tofino kayaking - hooked on paddling visit the photographer's website

Tofino Kayak: Hooked on Paddling

by Dan Lewis, Tofino


I've been messing around in paddlecraft for over 25 years now. All kinds of boats: sea kayaks, river kayaks, surf kayaks, open canoes, closed canoes, cedar dugout canoes. Every now and then I ponder-- what it is that keeps me coming back, time after time? Why do I so love slipping into a small boat and sliding away from shore?

The escape factor is huge. Many moons ago I lived in Vancouver, right downtown in the West End, one of the most densely populated urban areas in North America. The seawall was only half a block away and I used to lug my kayak on my shoulder, lurching across four lanes of traffic on Beach Avenue, then down to the water. Once I was in my boat--away! Out of town. No longer stuck in the city. Free to turn my back on it and paddle all the way to Alaska if I felt like it, though I usually turned back around Point Grey.

A big part of the attraction of paddling is the sheer physicality of it. The sensation of the hull carving through the water's surface, the bite of the blade into the water, and the tug of the shaft against your hands. The push-pull feel of the forward stroke, the occasional wider sweep so in sync with a subtle lean that they are one thing. The repetitive movement begins to alter time, it passes differently. And there's plenty of time while paddling to think, to reflect.

We don't talk about it much, but kayaking is all about the glide. When you get in the rhythm, the boat glides and you just help it along with your strokes. It feels easy. I'm terrible at flatwater training--pounding along as fast as possible, hoping to develop muscles and techniques which will enable me to go faster. I much prefer to seek harmony with every stroke--muscle, sinew, blade, and hull in sync with the water surface. I find that once I'm in the groove, I can always add power later to make headway against conditions.

I call my paddling style 'charcing', a term borrowed from Jim Snyder's Squirt Book. It means charging arcs--choosing lines composed of a series of arcs. It's a lot like skiing down a hill, except the speed comes from your paddle strokes, influenced by conditions such as wind, waves and currents. Because I don't use a rudder or skeg, I steer the boat with my hips and paddle. Oh, I've tried rudders. They definitely make it easier, but they take away a lot of the dance-like feeling I get when charcing.

Just the other day a couple of friends swung by to go for a paddle up Lemmen's Inlet. It was calm, clear and warm, one of those winter days in Clayoquot Sound that seem like the best days of summer, only less crowded and much shorter.

It was high tide, and the majestic boughs of red cedar swept right down to brush the surface of the water. I charged ahead and began charcing in and out along the tips of the branches, carving tight little turns around them, and back out around the next. Dancing with cedar trees!

Kayaking offers us direct contact with the elements--water, earth, air, fire. We paddle where the water and land meet, our bodies fragments of earth itself set adrift, with miles of fresh air right above our heads that literally infuses us with vitality, carried by the blood, re-making the cells of our bodies.

And for the fourth element, our fireball, the glorious sun. In the middle of winter it feels so good on your face. So fleeting. Soon the sun will set, and the day will suddenly end. But in the meantime, let the good times roll! It's sunny and warm. Where better to be than outdoors? And if we're going outdoors, there's no better place to be than out paddling under the wide open sky.

Edges are where it's at in Nature. What I love best about toodling along close to shore is that this is where the earth, air and water meet. Sprinkle in a bit of sunshine, and that's when the magic happens. A family of otters climbs up a rocky shoreline and slithers away into the woods. A kingfisher plummets from its perch into the sea and emerges with a flash of silver in its beak. A heron flaps ponderously away from a hemlock tree, croaking blue murder. A black bear is turning over beach rocks, looking for tasty treats.

It was while paddling up Lemmen's Inlet that I realised why I'm hooked on paddling. The key is right there in the term 'outdoor recreation'. Although paddling might appear to be a repetitive activity, it's never the same twice. We literally re-create ourselves each time we head out. All that fresh air, sunshine, exercise, the vistas and wildlife encounters we experience, all combine to re-create not just our bodies, but our spirits as well. Coming back from a paddling trip, one is flushed with vitality, brimming with enthusiasm and already looking forward to heading out again.

Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures, a sea kayak company in Tofino. For info visit their website at

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Tofino kayaking: It was while paddling up Lemmen's Inlet that I realised why I'm hooked on paddling. The key is right there in the term 'outdoor recreation'.

tofino time september 2007

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