and safety skills suitable for the grades of water you will be undertaking? If you are going to be wild camping you will need to know how to build a fire, set up your shelter, and how to load all your gear into the kayak. Packing a kayak with overnight gear is a skill in of itself, one that grows with practice.

Step 5: Make an equipment list. | Photo: Mark Mulrain
  1. The right equipment

You will need all your standard safety gear and first aid items, but you may also want to add some items to your collection, like a set of split paddles in the group.

Anything you don’t know how to use, make sure you take the time to learn. There are no user manuals or 4G signals in remote areas.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you need any special medication for the area you are going to?
  • Will you need climbing equipment for access issues?
  • Will you need cooking equipment?
  • Will you need camping equipment?
  • Will you need to carry water purification tablets or a filter?
  • Will you need spare clothing?
  • How will you keep everything dry?
  • Will you need a satellite phone or GPS beacon for emergencies?

For longer trips where you need to carry a lot of stuff in your boat, you might end up overloading your regular kayak. I switched from a 9R to a 9R L for a multi-day in Nepal, and it was a brilliant decision, the extra weight from my multiday equipment made the bigger 9R paddle a lot like a regular 9R for me. On another trip, I picked a Machno for its extra volume and carrying capacity.

When not traveling the world kayaking, Mark Mulrain calls Edinburgh, U.K. his home. He is a Pyranha team paddler and manages Immersion Research’s European division. 


Delta Kayaks Review: Delta 12AR Recreational Kayak

Business in the front, party in the back. Delta Kayaks’ Fusion Hull could be the most unusual hybridization since the mullet. But where the contentious early ‘80s–mid ‘90s hairstyle never quite captivated the mainstream, Delta’s kayak–catamaran hull graft promises undeniable appeal for the recreational paddling masses.

Delta Kayaks 12AR
Length: 12 ft
Width: 26.5 in
Weight: 42 lbs
Optimum Paddler Weight: 120–255 lbs
Max Capacity: 320 lbs
Price: $1,295 USD  |  $1,450 CAD

The Fusion Hull underpins Delta’s Adventure Rec series, which includes the 12AR and smaller 10AR as well as a 10.5-foot sit-on-top. The design brief for these boats must have read something like: “Let’s build a compact kayak that’s lightweight, looks great and welcomes novice paddlers with superb stability, tracking, easy entry and all day comfort.”

An attractive, lightweight recreational kayak

The 12AR weights just 42 pounds, making it one of the lightest open-cockpit recreational kayaks on the market. It’s also amongst the best looking, thanks to Delta’s thermoforming expertise. At the company’s Vancouver Island manufacturing facility, sheets of acrylic–ABS plastic laminate are heated and vacuum-formed into graceful and hardwearing kayaks.

The acrylic outer layer gives the 12AR its glossy finish, vibrant color, excellent abrasion resistance and protection against UV fading or weathering. The secondary layer of high-impact ABS is nearly indestructible. The only time I’ve seen a Delta with any significant hull damage was a cracked hatch lid after being stored outside, uncovered at 20 below—not what most recreational enthusiasts would consider paddling weather.

Fusion Hull offers stability and handling for every paddler

Twin hulls at the stern maximize tracking. | Photo: Vince Paquot

One look at the 12AR’s catamaran-inspired stern, and it’s clear this is a very stable boat. New paddlers will often lean back when nervous or tired—a subtle weight transfer that makes most kayaks less stable and harder to control.

Think of the 12AR’s twin hulls like training wheels. You can lean back, or even heavily to one side, and the Fusion Hull remains perfectly poised and even-keeled. That incredible stability means it’s also well suited for paddling photographers, anglers and those who like to bring along a canine friend (there’s plenty of room for Fido in the extra-long cockpit).

The hard chines and double-arch hull deliver rock-solid stability. | Photo: Vince Paquot

Okay, you may be thinking, but isn’t a catamaran rather cumbersome to paddle? Well, yes, but not so the 12AR. Remember, the Fusion Hull is a twin-arch stern fused to a V-shaped displacement bow through an alchemy of CAD software and creative design. Acceleration and glide feel comparable to Delta’s more conventional, narrower 12- to 14-footers.

