A Saturday at Canoecopia is like a day at the fair; you see all you can and try a little of everything, but the crowds are half the enjoyment.
Things were no different this year, on the busiest day of the world’s largest paddlesport expo. We found amazing stories, memorable booths and discovered cool stuff; but behind it all were the people. Brilliant and talented people. Hilarious and quirky people. Brave, remarkable and memorable people from all over the Midwest and beyond.
Photographer David Morlock was one person whose presentation we couldn’t miss, as we’ve been big admirers of his work. His topic was simple: How to Take Better Photos on Your Paddling Trips. Pam took copious notes and walked away a new person — or at least a new photographer.
Racing to get good seats, we then headed for the long-awaited talk from the women of Hudson Bay Bound; Ann Raiho and Natalie Warren. The tale of their paddling voyage from the Minnesota River to Hudson Bay was not only epic in the telling; it’ll be in the books as history. Theirs was the first women’s trip to cover that route.
Earlier last year, we’d filmed a video of them, before the trip. Now, upon hearing of their appearance at Canoecopia, we were elated to hear firsthand of their kick-butt adventure.
The tale itself — fascinating. More poignant still were their observations of the environmental state of these waterways. The Minnesota River and Red River of the North wind through lonely rural areas, at times appearing as cesspools full of agricultural and consumer waste. Natalie’s eye-opening perspectives added great depth to what could have been ‘just’ a fascinating paddling story. Good reminders that those privileged to live by water, must care for it.
During the trip, the duo would pass time by making music, and for the audience assembled, they covered Willie Nelson’s “Crying in the Rain.” It was pretty cool, and if they don’t do more paddling together (God forbid), they should do a little recording.
Then, it was on to the next speaker, Rob Kesselring… who did his presentation wrong. and I’m so glad.
He was supposed to have spoken on How to Plan a Far North Canoe Expedition. What we were instead treated to was an inspiring collection of excerpts from his books, plus something more: A call to action. Canadian rivers have been Rob’s passion for decades, and in traveling them, he’s seen how industrialization and other man-made factors have affected the rivers and the creatures who call them home. Rob urged people to visit these ‘last wildernesses’ and to protect them. It was truly the most heartfelt and inspiring talk I have heard him give. and I didn’t even learn a thing about planning my own trip. No worries.
Stand-up paddleboarding figures heavily into my 2012 wish list of things to try. So I rounded out my research phase by attending a preso by ACA Stewardship Coordinator Cate Huxtable and instructor Jimmy Blakeney. While it was more on the textbook end of learning, it served as a good Q&A session on the sport, which is rocketing in popularity. And I left wanting to buy a board and paddle of my own.
Lucky me, it was just then that I ran into my friend, whitewater guru Jeff Pilgrim. He took me directly to the booth for Fluid Adventures. Based in Cable, Wisconsin (right along the lovely Namekagon River), they’re in a prime location for launching SUP voyages into the land of Fun. Owner Rick Pauli answered a slew of questions; the guy generates a tidal wave of enthusiasm for the sport. I hope to pay him a visit soon. I have it in my noggin to do a multi-day SUP trip into the BWCA and I’m sure to gain some skills from Rick.
Once again we took to the floor of the exhibitor’s hall.
There are always new things to see, but there were some items and booths that left big impressions and may have even melted a few faces with their awesomeness.
One was a group of canoes on display by Nova Craft; all of them with super funky graphics. A Jackson Pollock-inspired one with paint spatters garnered most of the attention, but others were no less impressive. The company even had converted a canoe into a couch for people to kick back on. Sure, fancy cosmetics speak little to functionality, but these were a breath of fresh air. And the reality of canoe buying is just like that of car buying: If you’re picking a new car for yourself, you’ll care about the color. Same goes for the designs here. They reminded me of how the Minnesota company Twin Six turned the cycling apparel world on its ear, with their innovative and desirable aesthetic. I wish more canoe companies would take risks like this. Kayakers found plenty to talk about at the show, but it was Northern Light Paddlesports who generated perhaps the most buzz. Their take-apart carbon fiber Greenland and Aleut style kayak paddles were impressive. The traditional styles with modern materials is a great combination, but both include some smart design tweaks; The Aleut-inspired paddle, for instance, is ridged on one side of the blade and slightly concave on the other side, giving more control options. And of course the portability of the 3-piece modular system is pretty sweet.
