From paddling my own canoe to kayaking into community

An exploration of water and community

***Updated on Sunday, July 23 to include the local triathlon and a couple of other things.

In the second of what may yet become a series on community and recreation on and in the water, this week’s post is about kayaking. You can read part one, about working to build a community pool, right here.

Here’s my first “kayak”, in quotes because in North America that would be a canoe. Here I’m paddling in Kimmeridge Cove, Dorset.

To stiffen it, my dad made a wooden floor from the cabinet of an old console TV. He made the paddle from a broom handle with plywood blades modeled on a ping pong bat. I loved that thing.

I didn’t kayak again until I moved closer to salt water about 30 years ago. I’ve had my current boat about 20 years. I paddled in some of the bays and estuaries and along the shore of New Jersey until a dozen year ago when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, a paddler’s paradise, and found a kayak community. I joined a local kayak club before I’d even moved. Just weeks after I got here, there was a group paddle through Deception Pass, one of the crown jewels of PNW kayaking. The currents through the pass can be deadly, but at slack tide it was delightful. Kayaking in Puget Sound is a great way to see dolphins and whales, seals and sea lions, ospreys and eagles.

The kayak community here is not only wonderful in its own right, but we also connect to and support other volunteer groups.

We need beach access to launch our kayaks. In over 200 miles of shoreline in our county, there are just 60 public beach access points, many just one lot wide. It’s natural, then, that we would work with a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and expanding beach access for all.

Every year there’s an open water Adventure Swim to support the community pool I wrote about last week. The kayaking community steps up to provide kayak safety support for this event.

A few open water swimming (I love the British term wild swimming) friends have swum, in sections, the 200 miles around our island, a feat I have yet to complete by kayak. The kayak community provided safety escorts for some of the open water sections as well as for open water crossings to the neighboring islands.

A friend, well, he’s not just a friend, he’s also the local vet who helped our last dog over the rainbow bridge, and coaches swimming, wanted to do the Portland Bridges Swim, and asked if I would be his kayaker. This community run event covers eleven miles under twelve bridges on the Willamette River right through the heart of downtown Portland, OR.

A great way to see Portland, and a fun way to support another community.

To show that I can never quite lose sight of environmental issues, l offer this. I happened to mention to a friend from EPA that I was kayaking for this event. She said she was going to Portland a few days later to work on a Superfund site. I asked where and she told me Cathedral Park. I said “that’s where the race finishes! Is it safe?” She said “just don’t eat the dirt.”

Another kayak volunteer opportunity was the local triathlon, organized by our parks department. This is a great community event where volunteers from the swimming1, cycling, running, and kayaking communities come together. Despite the sign below, the swim was uneventful, with all swimmers completing the course.

Who knew, all those years ago when my parents bought me that inflatable “kayak”, that it would lead to so many community building opportunities?

If you’re enjoying this series on water and community, please consider sharing with friends, subscribing if you are not subscribing already, and joining me in the comments.


I plan to add posts on our swimming and cycling communities soon.

5 thoughts on “From paddling my own canoe to kayaking into community

  1. I think these kinds of community are really important. The modern work world where companies want employees there from breakfast till dinner with their social life built around the company, and downtown apartments too small to socialize in, makes it really hard on millennials. Covid hit that generation particularly hard. People need the free time and opportunities to build community outside work.
    I worked in New Jersey, close enough to New York to be the home of the 24-hour career. We’d stay till 7 or later to score brownie points with the boss. When I visited customers in California, everyone left at 4 to go surfing! I’m not sure it’s like that now.

  2. My daughters have done the same. One moved from a tiny apartment in Seattle to a small town in Cdorado, working from home, and has been able to build a much healthier life and community.
    The other works from home in Brooklyn, one likewise has built a community.
    I didn’t have friends outside work in New Jersey till I quit and started working from home.
    I so disagree with the idea that we need to go “back to the office” to cure the “epidemic of loneliness.” We need to promote civil community where people are!

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