Aside from rock-solid initial stability, the 12AR’s most notable handling characteristic is exceptional tracking. If you want to dig as hard as you like with no course deflection or correction strokes, this is your boat. Look elsewhere if you’re seeking turn-on-a-whim maneuverability or intermediate-and-beyond edging.

Extra-large recreational cockpit is spacious and accessible

The 50-inch-long cockpit opening offers easy in and out for less flexible or claustrophobic paddlers. | Photo: Vince Paquot

Delta designed a new, elongated recreational cockpit for the 12AR to facilitate super-easy entry and exit. At 50 inches long by 20 inches wide, the cockpit opening feels open and airy with an unrestricted, knees-up paddling position. Because the cockpit is too large to fit with a sprayskirt, the 12AR is best suited to paddling smaller lakes, flatwater rivers, secluded estuaries and other sheltered waters.

Delta’s outfitting focuses on personalized comfort with their adjustable and intuitive Contour II seat system. The supportive, multi-position backrest is paired with a padded seat that can be moved four inches fore or aft to optimize fit and trim. All that adjustability means the 12AR has a greater fit range than many kayaks, accommodating paddlers short and tall. Even better, everything can be fine-tuned on the move, making the 12AR a great choice if you’ll be sharing your kayak with family and friends.

All of the cockpit outfitting is on-water adjustable, including the multi-position backrest and Sea Dog foot braces. | Photo: Vince Paquot

A small kayak with a big appetite for adventure

I applaud Delta for making safety a priority with all of their kayaks, and the 12AR is no exception. While many rec kayaks—especially those from big box stores—have only a single sealed hatch, the 12AR features bow and stern bulkheads with large, accessible hatches for plenty of floatation and dry storage. I also love the easy on and off convenience of Delta’s Press-Lock hatch covers, and the color-matched lids look pretty slick, too.

Two large, watertight hatches provide ample storage for a weekend’s worth of gear. | Photo: Vince Paquot

Packed with premium features, Delta’s 12AR is an exciting new option for discerning recreational paddlers. Add the light weight, innovative hull design and oversized cockpit, and you have a virtually barrier-free craft for flatwater adventures.

Video: British Columbia’s Coast By Kayak

In Dear Liza we tried to capture the feeling of paddling the British Columbia coast and how it can have a transformative effect of some people.

As a filmmaker, I’m inspired by new places and experiences but I keep coming back to the coastal waters of British Columbia. In the rush for new places, I really appreciate projects that force me to sit still and get to know a place more intimately. I had been doing some work filming for Spirit of the West Adventures on some of their sea kayak trips and spent many days in the landscape, much of it waiting and watching as the world around me was in constant flux.

Most of my time was spent in the Broughton Archipelago which is in the northern reaches of Vancouver Island’s Inside Passage. It was almost a bit overwhelming the first time I visited because there really aren’t that many similarly dramatic landscapes so teeming with life and activity. The cold Pacific waters and strong currents in the area create ideal feeding grounds for all kinds of wildlife and it can feel pretty special to watch so many creatures come together in one place with a common purpose. I’ve been lucky over the years to experience some amazing encounters with orca and humpback whales, but have also been really impressed with all the smaller forms of life and how the ecosystem works as a whole. I think the sheer abundance of species in the area – from the sea stars to the birds and the dolphins and the little jumping salmon – far outweigh the excitement of any one animal.

Kayaking provides up-close encounters with marine life. | Photo: David Hartman

As you travel north up the coast to the Great Bear Rainforest, the landscape changes and you really start to feel more isolated. We paddled along this beautiful and rugged coastline in the outer island of the Hakai Protected Area and it was really memorable for me to feel so exposed to these coastal elements. I’ve always been a big fan of wolves so it was exciting to be in an area that is known for its sea wolf population. I think it’s pretty special to see how the open North Pacific Ocean has helped shape the world’s longest remaining stretch of coastal temperate rainforest in the world. The steep cliffs of these outer islands are covered in trees that look to have weathered more wind and rain than I can even imagine. But then dotted between all this rough rock are incredible white sand beaches perfectly suited to sea kayakers or anyone looking to take a rest.

