I’ve always been interested in the outdoors starting with family camping and then working at summer camps. I worked for a few years at the Kandalore Outdoor centre teaching and guiding canoeing, kayaking and skiing until I moved on to working at Trailhead outdoor stores and working summers with Black Feather Wilderness Adventures.
I loved working retail in paddlesports where I could stay in touch with the latest developments in the industry, help customers get the right gear and spend time on the water. I spent about 12 years as a paddlesport buyer, starting at a time when canoes outnumbered sea kayaks by 10-1, most kayaks were fiberglass, and there were only a couple of companies making rotomolded plastic kayaks. By the time I left to start my own sales agency in ’97 as an independent sales rep, the paddlesports industry had changed quite a bit.
During that time and up to the present, I’ve continued to guide at least one Black Feather trip per year – working my way through their offering of whitewater canoe and sea kayak trips in the Canadian and Greenlandic north.
I also became pretty involved in whitewater freestyle, as manager of the Canadian team from 1993 to 1999. Along the way I helped to organize the ’97 worlds on Ottawa River and collected a few medals in open canoe and C-1.
My good friend Paul Mason and I have collaborated on a few projects including Thrill of the Paddle, an instructional book on whitewater paddling, his backyard hockey rink and most recently, Paddle Pointers, a series of video paddling tips. I’ve also written a couple of instructional books published by Heliconia Press. Canoe Camping covers the essentials of (yes) Canoe Camping. The Black Feather Cookbook (co-authored with Wendy Grater and Joanna Baker) shares some favourite camping recipes but also cooking, packing and menu planning ideas. I’ve occasionally written some articles for various paddling magazines including Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoe Routes. I think it is great how much more information there is available now with Youtube, blogs, forums and social media in addition to traditional media. At times it’s hard to keep up with it all but I’ve found that writing makes me refine and clarify my thoughts and knowledge.
Since 1997, I’ve been a manufacturers sales rep for many different paddlesport suppliers. Some have been small product lines such as RecRepair or Aquapac that have allowed me to offer something to any and every retailer or outfitter, so that I’m in touch with a broad spectrum of businesses in my territory. With companies such as Grey Owl, Werner and Kokatat, I’ve experienced exemplary quality and customer service. With some manufacturers, such as Esquif, I’ve been involved in product development as well. I’ve designed 3 canoes for Esquif. It is quite a learning experience to have to consider every dimension and justify every line of a craft. I would strongly encourage anyone that is considering building their own boat.
A few years ago, I tried Standup Paddleboarding and got immediately hooked. I made a paddle and used it with an old windsurf board and in a 16’ canoe. The next year, I started repping SUPs and SUP paddles and paddling them on flatwater, in river waves on the Ottawa River and whenever I could get to ocean or great lakes surf. I think this is a great development for paddling. It is a very accessible sport for anyone to learn. Yet like nordic skiing, you can always improve your efficiency and technique. There are also many different aspects of the sport including flatwater paddling – just point ‘a’ to ‘b’ paddling to get some exercise or watch the scenery, what I call flatwater freestyle – sinking one end and pivoting the board and other tricks, whitewater river running or river wave surfing, yoga or fitness workouts or downwind runs, racing and of course ocean surfing.
I really enjoy teaching SUP. It is different than canoeing or kayaking and interesting to see how people react to this new sport and become comfortable on the board. It has also been interesting to learn the sport myself in relative isolation and figure out a teaching progression. I am currently working on a committee that has developed an instructional SUP program for Paddle Canada. The initial program covers flatwater basics followed by other levels for different disciplines in SUP, Instructor, and Instructor Trainer levels. I think Paddle Canada is the ideal organization to deliver this curriculum in Canada.