Interviewing The Baffin Paddler

Asking people who already know is one of the best ways to learn.  Which is why Sarah Perkins has chatted to 'The Baffin Paddler': a Canadian paddler with a blog about sea kayaking, paddling and perspective.  And she's found out quite a bit more about this boat-borne pursuit and mode of travel than anyone in our office knew beforehand...

SP:  World Reviewer first came across you via your blog The Baffin Paddler, do you kayak as a hobby or have you made it your profession?

BP: Kayaking is not a hobby or profession for me. I’m a writer and communications professional. The way I define kayaking is: You’re either a paddler or not.

If you’re a paddler, you’ll find your way to the water one way or another. Not just by kayaking. You may also find yourself choosing to run, cycle, hike, rollerblade, plan trips and live along water trails. That’s me!

As for your choice of instrument on the water, it may be a kayak, a canoe, a paddle board, or whatever else they invent that allows you to paddle on water.

Then, if you really love water and the sport of “paddling”, become knowledgeable, gain experience and expertise, get licensed or certified by a recognized body, you may find your way as a professional of some sort in the paddling industry (instructor, guide, boat designer, gear store owner, outfitter, travel writer, etc.), or keep paddling as a recreational passion strictly for fun. I’m currently in the middle somewhere with kayaking.

Then again, some people and organizations only come into the paddle market just because they see an opportunity to make big money as the market continues to grow and expand. And that is sad to see sometimes, when the “big guys” come into a market that the smaller outfitters and gear stores and professionals have built up over time with true passion, dedication and good service to the paddle community. Sometimes, the people and organizations who deserve to be there, get pushed out.

SP: That's never nice to hear. How long have you been kayaking? Can you remember the first time you went kayaking? What was it like? 

BP: I’ve been kayaking for seven years going on eight now. My paddle partner and I each own two sea kayaks specific to our needs and likes. They are all play boats! Meaning, little storage room if you want to kayak camp with lots of gear, but they are fast and play well in flat or rough water and are great for rolling.

We shopped for years to find sea kayaks we really loved.  I own a 17 foot Boreal Baffin, and a 16 foot, 6 inch Malestrom Vital 166.  Our garage requires lots of boat and gear space!  We paddle spring, summer and fall in Canada. We have serious weather and water here and need good gear and lots of it!

The Baffin is designed and manufactured by Boreal Designs. The Vital 166 is designed by Maelstrom Kayaks, and manufactured by Boreal Designs. Both companies originate in Quebec, Canada.  I love both my boats! When you love your sea kayaks and gear, it makes paddling a much better experience.

Yes, I certainly remember the first time I tried kayaking!

I hated it!

We rented “not so good” little rec kayaks on a small lake one summer. The boats did not handle well, were not comfortable to sit in, and we didn’t know one thing about kayaking!

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I concluded after that first paddle, that I just didn’t like the sport, until someone with kayaking expertise suggested trying a well made, easy to handle sea kayak and to take some lessons.

It really pays to take the time to learn about the sport and know what you are doing, then you can really enjoy kayaking, stay safe, and move on from there.

 It’s pretty much the same with most sports, but with kayaking in particular, you really shouldn‘t wander off in water with boats unless you have some knowledge of the sport, good boat handling skills, the necessary and required gear, and a firm knowledge of the types of things you need to look out for on the body of water you are travelling on, for example: weather report, currents, tides, rapids, waterfalls, obstacles, rocks, downed trees, dams, unfriendly shorelines, busy marinas, freighter routes, sail boat races (regattas), and recreational motor boat traffic. And this is not an all inclusive list!

The possibilities for fun, enjoyment, travel, learning, discovery, relaxation, excitement, peace, and freedom are endless with kayaking.

On the other end of the spectrum, all the possibilities for things to go wrong are there too, especially if you don’t know what you are doing and go into the sport “blind”, as so many people do.

SP:  You seem very passionate about the sport, what kinds of things made you start?

BP:  We live in the National Capital Region of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario/Gatineau, Quebec). There is so much great water to paddle nearby. You can‘t miss it! It is everywhere! It would be a shame not to paddle it. 

One day my paddle partner said, “I see lots of people driving around here with beautiful sea kayaks strapped onto the roofs of their cars. Maybe we should give it a try too?”