I’m back in the area once again working on a project about humpback whales. Many thanks for Spirit of the West Adventures for their collaboration on this project.

Find David Hartman on Instagram at @haystac_hartman. See Dear Liza touring in the 2019 Paddling Film Festival and find a screening near you by clicking here

5 Questions For Adventure Kayaker Beau Miles

Beau Miles sitting on a couch next to his kayak and his kayak gear
“I’ve been going full-tilt for four days. Swamps, oceans, rivers, creeks—it’s the full spectrum of adventure and all between the lands of home and work,” says Beau Miles in The Commute. | Photo: Courtesy Beau Miles

When I reach adventure filmmaker Beau Miles at his home in Melbourne, Australia, it’s late January and he’s just a couple hours away from cracking his first can of beans.

That afternoon Miles embarked on a challenge to eat only beans until he consumed his body weight in legumes—all 85 kilograms. He expected the experiment, inspired by characters in John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat novel, to last 33 days.

Full of beans both literally and figuratively, Miles is a jack of many trades—sea kayaker, educator, ultra-runner and craftsman. His frank and quirky humor make his award-winning films—Africa by Kayak, Bass By Kayak (www.paddlingmag.com/0021) and Junk Paddle—a hit with paddlers of all types.

Ideas are cheap, application is hard. I have a million ideas, to make them come full circle is a lot of work.

The newest of the bunch, Junk Paddle, is an 11-minute peek into Miles’ work as an outdoor education lecturer at Melbourne’s Monash University. It reveals his talent for building with reclaimed wood as he turns garbage into a gleaming treasure. Without getting preachy, the film inspires viewers to recognize opportunities for adventure on their own doorsteps.

Miles’ next film, The Commute, explores a similar theme—re-envisioning his 65-minute daily commute as a four-day, paddle-and-drag odyssey from farm to office. While we await its release this fall, Miles shares on filmmaking, lessons learned, and why everything can turn into an adventure with the right attitude.

5 Questions For Adventure Kayaker Beau Miles

1. What is Junk Paddle’s message?

Well, it’s not really a film about making a paddle out of wood at all. To a lot of people, wood is a square product from the hardware store. I want to make those connections between tree and forest and this thing around us everywhere in a square form.

One of the key things about outdoor education is to teach people how we’re connected to the world. There’s huge potential in a bit of crap timber because it’s going to teach me how to make a paddle and then paddle me down a river. That’s outdoor ed.

2. Where did your paddle go next?

We’ve been doing this for eight years; the students spend six to eight weeks building a paddle from reclaimed wood, then use it to paddle 150 kilometers down Australia’s biggest river—the Murray River. They make some ugly ones, and they make some beautiful ones. In many ways, I’ve got the easiest job in the world. By the end, the students feel like I’ve given them a paddle, but they’ve done all the work.

3. When do you put down the camera?

Sometimes I hate filmmaking because it loses the now. You’re in the moment and enjoying yourself and then you have to change the camera perspective or the lens. But when you’re filmmaking versus just on an expedition, it’s a very different process. On some trips, I do leave the camera at home. You have to live your story sometimes and not just film it.

4. Why is good filmmaking so difficult?

Ideas are cheap, application is hard. I have a million ideas, to make them come full circle is a lot of work. Junk Paddle is a nice little film and it might be one of 100 I make, but it was still hard to find the story. It was a 10-second idea, filmed over three or four days but finding the narrative, that’s what is hard. Show me insight, show me something vulnerable. Twenty years of making films, and I think I’m finally starting to show some story.

5. Who gave you the most memorable feedback?

After crossing the Bass Strait, between Australia’s mainland and Tasmania, I was working on my Ph.D., The Secret Life of the Sea Kayaker. The most poignant feedback I received was: “Beau, you think adventure is inherently good and hard, and yet it’s not inherently good and it’s not hard.