SlatGrills is a newer product that everyone has an opinion on. I managed to squeeze in amid a crowd of people to see some demos. The portable SlatGrill is collapsible down to the individual slats that function as the cooking surface. Made of hard-anodized aluminum, it’s strong enough to support the weight of heavier items or multiple pots, but it also is meant to handle more delicate operations (see how the kabob skewers also fit into the notches?). Its design allows for charcoal fuel as well as canister heat sources.
Owner/inventor Chris Weyandt is happy with the reception SlatGrills have had. He told me that dutch oven cooking clubs have shown great interest. And obviously something like this seems a fit for scout groups or paddling trips into places where fire grills are absent (look for an UpNorthica review on this, soon.)
I did echo to him, the sentiments that the SlatGrill assembly’s weight (up to 4 lbs including the canvas roll and using all slats) would deter backpackers and ultra-light adherents. He kindly then gave me a sneak peek at a forthcoming model which is roughly half the size, and made from titanium. We’re curious to see how it fares, but it definitely seems a step in the right direction. Choices are good.
Helle Knives had a table full of shiny, luminous, beautifully crafted blades. I’m a sucker for natural wooden finishes, so I enjoyed what they had on display.
The Thule Hullavator was a Jaw. Dropper. So much so, that I had to say that using initial caps. With the use of gas-assist struts, this side-loading rooftop rack just about lifts and lowers 40 lbs of your kayak’s weight, for you. Allowing a single person to load their own kayak is a dream come true for many. I observed a disabled paddler in his later years, talking with the Thule rep. The man had “new lease on life” written all over his face.
His wasn’t the only face that made me smile, though. Every year I’m more impressed with the people here. From interesting characters wearing historical garb, to hipsters in zip-off pants and paddling hats all weekend, the crowd-watching is a treat. I even saw a few attendees walking about with full, framed backpacks; what were they carrying? I don’t know…
As I walked the floor, I met three twenty-something guys decked out in full tweed suits, mirrored shades and trucker’s hats. When I asked about their get-ups, they explained it was a tradition. They’d done trips in several wilderness destinations (including Woodland Caribou) and always dressed this way on their first day of paddling, rain or shine. Brilliant!
Everywhere though, were people with stories of adventure. Waiting to tell theirs and to hear yours. Old guys fascinated with stand-up paddleboarding. Young families who’d taken their toddlers to places still on my to-do list. A good reminder: Look at all the gear, listen to the speakers, stuff your bags full of brochures… but be sure not to miss the people at Canoecopia.
The esteemed Preston Ciere (of portageur.ca) introduced himself to us; a fantastic fellow blogger on his first trip from Ontario, to the expo. It was great to make connections after having followed him on Twitter for a while now.
We also caught up with Dan Cooke (Cooke Custom Sewing), and Scott Sorenson with a crew from Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply. Talk of paddling and even fly-fishing (we haven’t done that in years!) was great to share.
Dinnertime approached, but that didn’t stop people from attending the Aluminum Chef competition. The annual crowd-pleaser features well-known personalities in the community (like Marty Koch and Kevin Callan) competing against a local chef to create the best camping meal. The whole thing seems all about banter and entertainment to a near-vaudevillian degree, but somehow all the dishes turn out really well. And the patience of hungry audience members was rewarded with numerous samples that were passed around.
The evening later included music from bluegrass musician Jerry Vandiver and his band, at an event for presenters and exhibitors. Music was a new addition to the festivities. The reception was great; I hope that next year there is more of it.
Our time at Canoecopia was shorter this year. Back in the Twin Cities, a funeral brought us home early on Sunday morning.
But the world’s largest paddlesport expo always leaves you with memories, and the desire to create still more of them. This year, we brought home new friends to collaborate with, new trips to save up for, and new things to try out.
What did you come home with?