How My New Canoe Came to Be

Warning: I’m going to sound like I’m overly-gushing about Swift Canoe & Kayak, to the point where you might think I get paid by them. I don’t. I just they’ve been very nice to me and I really like their canoes. It also helps that they’re a Canadian company, built in a factory in one of my favourite little towns, South River, ON, where I spent much of my youth. Also, as I’ve come to learn during my long search for a new canoe last year, they employ some really great, helpful people. 

So your local pond or river is frozen. You’re stuck inside or have a bunch of white stuff to step through. You’re overly clothed, probably sporting one of those Christmas-present-sweaters to appease a loved one. You’re dreaming about being out on the water. You may even be pathetically sitting by a window, staring out like they do in the movies when the protagonist is conveying melancholic longing (in some kind of fuzzy, 3-D reindeer sweater). You flip through outdoor gear catalogs, and visit canoeing websites and skim through to pictures of warm sunny days. It’s all you can do to wait for the water to thaw so you can get back out there. What are you to do until spring?

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Outdoor Shows!

Yeah, this time of year is hard on paddlers, for the most part. But, did you know this is the best time of year for gear shopping and outdoor shows? Yep. Coming up this weekend is the Toronto Boat show (Jan 12-20). I normally don’t attend that one as it mainly deals with non-man-powered watercraft, but there are some canoe and kayak companies there. Up next is the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show (Feb 22-24), which I’ll probably hang out at all weekend to meet up with outdoor friends and catch all the presentations.

Speaking of presentations, Canoecopia comes next in March, which is quickly becoming my favourite outdoor show. It’s in Wisconsin, but it’s a great chance to see all the different exhibitors that I normally don’t have access to, up hear north of the border. What  really makes it worth the travel to get down there is seeing all the great speakers and presentations. Incidentally, I’m organizing a bus trip there, so if you’ve ever wanted to go but the expense of traveling is holding you back, checkout for the details. Tell your friends too, because the more people go, the cheaper the trip becomes for everyone.

Canoecopia 2013 Road Trip

But if you can’t make it, there’s still the Outdoor + Adventure Travel Show in Ottawa (Mar 16-17), then the Spring Cottage Life Show (April 5-7).

Wait… I thought this was going to be about your canoe?

The other great reason to do the outdoor show circuit is that this is actually the best time for boat shopping. You get to see all the new models, talk to the manufacturers and even see some demos. Immersing yourself in canoes can do wonders to keep the Frozen Offseason Blues as bay. It was last year that I did exactly that, and took advantage of all the access to canoe building companies to find out what options were available to me.

The following pictures were sent to me by the good folks at Swift Canoe & Kayak, and I’ve been dying to find an excuse to share them. Turns out they are so nice over there that they sent me photos of my new canoe during the building process. As you go through these pictures, imagine for a moment, a little egg with something special inside about to emerge, while humming the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey. (Go with me on this; it’ll be better that way. You don’t want my lame attempt at typing the song out.)

The beginning: My canoe gets formed.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

It took a while for me to finally get my canoe, because I was picky. I wanted what I wanted. I suppose I could have saved some money and bought a canoe that was already made or taking advantage of the off-season deals at outdoor shows. When I’d see the sales guys and chat with them at a show or demo, they would constantly want to save me a little money reminding me of this. The Swift people even searched around for an available Osprey model (when I was finally settled on the model). But they were never  exactly what I wanted, and as tempted as I was to have my new canoe immediately, I continued to be particular (read: difficult), because as I mentioned, I wanted what I wanted.

The Osprey ready to come out of it’s shell
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

The whole Swift team was very accommodating. They were both patient with my demands, and of course listening to me prattle on about what I wanted in my new canoe, especially when I was torn between different options. Those poor guys – and they never once made me feel as if I was boring them. I’m sure I did. I’m sure Jon and Mike saw me coming up to the booth at one of the outdoor shows thinking “Uh-oh, this guy.” But as a testament to how great they are, they never once let me know it. (I kid. Who wouldn’t want to talk about canoes all day?)

The first crack out of the shell reveals the integrated Carbon Kevlar trim
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I must have babbled on to at least 3 or 4 sales guys about the material alone. I could save a couple of pounds here or there, or get a little bit more durability. Then there was the Flax Fusion Dilemma, a more ecologically responsible material, but that only came in the one colour. (I was told later that you can of course add a paint coat, but that would add weight.) Then again, this problem might actually help me decide on material. Do I like the yellowish brown of the Flax? Actually I do. But was I set on the very sleek looking blue over white (Kevlar Fusion)? Yeah… I don’t know. I even put it up for debate on Facebook at some point. (If I ever do buy a kayak – and I’m not saying this is something I’m even thinking of doing – but if I was in the market for a kayak, I would get it in the Flax Fusion. This is a seriously good looking kayak.)