I replied, “I don’t think so! Kayaks are too tippy!”

The rest is history still in the making. That was the beginning.

We are very fortunate to have great resources nearby: Paddle shops, outfitters, guides, instructors, map stores, and a great community of paddlers who share information and resources, and are fun to paddle with.

I consider our home in the National Capital Region of Canada to be a great “basecamp” for planning kayaking trips near and far. 

 SP:  Why do you think you are so passionate about it?

BP:  That’s a great question!

I think there is a great sense of mentorship and camaraderie amongst the paddling community. Paddlers help each other, teach each other, and share resources. I like that.  We are also tremendous partiers! We love to have fun both on and off the water.

Paddlers also tend to be environmentally friendly, non-smokers, and usually healthy eaters. We are the ones powering our boats, so we need to take care of our engines! I find this combination of traits perfect for me.

However, on my BaffinPaddler blog, you get to read about some of my paddle adventures and tales when I’m back in the comfort of some place with Internet access.

You aren’t with me when some of my paddle buddies pick a lunch spot that I don’t really like or agree with, like places with lots of bugs, shaded thick woods, poison ivy everywhere, and not much place to sit!

“I’ll say, let’s keep shopping for another lunch spot!” And they stay put!

I wind up eating lunch in my boat. Then I’m less passionate!

I like to shop for something extraordinary if I can – or with less bugs. But I can still enjoy the day. When in a group, it’s more important to stay together.

What I really love are great trails. And in particular, great trails along water routes.

I rode horses recreationally for a number of years, riding Western, a little jumping, and dressage training.  One day I had an epiphany in a freezing cold, dusty, and smelly barn in Canada.

I asked myself:

  • “What are you doing here?”

  • “What do you really want to do?”

  • “Why are you riding horses when you are mostly going round and round in dusty riding rings indoors and out?”

The answer was “trail”.

“Are horses really the best way to do trail in Canada?”

The answer for me was “NO!”

“Where are the best trails in Canada?”

The water!

Canada has some of the best water trails - and tons of them.

“What’s the best way to do those water trails?”

The answer for me was: “In a great kayak that I love!”

Don’t get me wrong. I still love horses. I loved riding them, caring for them and working with them.  But it suddenly came to an end.  I parked my saddles and sold my two-tone brown Jeffries jumping saddle.  I still have my beautiful black Rembrandt dressage saddle sitting in a closet. For some reason, it is hard to part with this great saddle and the memories I had with it.

SP:  How did you become the BaffinPaddler?

BP:  I became the BaffinPaddler because of one of my sea kayaks, the Boreal Baffin, and some of the great kayak instructors, and other paddlers who have helped me get my paddling wings. This is what got me started on the path to being the BaffinPaddler.  I paddled other boats, but the Baffin is the first sea kayak that made me stop, wonder, think, and want to learn more about paddling the very first time I test paddled it. So I bought it right after the test paddle. I test paddled it in calm water on a day with no wind. Not the best way to really test a boat, but sometimes you have no choice.Then, when I got the Baffin home and out into bigger more turbulent water, I really had no choice but learn how to paddle! It forced me to learn quickly.The Baffin is a great sea kayak, but it has a skeg (not a rudder), and it weathercocks so badly (turns into the wind), in any wind, big or small, that suddenly, I had to learn paddle strokes, edging, and boat control techniques. I also grew to hate the round skeg wheel on the front deck of the Baffin. You can bang your hand on it while paddling. I made peace with this boat by taking up a Greenland paddle (GP) for quick and easy stroke control and started wearing paddle gloves to protect my hands.

The first kayak I bought was a wider sea kayak with a rudder, a blue Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 150, which is designed for a beginner. All I had to do was press on a pedal with my foot and the boat turned wherever I wanted it to go. I had a great time with it, but after two years of paddling, I got very bored with it. It was slower and less responsive than the sea kayaks of just about everyone else I was paddling with!

My yellow Boreal Baffin sea kayak has done so much for me and my paddling. I've had such great times with it in all kinds of water, especially in the big water on Great Lake Superior while visiting the Apostle Islands from Bayfield, Wisconsin in the U.S., and in the current on the Diable River in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.

