Select Page

My first kayaking experiences took place in 1992/1993 before my 3rd year guiding rafts in Maine. I was on Pushaw Stream paddling a Perception Mystic using a 220cm, 90degree Harmony Ridgeline paddle I had “borrowed” for the fall/winter season. I had tried to kayak before but this is when it really happened.

My friend Nick and I started by ferrying back and forth and running through the class II 40 foot wide stretch of small stream powered by slow snow melt. This progressed into jet ferries and some small wave surfing, and sliding down snowbanks into this still partially frozen tributary of the Penobscot River. Also included with this non-stop daily drenching in the freezing water was swimming, and lots more swimming. Swimming up north in March/April in a “borrowed” wetsuit is so, so, so cold. All we did was laugh, learn and repeat.

We progressed quickly to running underneath the bridge at Pushaw Stream, daring each other to try more new things. We then moved to a spot on the Stillwater/Penobscot River called the Elbow, but we swam even more there. Nick would try to exit the eddy only to capsize, and I would quickly rush to rescue him and immediately capsize, carp roll and swim. On and on it went…

The Perception Spirit I had was purchased on a payment plan from Eastern River Expeditions for $300 in 1992. There in Greenville, Maine I spent my third year guiding the Penobscot river. After work I would head to the East Outlet of Moosehead Lake to paddle with friends. This is where I saw my first squirt boat, a Blaster made by New Wave Kayaks. I think it was originally made for John Regan. I remember paddling down, swimming of course, and near the take out at the beach in one of the only deep spots my friend Matt was working on the stern squirt, or simply sinking the stern in a pivot turn. I immediately knew I wanted to do the same. We took many trips to the Seboomook River that year, but things never clicked until the spring of 93’ and ever since, it has been an obsession.

At some point in 1993 I progressed to surfing Joe P’s and other class III whitewater, and moved up to running class III plus. I swam everywhere including Blue Hill Falls to the amusement of the harbor seals. Thankfully people rescued me. The next two years of guiding, safety boating and paddling after work were the foundation for an addiction that went on and on.

September 10, 1994 the same Matt guided me down Canada Falls in Northern Maine up near Quebec, Canada close to the Seboomook. Some solid class III + IV- in a new Perception Corsica S that wasn’t mine. We ran everything twice which really notched my desire for more. So in the spring of 1995 came my Dagger Crossfire purchase. That boat made everything better to the point I wanted to run Gulf Hagas, so Matt also guided me down that many times. In the fall of 1996 we all went out west to live in Oregon and paddled even more. Living in Hood River was amazing paddling and moving to Portland was even better. The river community at that time was incredible. Jumping ahead, after my 15th full-time year guiding I left and started a career in healthcare, of which I am still part, but we finally left Maine in 2018 and moved to the southeast.

I think an extended obsession with kayaking is really just luck, effort, and new or new to me designs. I have other hobbies but within paddling I have tried sea kayaking, touring, racing, slalom and C1. None one of those stuck.

The only things that remain are squirt boating, freestyle, some easy creeking and rafting. In the summer of 2023 I received a Ninja built by Ed at Murky Water Kayaks and designed by Jim Snyder more than 10 years ago. I rolled the dice and attempted to have Ed make the boat float between my lower torso and sternum with measurements from an old Ninja I could barely get in. I took pictures and measurements and emailed them from Tennessee to Canada. After waiting several months, Ed shipped the boat to Louisville, I drove 4 hours one way to get it and went straight to Cowbell that evening. The first rides in that new boat were literally mind blowing. In my opinion there isn’t one best design for everyone in plastic or composite, but in the last year I have found two designs that are so sick, one being the Ninja. As soon as I paddled it I knew I’d be asking Ed to make me another one. Crazy yes, but real.

I haven’t even scratched the surface paddling in the Southeast yet and I’ve been here 2.5 years, but it has been good to the point I realize I should have been here all along. Not having to wade through snow and slide across shelf ice to hit the river is exceptionally nice. Would I like to paddle as many rivers as possible? YES! But, I’d rather find those runs, designs and features that push me forward in skill. There is nothing like knowing a river intimately. Knowing every rock, wave and hole at every level. Wilson creek, the Nolichucky, NOC hole, Cowbell, FB9 and the Wye are my current habits. I have had baby step advances in style, technique and skill lately that have me in a paddling sweet spot.

Watching paddlers come and go into the fold of river paddling has been epic, some of them teenage kids shredding at levels I will never reach. I have seen many different paddlers progress so fast and get so good I scratch my head. If you get sooo good that fast, what is left?

My wife Sarah and I never had kids. We never had the desire and honestly I was so consumed by guiding, traveling and boating it simply never happened, which I think contributed to paddling not ever being a phase in my life that I left. I continue to paddle in my 50’s and hold out hope for another 30 years.

I literally still can’t throw some basic (complex) tricks in a hole or on a wave, let alone a combination of those. But when I do FINALLY throw something new, have an exceptional underwater ride, or an awesome day on a creek it feels so good because I know I’m pushing away the danger of paddling and river running being a phase. This paddling as a phase people can get trapped in is my nemesis.