tofino kayaking - paddle with friends visit the photographer's website

Paddle with friends

by Dan Lewis, Tofino

the letter 'I'

I tend to do a lot of solo paddling but not always by design. When I first started paddling, I was new to the west coast, and didn't have a lot of friends. The people I did know were certainly not paddlers. Fortunately a club had just formed in Vancouver, and provided a great avenue for me to begin meeting other paddlers.

There are many advantages to group paddling over solo adventures. There are more people to help carry gear, and the load per person can be lighter. Many hands make light work when setting up or breaking camp. From my perspective, you can never have too many cooks in a kitchen. And cooking-type people always seem to think of such scrumptious stuff to bring along (my menu planning short-circuits somewhere around 'peanut butter and crackers').

Paddling slows us down. There is lots of time to think. And time to talk. Touring kayakers tend to be a well-travelled, well-read bunch. On trips, away from the information overload of our wired society, conversations tend to flow to the most amazing places. Who needs television? Just go paddling with friends!
Paddling partners share a special bond. Long nights driving to distant put-ins and extended periods in remote locations tend to be times of deep personal sharing. Life stories are told, hopes and dreams discussed.

One sees incredible things while paddling, whether on a week-long expedition or just out for the evening. I've had some pretty amazing experiences while solo paddling, but there is often a background sense of 'I wish so-and-so could see this!'

When you're with other people, you share the joy of witnessing such wonders as an orca breaking the surface out of nowhere, a gang of sea lions hauled out on the rocks, or an eagle snatching a salmon from an osprey in mid-air.

And there is nothing better than the feeling of getting in the groove together, when the group begins to flow. Words are not needed when everyone knows what to do. Obviously, the larger the group, the harder this becomes. As group size increases, so does the need for co-ordination and leadership.

Paddling in groups does increase the potential for conflicts. A lot of us tend to be individualists (why else choose a boat of which you are the skipper, crew and only passenger?). People have different styles, whether the topic is safety, camp etiquette, menu planning, paddling speed, wake-up or bed-time.

Many conflicts can be prevented by getting to know your paddling partners before heading out on a big trip together. Take the time to talk about what you want to get out of the trip, what you most want to do, and what you absolutely do not want from the trip. Pay attention to what people are saying.

Go for some shorter paddles together--start with evening or day-trips, then head out camping for a couple of days. Over time, groups can develop a touring style that blends different needs and incorporates members' individual strengths. Don't we all love that stealthy pre-dawn riser who delights in making wicked coffee?

Good paddling partners are like gold. You may even luck out and find people to paddle with who become your friends, people you love to hang out with even when you're not paddling!

Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures. Email them at or visit their website at

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Tofino kayak guide Dan Lewis writes about choosing kayaking partners to avoid conflict on long kayak trips, by paying attention to individual paddlers style and experience.

tofino time april 2009

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