On the other hand, the Baffin has also annoyed the heck out of me! It’s a balanced relationship for sure. I still love this boat! It’s one of my favourite paddling partners. The Baffin sea kayak is named after Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada, located in the mighty Arctic Ocean up north. The Baffin sea kayak is designed to face the ocean.

For me, the Baffin is a metaphor for something intriguing, grand, and free. And I could feel it the first time I paddled the boat. It spoke to me. It made me want to learn and find out what it could teach me. And it’s still doing it! No, I don’t hear voices. I’m referring to what you can feel here.

SP: Has kayaking allowed you to travel to places you might not have been able to otherwise?

 BP:  Definitely.  It goes without saying that you can get to places in a kayak that motor boats, sail boats, and even canoes can’t. Larger boats can’t get through shallow passages or access many shorelines that we can access easily in a kayak.  And now, thankfully, more and more lakes, especially smaller ones, are prohibiting or finding ways to limit motor boat traffic.  Motor boat traffic is a real concern and problem for us in smaller craft like kayaks and canoes. Motor boats limit our access to the water in many places and sometimes take over water we’d like to paddle.

Paddle craft don’t disturb people, wildlife, or the natural environment, and don’t pollute the environment with noise or chemicals.  Wildlife does not seem to be afraid of paddle craft. I paddled past a family of four beautiful Loons the other day. They just looked at me without any worry at all.

Paddling is also a great way to get some exercise and save time and money. You don’t need to buy gas for a kayak or expensive trailers to haul them. Just strap them up on the car and go!  A motor boat or a sail boat is a much bigger expense, commitment to take care of, haul, and store.  You can’t do everything or go everywhere with a motor boat, and likewise with a kayak!  Sometimes, it’s the motor boat coming to our rescue. Sometimes, it’s the other way around.  We need to look out for each other, know the rules, and share the water so everyone can stay safe, conduct their business, or have fun. Boats on the water can be working craft and/or recreational craft of many sizes and speeds and manoeuvrability. You need to know what’s on the water you’re going to visit!

 SP:  What sort of experiences can people hope to have if they go on a kayaking trip? What sort of experiences would you want them to have?

BP:  The types of experiences people can hope to have on a kayaking trip depends on the type of trip and a lot of other variables:

  • a day paddle

  • a camping trip

  • an expedition

  • where you are paddling: urban or wilderness

  • the type of water you are paddling: river, lake, ocean, and how that water behaves

  • the weather

  • the surrounding terrain

  • wildlife (some are friendly and harmless, some are not)

  • how well you are prepared and geared up for the experience

  • other craft on the water

  • the level of ease or difficulty of the trip

  • how the experience makes you feel

There are so many experiences you can have kayaking, both good and bad.  What one person loves, another may hate.  Kayaking can be exciting and exhilarating, relaxing and peaceful, intriguing and magical.  Other times, you can find yourself wishing for it to be over and to be back home in a warm shower, wondering why you paddled or travelled so far.  Some places you paddle make you want to return.  Some places I visit once and they aren’t on my list to return to, even if I enjoyed the experience.  I like to discover something new each year and cherish the memories of the places I’ve paddled.

Taking pictures of a trip is a great way to revisit the trip for years to come and invoke the good feelings you had time and time again.  I hope people take the time to identify the types of things that they like and then try to plan paddles to respond to what they enjoy.  For example, I don’t like paddling whitewater. You won’t see me in a whitewater kayak heading out on a whitewater trip.  I like sea kayaks. I enjoy paddling flat water, gentle currents, and playing in larger windy waves. I don’t intentionally go into or play in the really big waves or surf that some expert paddlers enjoy. I’m not into extremes. I’m a moderate. I like simplicity. I’m not a pro. I don’t like to break things – especially my bones or my boats!  Soft adventures are perfect for me.

I hope people enjoy their kayaking experiences, but . . . the most important thing is for everyone to come home safe and sound and do no harm to the environment or wildlife while you visit.  Kayaking can inspire feelings that you didn’t even know existed.  It was very lucky for me that I gave it a try, and kept on going even though I didn’t enjoy my first kayaking experience.