The Osprey emerges…
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

The best advice I got from my impromptu Facebook market research, was that my logo would look best set against the dark blue, and the white bottom would not show scratches as much. Sold! Blue and white it is. As you can see from the pictures above and below, I made the right choice. I haven’t put a Portageur decal on the canoe just yet, but I can embarrassingly say that the scratches I put on the boat in mere hours after picking it up, do not, in fact, show (on the bottom).

There it is, all new and fresh. Next, they’ll put on thwarts, seats and all.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

Just look at that fresh and clean canoe shell (above). What they needed to do at this point is to install some of the neatest features I opted for. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the reasons for deciding on the Osprey was that you could get what they call a “Combi Seat”. As you can see the the pictures below, this is a kayak seat that can be switched back and forth with the standard canoe seat. This gives you the ability to use the canoe traditionally, but also as a Pack Canoe when you so desired. I even made sure to have them add foot braces for that reason.  To switch the seats, you simply unscrew the wing-nuts on the bottom of the seat frame, slide one of the seats out and the other back in. Even for me, a guy who likes to make things more complicated for some reason, and was all crazy excited to get the canoe in the water, this was pretty easy to do.

Thwarts and seat installed, now for the foot braces.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I like this idea because it gives me a little more freedom to have the speed using a kayak paddle to keep up with kayaking friends or tandem canoes, but still have the storage space and the portagability (totally a real word) of a canoe. I also made sure to get a molded removable yoke. Swift has great ones, by the way, and it’s important to get a good one. (Solo canoes require a yoke that is removable, because of where the seat is located.) Others I’ve used are flat, sitting on your shoulders painfully awkward, and often don’t attach to the canoe smoothly. I don’t know how many times I’ve given up on these things. Ironically, while it’s supposed to be helpful on the portage, it’s a hindrance, then becomes dead weight that you have to carry around with you. The last few times I’ve had the option, I’ve just left those thin, flat yokes at the outfitters.

There it is, pretty much done.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

When I took the canoe for it inaugural trip, I was confronted by a new delimma. Which seat should I put in for it’s first trip? It made sense to put in the kayak seat, as I found myself at Opeongo Lake – a big, open, potentially windy lake – on a quick overnight trip with no portages. This seemed perfectly appropriate for kayak-style canoeing. But in the end, I needed to canoe this boat, and I had waited all that time. I paddled out to a great camping spot (single bladed).

One last shot before they send it out.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

I’m not saying you should go out and buy a boat right now, or even ever if it suits your needs more to simply rent. But if you’re going to buy, this is the time to start looking. Talk to someone at the outdoor shows, get all the information you can, and definitely take a test paddle. If it all works out, this time of year is when you’ll get the best discounts. And when you’re at the upcoming outdoor shows, stop by the Swift Canoe & Kayak booth. Tell them I sent you, but most importantly, that you won’t be as difficult as I was.

The Swift Factory Crew – Big thanks for making such a great canoe.
[Photo courtesy Swift Canoe & Kayak]

Canoecopia 2012 – Day 1

Flying from Buffalo to Chicago, then on to Madison

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am. Normally this would have been a cruel thing to do to myself, but I had no problems waking even before the alarm went off because of the same adrenaline that gets kids up at Christmas. Today I was finally going to Canoecopia.

A cornucopia of paddlesports!

Canoecopia claims to be the largest paddlesports exposition in the world, and there is no reason not to believe them. I’ve looked online for these types of shows, I’ve been to them in Ontario, and now that I’ve walked through (part) of the show, I’ll give them the world title. It’s organized by Rutabaga, an outdoor and paddlesports store located in Madison, Wisconsin (technically Minona). Based on their organization of this event and reading the Rutabaga story, these guys are obviously very passionate about paddling. Based on their website, their facebook account and a few communications I’ve had with them, they also seem like a fun group of people. Put that together, and you’re bound to have a great event.

The presentations, demos and workshops make this event - and there are a lot of them

Not being rich and famous, I was reluctant to go to Canoecopia in years past because it seemed like a lot of money to get down here. I asked everyone I knew who had been whether or not it was worth it, and the answer kept coming back “Yes”. So this morning I was on a plane to Wisconsin after an early morning drive to the Buffalo Airport – it’s ridiculously cheaper than from Toronto – to see the show for myself.

The Best Laid Plans

My plan was to get a room at a hotel right across from the show, saving money not having to rent a car. Even better was the fact that Canoecopia has a group rate (information found on their helpful website), so more saving. Everything was working out, except that I found out that there is nothing within (reasonable) walking distance of my hotel.  I found this out the hard way, when I needed to replace some toiletries kindly taken from me by the airport security people (I totally think they’re all brushing their teeth and coating themselves in deodorant right now, laughing at me). I walked and walked and walked – on some not-so-pedestrian-safe roads to find nothing to help me.

