This is where the magic happens. Ontario Sea Kayak Centre co-founders Dympna Hayes and James Roberts have transformed their cozy home and 16 acres of rugged Canadian Shield into one of the country’s premier kayak schools and outfitters. From their 400-square-foot basement gear room, the couple outfits trips in their home waters of Georgian Bay as well as Baja, Norway, Saguenay and Vancouver Island. What’s their secret to managing all that gear? “Every season, look at the gear you have and what you actually used. Then get rid of the gadgets that you didn’t,” Hayes pauses and exhales her contagious, rapid-fire laugh, “so you can buy more gear!”

1. Commercial shelving from a defunct Target store is the ultimate gear room pick. “It was the day before they were closing for good and there was nothing left except the store fixtures,” recalls Hayes. “The store manager was so taken with our story, she let us have two aisles—$6,000 worth of shelving—for $60.”

2. Hayes uses a dive slate to teach dead reckoning, and to record departure and arrival times for her own navigation. It’s equally useful for writing tidal information, making student notes during on- water lessons, and jotting down ideas that pop into her head on long tours. “Plus it works in rain and waves and cleans quickly with a handful of sand.”

3. “If I’m sore and damp, I can’t be cheerful and take care of other people’s comfort,” Hayes says of her favorite camp luxury, a Helinox chair. Roberts offers his own creative recommendation: “Use it in your tent for sleeping. Just fold the legs and leave the chair sling assembled—it cradles your pillow holding it under your head, makes a perfect cubby to keep your headlamp and book close at hand, and keeps wet tent walls and polar bear jaws off your head.”

4. Hayes has half a dozen pragmatic uses for yoga mats on kayak trips. “They’re perfect for kneeling when loading your kayak, can be used as a heel pad in your boat, make a fine welcome mat for your tent, and add insulation and dryness under your sleeping mattress.” She’s also a yoga instructor and offers yoga kayak trips on Georgian Bay throughout the summer. “I’m going to get all hippy yoga freak on you now,” she teases. “After sitting all day on the water, it feels great to plant your feet and ground yourself to the Earth.”

5. “The Outback Oven works just like a real oven—we’ve done seared beef tenderloin, baby potatoes and baked brie in these babies.” And, of course, it’s perfect for baking. “You can have fresh, warm bread on the last day of a two-week trip, or on any cold, rainy day to lift spirits.”

6. “Ladies, do yourself a favor—get a Freshette and a drysuit with a front relief zip. From behind, it’s so discrete that you’ll look like a dude.”

7. Roberts recommends the Evernote app to keep meticulous lists and impress grannies in the grocery store. “I cut and paste menu plans and gear lists from trip to trip—it adjusts the amounts for the number of participants and generates custom shopping lists.”

8. Hayes and Roberts spend some 50 nights per year in their Hilleberg Staika tent. “It’s our all-time favorite tent. It stays put in squalls on Georgian Bay’s bare rock islets, keeps us bone-dry in West Coast rainforests, and didn’t buckle under insane winds in Norway’s fiords.” After years of scrimping on shelters, the couple took a cue from their well-heeled, Hilleberg-equipped guests. “What a difference,” says Hayes, “seriously the best money I ever spent.”

9. These 10-year-old merino long underwear represent Hayes’ favorite thing about outdoor gear. “It isn’t throwaway—because it has to be something that you can fix while you’re out on trip, it’s made to last, and it’s made to be repairable.” She says of her stripy Smartwool, “I can’t see these ever falling apart—I think I’ll have them for 20 years.”

CCC badgeThe Ontario Sea Kayak Centre is located in Parry Sound, Ontario. Every September they run Canada’s longest running traditional paddling event, Ontario Greenland Camp. Watch THE CANOE, an award-winning film that tells the story of Canada’s connection to water and how paddling in Ontario is enriching the lives of those who paddle there. #PaddleON.

This article originally appeared in Adventure Kayak
Spring 2016 issue.

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