A nine-to-five job is hard, and it’s mundane and repetitive. Putting food on the table is hard. What you do is exclusive and privileged, and it’s often fun and simplistic.” That was a very different perspective than I was used to. Junk Paddle and The Commute tap into asking questions about our everyday lives instead of focusing on exclusive adventure.

“I’ve been going full-tilt for four days. Swamps, oceans, rivers, creeks—it’s the full spectrum of adventure and all between the lands of home and work,” says Beau Miles in The Commute. Feature Photo: Courtesy Beau Miles

What Is The Future Of Epic Canoe Journeys?

a person paddling a canoe on a lake towards a castle in Scotland, UK.
“He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of Aaargh.”—Monthy Python Photo: Paul Villecourt

Maybe I was the only one bewildered by the news of brothers Kyle Roberts and Tom Schellenberg arriving at Everest Base Camp earlier this year with canoes on their heads.

It was a noble cause they promoted—raising cash for a women’s mental health facility in Kathmandu—and it was certainly an arresting image they created in the process (see page 55). But in the pantheon of crazy-ass stunts one might do with a canoe to get attention, this one takes the Nepalese cake.

What’s the next epic canoe journey for canoeists?

It got me wondering. How much farther and faster is it possible to go? As our wild places diminish, what waters—or heights or depths—remain unplumbed by a single blade?

Back in the mid-19th century, Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company and his praetorian team of Mohawk paddlers from Kahnawake, paddled from New York City to the Pacific and back with a side trip to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

I’m not sure anyone has ever repeated a 5,000-mile single-year odyssey, though three-time cross-Canada canoeist Mike Ranta (www.paddlingmag.com/0022) and his dog, Spitzii, have given Sir George a run for his money.

In 1934, Peterborough, Ontario’s own John Smith decided he’d paddle to Peterborough, England in a 16-foot cedar-canvas canoe.

Smith’s epic journey didn’t end well. He is buried in southwestern Newfoundland where he and his canoe washed up that summer.

As far as I know, nobody has even dreamt that dream since—except perhaps members of the Pacific Voyagers Project, although their canoes are powered largely by wind.

Holy Grail-like goals

A round-trip, single-season continent crossing or a single-bladed ocean crossing are definitely in the running for most impressive feats a canoeist could accomplish. And if speed is your thing, knocking a few hundredths of a second off any paddling world record would be a worthy Grail-like goal.

Thinking vertically instead of horizontally, let’s remember when Pedro Oliva hucked Salto Belo Falls in Brazil, approaching 100 kilometers per hour in his kayak at the end of the 127-foot freefall before rolling up and joining his pals for a brew on the shore.

Surprisingly—and sadly for Oliva—his record lasted barely a month, smashed by Tyler Bradt when he successfully kayaked over 189-foot Palouse Falls in Washington State.

And while Eric Boomer’s bold first descent of an unnamed waterfall on Greenland’s west coast, documented in the award-winning film Into Twin Galaxies (www.paddlingmag.com/0023), didn’t rewrite any Guinness records, it proved unequivocally size isn’t everything. He left no room at the top of the pyramid of extreme paddlers.

The search for canoe journeys’ continues

With almost superhuman distances, heights and speeds achieved—what’s left?

Consider for a second the world is going to hell in an environmental handcart, largely because of anthropogenic climate change. Paddlers are perhaps the human dwellers of planet Earth who are most connected to its rivers and oceans.

The next Holy Grail for paddlers could be in bringing public attention to the centrality of water—fresh water, in particular—in our lives.

The records would read differently but be no less heroic in their attainment; most number of school-age children and youth—seniors, tots, middle-agers, boomers, whatever—in canoes in a single season; most number of canoes on the water at one time; largest sums of money raised with canoes or by canoeists for water-related conservation initiatives.

Or, for something a little bit different again, we might follow the example of paddlers on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, who laud those with the most consecutive days in a canoe.

Gibsons Paddle Club has a special paddle insignia and key fob for anyone who paddles 100 consecutive days in any calendar year.

This tradition has morphed into the 101 Club, in honor of the 101 Brewhouse and Distillery on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, which will give you a free meal and an excellent craft beer and a discount for the rest of the year for meeting the challenge and raising the bar.

