“The larger the island of knowledge,
the longer the shoreline of wonder.”
Ralph W. Sockman
Here’s a variety of paddling discussion forums and message boards, blogs and personal kayaking websites, and other helpful links for shopping and for planning your own kayaking trips.
CHAT: Forums & Message Boards
If there were only one place on all the web for paddling information, I would hope this was it. Affectionately abbreviated to “P.net” by its forum residents, this online resource should be your first stop. You’ll find information on choosing a kayak or canoe, free paddling articles, links to retailers and outfitters, trip reports, photography, classified ads, and much more.
I stop in nearly daily to the Paddling.net Message Boards. This is the Internet at its best: helpful, contentious, immediate, argumentative, hilarious, vastly experienced, and self-contradictory. Post an obscure paddling question and go to lunch; when you return, you will likely find a dozen replies from kayak and canoe nuts who have been there and done that, probably with a few wisecracks tossed in just so you maintain your sanity.
Yahoo Groups, Paddling
This portal will lead you to hundreds of sea kayaking, canoeing, and whitewater clubs around the world, each with its own Yahoo Group Message Board. Some allow casual visitors to browse their message chatter, while others request that you join the group in order to read and post messages. Use the ‘search’ function to find a club in your area, or a group specializing in your particular style of paddling.
The Kayak Forum
An online message forum on “Kayak and Small Boat Building, Kayaking Trips and Techniques, and Small Boat Design.” While you’ll find posts by paddlers of all skill levels at the abovementioned Paddling.net, those here on the Kayak Forum tend to be a bit more intermediate-to-advanced. While some topics may seem esoteric to the uninitiated, you can learn a lot here simply by listening in on various message threads, but don’t hesitate to join in with questions or comments.
An email mailing list: you need to subscribe, but it’s free. If you’re the shy sort, simply peruse the ‘article archive’, a collection of prior discussion threads between members. Covering such diverse topics as kayak camping, waterway access, cameras, book reviews, and boat design, this erudite and “semi-moderated” base of knowledge is helpful to both beginner and veteran alike. Or just subscribe and join the conversation.
SURF: Personal Paddling Sites
PaddlingLight.com (formerly Nessmuking)
Bryan Hansel’s personal paddling site leans toward the nitty-gritty aspects of wilderness kayaking, camping, and do-it-yourself adventure travel. Features lots of great photos, practical wisdom, and reviews of canoe/kayak/camping products. You’ll also find some excellent info regarding designing and building your own gear, including kayaks, canoes, and paddles.
The Lake is the Boss
A laidback and wryly humorous ramble around the shores of my favorite inland sea, exploring such topics as the environment, attending kayaking symposiums, trips with good traveling companions (and good beer). If you’re still not sure why anyone would call a lake ‘great’, make a few visits to “The Lake is the Boss”, and you’ll probably start to get it.
In the words of creator Derrick Mayoleth, KayakQuixotica “is simply a website about kayaking by someone who kayaks. I’ve collected a bunch of information and do my best to keep it all current and post a daily blog about adventures in kayaking, and adventures in life. Often it’s hard to tell the difference.” Also a virtual clearinghouse of paddling news, much of it international in nature, but some of special interest to those of us paddling primarily in the upper Midwest.
When I find myself mired in mid-winter self-pity, watching local lakes achieve their annual solid state, with snow and ice encrusting my empty roof rack, I visit Michael’s “Canadian Ckayaker” for uplifting and poignant blog posts. A retired schoolteacher living in Quebec, Michael offers an interesting blend of paddling observations, historical and regional notes from a life spent in the north, with the occasional technical article of interest to paddlers. And he serves it all with the patience and wry sense of humor required of a kayaker with a paddling season even shorter than mine.
Sea Kayak Chesapeake Bay
Lots of trip reports, sea kayaking technical articles conveniently arranged by topic and skill level, and a wealth of information regarding the author’s home area of the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. I’ve never paddled there, but I just may have to.
SHOPPING: Online Paddling & Camping Shops
Quite possibly the world’s largest brick-and-mortar paddlesports shop, Rutabaga also boasts an excellent retail website, offering a wide selection of top-notch paddling products, along with reviews and helpful articles by their knowledgeable staff. If you ever pass through Madison, Wisconsin, be sure to stop in to Rutabaga’s store for a multitude of quality kayaks, canoes, and other camping and outdoor gear and apparel. A pond and dock just behind the shop allow ample opportunity to test paddle their boats, and Rutabaga offers many on- and off-the-water classes throughout the year.