Strange and wonderful sites at Canoecopia - like a cedar laminate kayak paddle with a plastic shaft.

When I finally got into Canoecopia, I started to take a few pictures when disaster struck – disaster for a blogger at least – my camera didn’t have a memory card. Until I get home and find it sticking out of my computer there, I’m going to blame the TSA people again, who are of course looking at all my pictures as we speak, laughing at me.

Seriously Nice

I frantically made my way back to my hotel, and upon asking advise as to getting a taxi to somewhere that would take me to get a new memory card (internal grumble about how much all this is going to cost), it solidified a thought I’ve been having: People in Wisconsin are very, very nice. From the airport staff, to the shuttle driver, to the hotel staff, they’re all super, super nice. (American readers may wonder why us Canadians are surprised by that when we visit. Unfair generalities, Sorry.) They put me on a shuttle, taxied me to the nearest Walgreens (whose staff was again super, super nice) where I got a new memory card and everything I needed to keep from stinking walking around at the show. Oh, and get this, the guy waited for me and drove me right back to the show.

Lots of Canadians in attendance, not to mention Ontarians - including the folks from the Wabakimi Project

At this point you might be saying to yourself that a lot of hotels have shuttle service, what’s the big deal? Fair enough, but it wasn’t that they helped me, but how nicely they did so. Imagine a smiling face uttering “No Prahblem” with a mid-west accent. This was my day.

What about the Show?

Oh yes, the show. It’s big. Today’s hours were from 4 to 9, and having missed an hour, I could only do so much. What makes these shows great are the presentations and guest speakers, and Canoecopia has a lot of great topics and outdoor experts. So many, in fact, that I barely got a chance to see many exhibitors yet, and it’s like that all weekend. I did get a few peaks, and will discuss that more tomorrow.

Pam and Andy from

One presentation that stands out was by UpNorthica‘s Andy and Pam Wright, titled “Fun with Smoke ‘n’ Ash”. They recalled their trip through Wabakimi Provincial Park when a forest fire was burning and they had a lot of decisions to make to keep one step ahead of the smoke and flames. They wrote up this adventure in a series of posts which I had followed, and really enjoyed hearing about the adventure first hand (with some pretty impressive slide show tools). Appropriately, they ended with some safety tips when dealing with fire during a trip.

Anyway, I’m having a great time, talking with all kinds of people about my favourite subject – paddling the outdoors. Exhausted from a long day, I’m off to bed. (Between all the airport terminals, the fruitless walkabout around the hotel and the show, I’ve worn quite a bit off my shoes today.) I’ll have a bit more to talk about tomorrow, hopefully including pictures.

Off to dream of TSA agents with allergic reactions to Canadian toothpaste.

Nancy Postscript

For those of you worried about how Nancy’s doing without me. She’s fine. I’m getting regular picture updates, and it appears that she’s having a great time with her other dog friends.

Special thanks to Badger Paddles, who let me hang out at their booth and talk paddles with people passing by.

The Frozen Offseason


Getting the camera read for Movember

Getting the camera read for Movember

With November coming up in a few days, it’s probably safe to say the portaging season is pretty much over. Depending on where you live, there might still be a few paddling days left, but tripping is left only to the truly hard-core. And so it is that we must start thinking about things to do while the water is frozen. Get ready, because it’s coming.

For me, it’s a time to catch up on my writing, which will keep me pretty busy considering all that’s happened this year. So for you I guess that might mean getting some reading done, so keep your eye on the RSS feeds, facebook and twitter for new posts. For the latter two options, you’ll get some bonus pictures of Nancy, news on other paddling related stuff, along with the occasional smart ass remarks. Either way it should fight the boredom a little as you stare out the window waiting for the seasons to change.

So what else can you do in the meantime to keep up your portaging interests? I’ve included a short list of ideas:

Yeah, that's no good

Yeah, that's no good

Best in Shows:
This is actually the best time of year for outdoor and paddling shows. This is a great way to not only to do something canoe and camping related, but also keep up to date with new products, services and trends. You can also pick up some tips and tricks from a demo offered, or meet some well known outdoor personalities. The best part is just being around outdoor people, meeting new friends and chatting about your favourite subject. Here’s a short list of upcoming shows that I’m considering attending this year:

  • November 25-27: Great Outdoors & DIY Weekend. If you have a cottage, like woodworking along with your outdoors interests, this is the place to be. It’s also slowly becoming the outdoor show of choice (in my opinion) because of all that’s available. They have guest stars and an extensive speaker and demo series (for each interest) – including Portageur favourites Kevin Callan of Happy Camper fame and “Uncle Phil” Cotton from the Wabakimi Project. Of note is the “Women of the Outdoors” panel, which I’ll be sure to check out – in my finest, cleanest outfit with a bouquet of flowers just in case. (In the off chance any of them read this, I am kidding of course. I already have a never-gonna-happen-girlfriend to chase.)
  • February 24-46: The Outdoor Adventure Show. There are three cities this show visits, and each is slightly different. Calgary and Vancouver may get Mantracker, but we get Kevin Callan and Les Stroud – though I’m not sure who the special guests will be this year yet. Plenty of demos here and a lot of other outdoor interests other than camping and canoeing. In fact, they usually have a pretty big section of travel exhibitors that’ll help you get somewhere where the water is not only unfrozen but nice and warm too.
  • March 14-18: Toronto Sportsmen’s Show. By March, I’m usually pretty itching to get out there, so this show is a must, even though it’s not my favourite. It’s kind of like visiting Bass Pro Outlet – it’s really more oriented to people who go outdoors by motorized transport and/or to hunt and fish – and the relatively small camping section reflects that. What keeps me going is the dog section, which includes a Rare Breed Dog show, but I’ve found this is getting smaller and pushed aside. Having said all that, it’s got the biggest selection of outdoor gadgets (in Ontario) and the best place to stock up on some jerky.
  • March 9-11: Canoecopia. I’ve not yet been, but this is supposed to be the best paddling show around, even claiming to be the ” World’s Largest Paddlesports Exposition”. Looking at the list of exhibitors and speakers, I can see why. I’ve always wanted to go, but being in Wisconsin, I’ve wondered if it’s worth the drive all the way out there. I’ve asked around, and word is that it may very well be – specifically worth it for the best seminars, and a must to go for not just a day, but the whole weekend. I should submit a request to be a speaker, to justify the travel. What do you think? Should I do a seminar on getting poop off your dog, how to still look cool after falling out of the canoe in freezing April waters, or what to eat when your food bag gets a leak and fills with beaver dam water (aka “Thank goodness for Ziploc”)?
When I click this, it's supposed to take a picture. Why isn't it working?

When I click this, it's supposed to take a picture. Why isn't it working?

Find a Winter Activity:

This is always easier said than done, but there are lot of fun winter activities out there. I’ve been trying to find one I like as much as portaging, but still have yet to really get into something regularly. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, snowboarding or even winter camping… they’re all good. No matter what you do, try and get out there and keep active, and appreciate the season for what it is. It’ll make waiting for the water to melt much more pleasurable. Nancy and I sure take advantage discovering wild places just going back to the same parks as in the summer and appreciate the beauty of it’s snow covered look. Or you could do something crazy like the folks over at Swift Canoes. Being a canoe company, they might be especially susceptible to cabin fever waiting for spring.

Yeah, this isn't working

Yeah, this isn't working

Prepare for next year:

The most fun of the offseason, to me anyway, is planning next year’s trips. At this point you could go anywhere. Get the maps out. Have a planning party. Dream of all the places you want to see next year – perhaps those that you couldn’t last year. Then figure out how to do it. These activities tend to satisfy your portaging fix, but fair warning: it may make for impatient yearning. If nothing else, it should help you get through the offseason as you’ll have something concrete to look forward to.

Prepare yourself for next year:

Not as popular as the previous item, and sometimes considered a downright chore, finding a way to keep yourself fit during the cold months has a lot of advantages. It gives you something to do, sure, but it’s funny how you can use your want for paddling as a means to stay healthy. Imagine how many more lakes you can cross, portages you can get over, if you were just a little more fit (or conversely, not unfit from inactivity and holiday meals of the winter months). At best, this thought might keep you working out a little longer than you might have otherwise and at worst, keep you doing something, anything, that you may not have otherwise. If you’re one of those people who have found a winter activity, even better. Good for you (read: La-ti-dah!).

Just a little off

Just a little off

Distract Yourself:

The fact is, winter is going to happen, and you’ll just have to deal with it. It might be a good time to learn a new skill, catch up on your outdoor reading, or even get into things that have nothing to do with camping or canoeing (yeah, I know). For example, I’ll be participating in Movember – the month formerly known as November – where people grow mustaches to raise funds and awareness for men’s health. It’s a worthwhile cause, a lot of fun, and a great chance for me to post humiliating pictures of my attempt – and so for you to laugh I suppose. This year, I’m going to make my best attempt at a Frank Zappa (I can hear the laughter already). Again, keep up with me on facebook and twitter for full enjoyment, as I’ll be posting a daily picture of my progress – and there’s going to be a fun surprise coming up in a couple of days.

More to come

So make sure to come back soon, as I’ll be posting more on each of these items during the offseason, as well as posts on this year’s activities. Writing these posts is certainly one activity that I will definitely do while waiting for the rivers to open up again.

Ready for Movember!

Ready for Movember!