Nobody says the quest for the Holy Grail of paddling has to be totally altruistic.

James Raffan is an author, recovering academic and former executive director of the Canadian Canoe Museum.

“He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle of Aaargh.”—Monthy Python. Feature Photo: Paul Villecourt

The World Of Whitewater’s First Semi-Pro Pedal Boater

two men pedal boating in whitewater
Pedal hard! Dispatches from a bold, new frontier of river running. Caleb Roberts pedals a precursor to the modern Monaco here. This 1987 model helped secure the sponsorship. Photo: Robert Faubert

Pro boaters are the tip of the spear, the first to break new ground and lead the sport in new directions. Gear manufacturers clamor to claim them, providing free equipment so the paying public will associate their products with the athletes at the cutting edge of whitewater paddling. Or whitewater pedaling, as this case may be.

The semi-pro pedal boaters

When Caleb Roberts and Marc Godbout need to make a tough move in a rapid, they line up their sponsored boat as well as they can, and then pedal furiously.

Online videos show their four knees as just a blur while their pedal boat drifts slowly toward huge features on rivers like the Ottawa and Gatineau. The pair are accomplished solo open boaters, but are undisputed superstars in what Roberts calls the new sport of whitewater pedal boating.

They caught the eye of recreational boat manufacturer Pelican after posting a video of one of their early descents.

Pelican offered them a free boat to do what they do, so long as they include in their videos a disclaimer stating these boats are not designed for whitewater.

Does this make them the world’s first semi-pro pedal boaters?

Roberts objects. “To say ‘semi-pro’ suggests there is a higher level to attain.”

The love for pedal-boating whitewater

There is nothing “semi” about practicing the sport at the highest level there is, he says. How much higher this level gets remains to be seen. Roberts says he is committed to training, which, for pedal boating amounts mostly to mental preparedness.

“I think about pedal boating a lot,” he says. “More than most people, anyway.”

But there’s also physical technique. For this sport, in which the athletes sit back and make small circles with their feet, any serious conditioning program starts with walking.

Roberts says his commitment to the sport sees him walking every day, even if it’s just short distances around the house.

Despite how far he’s come, Roberts remembers the first time he saw a pedal boat. “I was at my Opa and Ona’s cottage, and their neighbor had one. I remember seeing it there, listing in the reeds. It looked so cool.” Little did he know, one day he’d be one of the world’s most recognizable whitewater pedal boaters.

Roberts guides river trips for Black Feather Wilderness Adventure Company. When meeting clients on the Mountain River in the Northwest Territories last summer, one of his guests recognized him from pedal boating down the Ottawa River.


Fame aside, Roberts insists the story here is about the boat. He thinks back to the pedal boat he saw at his grandparents’ cottage and notes the basic design hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

“Think how much kayaks have changed over that time,” observes Roberts, implying there must be something approaching perfection in the boxy, square hull. Roberts calls Pelican the “Apple brand” of pedal boats and credits their Monaco model with being a key to their success.

“The Monaco doesn’t hold a cooler, but it’s smaller and nimbler than some other models, so that’s a sacrifice we make,” explains Roberts.

Speaking of sacrifices, while he has dabbled with paddling by hand over the side of the rail to make particularly challenging moves in the plodding boat, he draws the line at packing along canoe paddles for auxiliary power. “It’s important, at this stage, that we keep the sport pure,” he argues.

What are the next stages?

And what are the stages that might come next? Roberts has his sights set on expeditions.

“It’s the next frontier,” says Roberts, who admits he hasn’t contacted any bush plane pilots yet to inquire about the chances of strapping a pedal boat to pontoon struts.

“I’m waiting to get a little more established first,” he adds, recounting a lengthy email exchange with Arizona Park Service Rangers in which he tried to clarify what type of boat he wanted to take down the Grand Canyon if granted a permit.

In the end, they said his pedal boat would be okay.

The thought of enjoying the Grand Canyon scenery from a pedal boat is almost too much for Roberts to contemplate.

