The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Paddling at one with nature


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Buddy Boren and Daniel Boyes, guides for Kayak Adventures Worldwide, ready the kayaks at Lowell Point for the short journey to Tonsina Point.

Sixty residents, including this Seward Phoenix LOG reporter, recently took on the challenge of paddling from Lowell Point Beach to Tonsina Point and back. The 4-hour trips came about thanks to Wendy and Dave Doughty, the owners of Kayak Adventures Worldwide, who offered locals the opportunity to try the kayaking experience at a significantly lower rate before the tourist season gets underway. The outfitters felt it would be a good way for more locals to get acquainted with their Third Avenue business, and the sport of kayaking. It also would be a good way for themselves and their tour guides to bridge the gap between tourists and locals, and more fully integrate themselves into the community.

Six of us, and two guides went out early last Thursday morning. A light breeze rippled waves over the water. Although the sun was trying to get through, the sky was smoky from wildfires on west side of the Kenai Peninsula, shrouding the view of the distant shores and mountainous horizon in an orangey fog.

Even bundled up in layers of clothing, with my hands encased in rubber mittens that snapped over my paddles, and the seat opening enclosed by a waterproof kayak skirt, the prospect of being shoved out into the cold waters Resurrection Bay was intimidating at first. Not being much of a risk taker, I was initially among the more insecure and over-dressed of the group.

The Doughtys are hoping to create a stronger, more unified community of Seward kayakers, and are launching the Seward Paddling Association, with its very own Facebook page that provides a community forum for paddlers to plan group expeditions, swap gear, and share the latest information on weather conditions, wildlife viewing, places to go and more. The association already has attracted a wide variety of interested parties, including all six or seven local kayak outfitters, the local wildlife tour boat companies, Alaska State Parks, Alaska SeaLife Center, Kenai Fjords National Park and even some stand-up paddle boarders.

The association will collaborate on creating area-specific guidelines for safer, more responsible and environmentally-friendly paddling with the tourists and the local paddling community. Once the group agrees on what these common safety and wildlife viewing guidelines should be, the association will disseminate them widely via social networking, the print media, pamphlets and other means.

"The paddling association is an effort to collaboratively put out these guidelines for the public and hopefully, over time, raise the standard of practice around here, and also just increase the knowledge level for visitors and locals and outfitters alike," Wendy Doughty said.

Kayak Adventures Worldwide, and the other kayak outfitters train their own guides to recognized safety standards, and has them train each of the people who travel with them in how to be safe and responsible on the water. National Park and U.S. Forest Service personnel also were seen recently conducting kayak safety trainings in the Seward High School pool, and on Thursday, our own group paddled past additional National Park Service employees conducting kayak safety training off the first small island before Tonsina Point.

There are many independent paddlers, however, and not everyone has been well informed about certain things such as cold water immersion dangers, how to travel safely alongside glaciers or floating ice, or how best to behave when travelling among marine mammals, Doughty said. With growing numbers of people paddling the waters of Resurrection Bay, and landing on the islands of Kenai Fjords National Park, it's also important for the kayaking community to observe "leave no trace" practices, she said. The practices refer to picking up and carrying away all human garbage and waste, walking and camping only on durable surfaces or rocks so as not to trample delicate vegetation, and being aware of sensitive things in the area such as black oyster catchers' nests and eggs which are laid near the shore on certain parts of the national park.

"I think most of the outfitters here know what they're doing, but there are a lot of independent travelers or even local people here who don't have a familiarity with these things," she said. "So it's just important to get the word out and put everybody on the same page as to how we should do things out there, and form a stronger community of all of us who love the water."

Our group's trip was guided by Buddy Boren, a longtime Seward resident, and Daniel Boyes, a seasonal worker from Point Reyes, on coastal northern California, new to the area but not to kayaking. They showed us how to put on and hook up our rubber skirts, how to enter and exit, and steer the kayaks, and how to operate our paddle's properly, with the least strain. They discussed what to do in the event that a kayak should overturn. Boren peppered the journey with paddling advice, snippets of Seward history and Alaska indigenous culture.

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Kayak Adventures Worldwide guide Buddy Boren demonstrates how the kayak skirt works.

Although sitting just a foot or two away from the freezing water's surface, I began to feel more stable and secure soon after getting out into the bay. We were moving smoothly along with surprisingly little effort. I was able to relax, breathe deeply and enjoy a most intimate experience with the natural elements powered by my own clean, healthy energy, and that of my fellow kayaker, Leah.

We began to observe things from a new perspective: a sea otter sunning himself before surfacing out of the water to take a dive below; a pod of sea lions swimming along together, occasionally looking back at us with their big eyes; a marbled murlet peacefully paddling along, and a cormorant too, sleek and black. By necessity we began to paddle in tune with the movement of the waves, turning directly into the larger ones, pushing out and paddling back with the oars, as we gently floated over them.

Being out in the ocean at one with everything there is a sublime feeling. I was hooked.

The Seward Paddling Association kicks itself off with an informational gathering and community potluck Friday, May 30 at the Waterfront Pavilion at 7 p.m. All are invited.


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