Waterborne AdventureKayaking can be a very solitary activity. As the quiet craft slips through the water, paddlers can pass ducks or loons, sneak up behind a swimming turtle or lean back and watch an eagle fly past.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Kayaking can be a very solitary activity. As the quiet craft slips through the water, paddlers can pass ducks or loons, sneak up behind a swimming turtle or lean back and watch an eagle fly past.
But, as Kit McCarson of South Range put it, “It’s always more fun to go with a group.”
Monday, about a dozen kayakers congregated off of Barker’s Island to add social sparks to this solitary sport. They paddled, they played, they chatted and most of them flipped out. Of their boats, that is.
Led by Joel Peterson, recreation specialist of campus recreation for the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the outdoor enthusiasts took turns tipping over and escaping from their plastic shells.
“I prefer to stay in the boat,” said Bea Laakkonen of Bennett with a smile.
But sometimes, kayaks tip.
Rescue information is vital, said Shaun Lynch of Superior, a math and computer science professor at UWS. And, he added, “It’s nice to do it with other people.”
Especially with Peterson at the helm.
“He really knows his stuff,” said Lynch, who spends much of his summer in a kayak.
Since June, Peterson has been offering free community paddles every Monday night. With 10 UWS kayaks available for use and 15 years of experience, he hopes to bring all kayakers together – new and seasoned.
“I want to see it grow,” Peterson said. “I want to build a community of paddlers.”
People can bring their own kayaks and equipment or use the university’s on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Duluth resident Betsy Gregg is new to the sport. But she’s been to every one of Peterson’s paddles.
“It’s addicting,” Gregg said. “It’s just really relaxing and physical. It combines everything I enjoy.”
Barb McDaniel of Hawthorne has been attending for weeks.
“It’s fun; it’s exercise,” she said.
Sandy Brietzmann of Superior biked down to the island for Monday’s paddle, her third with the group.
“It’s good to be out with people who like doing the things you do,” she said. “And you’ve got somebody who knows what they’re doing.”
George and Carol Farmakes were happy to find folks to share their passion for paddling with.
“I love it,” said Carol Farmakes. The couple got kayaks last fall to paddle up and down the St. Louis River with. They enjoy winding up the river and watching the birds.
She and Byron Selbrede plan to bring a youth group from Bethel Lutheran Church out to the Apostle Islands sea caves this summer, so the rescue information – how to safely exit the boat and get back in – was crucial.
The paddlers put in at a different spot each week. Even if they visit a site for a second time, the paddle they take may be completely different. As Peterson put it, “We’ll see which way the wind blows.”
Last week, they launched from Loon’s Foot Landing and toured around the ore docks. As they floated past the immense structures, one of the regular paddlers recalled a time when the dilapidated docks employed 1,200 people and was fully functional.
“I came back and felt like I got a history lesson,” Peterson said.
The week before that, the kayak group paddled along Kimball’s Bay past the pristine green acres of the Superior Municipal Forest.
“One week it was a history lesson, one week it was a nature lesson,” Peterson said. “What will it be this week?”
Monday was a lesson in perserverance. The rescue work was physically draining, and paddlers fought wind-whipped waves as they circled Barker’s Island. McDaniel pulled up to shore tired, a bit wet and still smiling. It was a tough paddle, she said, and she almost decided to call it quits. But she saw fellow kayaks in front of her and kept on.
“I’m glad I did,” McDaniel said.
The group number flexes every week. There have been as few as four in the group, and as many as 17. Peterson hopes the group continues to grow and that the friendships built on the water will transfer to land. If members see another paddler in the grocery store, they can walk up and say ‘Hi.’ And even if Peterson is unable to lead some week, he hopes the group will still meet and play and chat on the water.
“It’s very much a solitary sport,” he said, but “I don’t want anybody to feel they’re alone.”
For more information about the community paddles, contact Peterson at (715) 395-4652, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or look it up online at www.uwsuper.edu under the recreation tab. The group plans to meet at Wisconsin Point Beach I at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3.