“In a way, we pedal the rapids to get to the flats. Flatwater is where pedal boating shines,” says Roberts, arguing that pedal boating allows him to sit back and take in the sights, see and experience nature to an extent not possible with a paddle in his hands.

Of course, sooner or later, there are going to be rapids. Roberts knows he’ll be ready, for almost anything.

“We haven’t figured out how to boof yet, but when we do, the sky’s the limit.”

Ian Merringer is a former editor of Rapid magazine.

Pedal hard! Dispatches from a bold, new frontier of river running. Caleb Roberts pedals a precursor to the modern Monaco here. This 1987 model helped secure the sponsorship. Photo: Robert Faubert

How Unprepared Paddlers Are Risking Their Lives

an illustration of a man wearing no life jacket paddling a canoe stuffed with gear and smoking a cigarette
Columnist Kevin Callan recently celebrated the release of his 18th book, Once Around Algonquin: An Epic Canoe Journey, which spins tales from a lengthy trip where he witnessed a lot of questionable behavior. We turned the photo Kevin submitted for this story into an illustration to protect the guilty.

Canoe tripping skills aren’t learned quickly, but increasingly many paddlers I see don’t have the patience or even the desire to take the time to learn.

Just as watching YouTube videos on how to fix a toilet doesn’t make you a professional plumber, watching clips on how to light a fire, erect a tarp or perfect the J-stroke do not make you a master of the elements. Practice makes perfect.

Safety third

Provincial and national parks do little to ensure campers are sufficiently skilled before they head into the interior, treating it as an issue of personal responsibility.

Usually, park employees just hand over a permit and wave the campers on their merry way.

This wasn’t always the case. I bet there are a few longtime Ontario Parks campers who will remember the classic Crickets Make Me Nervous. It was a canoe tripping safety film shown at park amphitheaters in the 1970s. I haven’t seen anything like it in years.

I like to think most paddlers take their safety seriously, but I know there are some who don’t because I’ve met them. People are setting out without life jackets, an inch of freeboard or a clue.

Governing bodies like Paddle Canada and the ACA do an excellent job of training people to go on canoe and kayak trips safely, however, training is geared towards those motivated to learn the skills and play safe.

I’ve heard the odd rumble about mandatory skills tests for backcountry paddlers, or at least optional educational programs for the inexperienced.

What are the unprepared paddlers statistics?

Canada has the BoatSmart program, which requires anyone who wants to operate a motorboat to take a course on skills and safety and pass a test—for $49.95. Passing gets you a boating license.

Some argue the license system is just another cash grab, but boating fatalities have fallen by 32 percent since the system was introduced. Coincidence?

According to the United States Coast Guard (USCG), in 2017 there were 138 deaths involving canoes and kayaks. Of those cases, 88 percent of victims drowned. Of those drowning victims, more than two-thirds were not wearing life jackets.

Looking at the USCG’s boating fatalities more generally, 81 percent of deaths occur on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction.

Only 14 percent percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.

Alcohol was also listed as the leading factor in 19 percent of all boating deaths.

Don’t be a stupid paddler, stupid

Through my local news, I hear about a handful of paddling deaths each year, usually due to drowning or cold-water immersion. I’m sad and frustrated each time I hear about another outdoor mishap because if the stats are anything to go by, these tragedies are often avoidable.

And the more accidents, the more likely regulations will eventually be forced on all of us because of a few who do not play safely. How fair is that?

In my presentations and books, I stress the importance of life jackets and wilderness safety. Often, what I really want to say to people is what my mother, who has a strong Scottish disposition, always told me before heading out into the woods: “Dinnea be stupid!”

She’d blurt it out every time I headed out on a trip, and she still offers this sage advice.

Wear a life jacket, wait until the wind dies down on a lake before crossing, bring a first-aid kit and know how to use it. Just dinnea be stupid.

Columnist Kevin Callan recently celebrated the release of his 18th book, Once Around Algonquin: An Epic Canoe Journey, which spins tales from a lengthy trip where he witnessed a lot of questionable behavior.

We turned the photo Kevin submitted for this story into an illustration to protect the guilty.

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