The highlight of the season, though, is Rutabaga’s annual paddlesport exposition, Canoecopia. Two-and-a-half solid days of new-product launches, demonstrations, bargains galore, and perhaps best of all, a daily schedule so jam-packed with fascinating speakers and inspiring presentations that it is perpetually difficult to choose which ones to attend. Whether a rank amateur paddler or a flannel-bound, veteran voyaguer, you will find plenty to pique your interest at Canoecopia, and everyone should make at least one pilgrimage to this paddling mecca during this lifetime.
Aside from poring over maps and charts for next season’s paddling trips, there are few better ways to pass a cold winter’s night than roasting your chestnuts by an open fire while perusing the familiar 200-page, black-and-white, hand-illustrated Campmor catalog. Chock full of everything from tents and sleeping bags to stoves, backpacks and bags, tools like knives and flashlights, and paddling-specific clothing and gear, the catalog is a goldmine of cool camping stuff, much of it at bargain prices. Of course, you can find all the same stuff and more on Campmor’s excellent website too, but you can’t keep that atop the toilet for bathroom browsing …
Requires little introduction. A tad chichi and overpriced for my tastes, this venerable national retailer is a decent enough place to shop for outdoor gear and apparel. Especially if you simply cannot venture out without fifty-dollar Gore-Tex socks, an Under Armour Arctic Beanie, and a five-lb., dual-speed, hand-operated blender for making “shakes and frappes” in the backcountry … sigh.
Sierra Trading Post
This is the place for good deals on closeouts, overstocked items, and outdoor gear and clothing with minor cosmetic flaws. Because Sierra’s inventory is dependent on overstocks from major manufacturers, selection is often quite irregular, and changes almost daily. So it pays to check back often for new bargains. You’ll find deals on everything from SmartWool socks to closeout drysuits to last year’s recreational kayak.
TRIP PLANNING: Online Maps & Nautical Charts
MSR (Microsoft Research Maps)
Paddling is about time spent on the water, but you still need to get there and back, and probably camp somewhere along the way; you’ll need maps of terra firma for that, and an excellent place to start is MSR. Offering free online topographical maps and USGS aerial photographs, MSR’s resources are searchable by city or latitude/longitude. Although only black-and-white, these satellite photos are usually of a much higher resolution and image quality than similar images from GoogleMaps and other online sources, and cover the entire US, not just select urban areas.
Besides depicting access roads and trails, the topo information can be used to determine which shorelines may be safe for landing and camping, and which not. Though no substitute for a proper marine navigational chart, a lot can be learned by studying such topo maps, and should be part of the plan for any successful trip.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an agency of the US government charged with observing and distributing information regarding the atmosphere and oceans. For paddlers and other people who spend time on the water and in the elements, NOAA offers a wealth of information helpful for navigation and for generally staying out of trouble.
Their online nautical chart viewer shows water depths, obstructions, aids to navigation, channels, shoreline, and more. Burrow down to the waters in which you’re interested and check out the charts. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, for example, is a little slice of kayaking heaven.
NOAA also sells a wide variety of digital-download nautical charts, in addition to standard paper charts. Their Print-On-Demand nautical charts boast brighter colors and higher contrast for better readability than their standard charts. They are available either laminated or on water-resistant paper.
In addition to visual maps and charts, you may want more textually descriptive information for the area in which you plan to paddle. NOAA’s “US Coast Pilot” is a “series of nine nautical books (volumes) that cover a wide variety of information important to navigators of U.S. coastal and intracoastal waters, and the waters of the Great Lakes. Most of Coast Pilot information cannot be shown graphically on the standard nautical charts, and is not readily available elsewhere. The topics in the Coast Pilot include, but are not limited to, channel descriptions, anchorages, bridge and cable clearances, currents, tide and water levels, prominent features, pilotage, towage, weather, ice conditions, wharf descriptions, dangers, routes, traffic separation schemes, small-craft facilities, and Federal regulations applicable to navigation.” Digital (PDF) files may be downloaded for free, or bound paper copies may be ordered.
Here’s a sample entry from “Coast Pilot 6”, covering the Great Lakes:
“Grand Marais Harbor is a small-craft harbor 31 miles NE of Taconite Harbor and 106 miles NE of Duluth. It is the only harbor with facilities and adequate protection for small craft in the 125 mile stretch between Two Harbors and the International boundary at Pigeon River. The harbor is a semicircular bay with a narrow opening to S between two points of land. The harbor is a commercial fishing base. Grand Marais, Minn., is a town on the N side of the harbor. (413) Grand Marais Light (47°44.7’N., 90°20.3’W.), 48 feet above the water, is shown from a white square pyramidal skeleton tower, upper part enclosed, on the E side of the harbor entrance. A fog signal is at the light.”