 SP:  What are some of the best kayaking stories that you have? What are some of the best places you have ever gone kayaking? If possible, please provide more than one.

BP:  I think my best stories will be the ones that are still to come

However, Paddle to Yoga in the 1000 Islands Gananoque is a story still in the making.  I discovered the power and serenity of paddling to an island to do yoga outdoors along the water. It’s not the same as paddling to lunch. It’s not the same as driving to a yoga class inside a studio in the city. Combining the two, kayaking and yoga is an amazing combination. It is brilliant. Paddling to your yoga practice point is totally awesome!  

Paddling to do yoga on an island is an experience that I love. I’m working on making this experience available to a wider audience. It’s something I can easily do. I think it’s important as well as inspiring to develop a program so it can be shared with others who may enjoy it as well.

There are some fabulous experts giving me advice on developing a Paddle to Yoga program for people to paddle from a quaint little town called Gananoque in Ontario, Canada, along the shores of the mighty St. Lawrence River, and snake their way through a chain of islands paddling a beautiful sea kayak to a specially selected island with great views to do yoga in the great outdoors . . . under a protected gazebo of course! This way, you can practice yoga out of the sun and if it rains, let it! You’ll just enjoy the sound of it.

Paddle to Yoga runs in the fall from September until the end of October. This is some of the very best of the paddling season in Canada when the weather is more moderate (usually not too hot or cold), the gorgeous fall colours are in bloom, and there are fewer bugs and tourists.

I started doing yoga outdoors this year. It is awesome! In particular, I paddled to an island to do yoga in an inspiring setting in the 1000 Islands and it was amazing!

Sometimes when I visit a place by myself or with just one other person, and it feels so special and magical to me that I stop, look up at the sky and say, “I promise to come back and bring others! Just give me good weather when I do, OK!”

This is what happened to me this year in the 1000 Islands. And this is how Paddle to Yoga got started.

It happened another time on beautiful Lac Chat, which was the launch site for an awesome Diable River paddle in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. And I did return with a group the next year. We had perfect weather! And we enjoyed it so much, we did it two days in a row!

Seal Cove, Maine, Mount Dessert Island, from Acadia National Park in the U.S.A., is another special spot! Watch out for those little islands that disappear when the tide comes in! Stay close to your boat! I love Maine!

SP:  What made you want to start writing your blog?

BP:  I started blogging because I’m a writer. A writer is expected to have a blog. Blogging is really cool!  I also wanted total publishing freedom.  Just about anyone can blog, but good blogging is a challenge. It’s more work and responsibility than people may realize. I thought I should give it a try and see where it goes. It keeps me on my toes!

I have several blogs, but the BaffinPaddler is the one that is becoming more popular and getting noticed. Honestly, I really like the BaffinPaddler myself!  This blog always picks me up and makes me feel good within minutes, even if I’m not feeling so great when I open up my laptop.

BaffinPaddler also links to other great paddling resources and connects me and other people who visit to other bloggers and paddlers. It’s a network, a best friend, and a family all in one.

Kayaking and paddling are very popular topics.

Bloggers can be a great resource for information, trip reviews, and entertainment.  I love visiting other paddle blogs myself. I can learn, discover, laugh, have fun, and find inspiration in them.  Some paddle bloggers journey to places I never will, and I appreciate being able to enjoy their tales and photographs. It also inspires me to plan a trip somewhere new! I think, “Man! Look what I’m missing! I better get out there too!”

SP:  Is there anywhere you’d love to explore that you haven’t yet?

BP: Of course! British Columbia, and Newfoundland in Canada; New Zealand, Australia, and Europe!

SP:  What is the absolute best thing about kayaking that you would want others to feel and know?

BP:  I don’t know if there is an absolute best thing about kayaking. I don’t think of paddling or kayaking or other things in absolute terms. It sounds too definitive to me.

I often say, “Ain’t nothing perfect!” But then again, I have had what I consider to be absolutely perfect moments both from kayaking and from being on the shore. How I define perfect at any given moment can differ from others.

Everyone is different, “One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure!” It’s just nice to find moments you consider perfect!

SP:  Thanks so much for speaking to us, BaffinPaddler - good luck on your next adventure!  

If you have any questions about paddling, where to go and how to get started, fire them away here:

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