Monday, March 16, 2009

First signs of spring

A cluster of canoe paddles beckons wandering canoeists and wayward kayakers.

Forget groundhogs and crocuses. The first sign of spring for midwestern paddlers is Canoecopia, the annual paddlesports expo sponsored by Madison-based Rutabaga.
Canoecopia is more than a trade show. Sure, it features the expected vendor booths where visitors can try out and try on the latest and greatest gear, from boats and paddles to PFDs, watches, dry bags, wet suits, shoes, camping gear, cooking gear, safety gear and more. They can also browse a comprehensive selection of books and DVDs, and get information from outfitters and resorts, clubs and organizations, camps and magazines. In other words, anyone looking for anything related to paddlesports would find it here.

Dr. Danny Mongno, paddle authority extraordinaire, at the Werner Paddle booth.

But there's more to Canoecopia than that. Every hour, there are at least six simultaneous sessions where visitors can learn about paddling expeditions and destinations, get tips about nature photography and backwoods camping, and hear some of the top instructors explain their techniques.

Ben Lowry demonstrates rolling on dry land prior to a session in the pool.

But honestly, there's more to it than that, too. For us, Canoecopia is also a chance to connect. We spend part of our time in the hallway, where numerous clubs have tables, talking to passers-by about what our clubs are offering. This year, we were ostensibly representing CASKA (the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association) but also promoting the new NWIPA (Northwest Indiana Paddling Association), and encouraging attendance at the upcoming Paddlesports Festival in Aurora, the Chicago Shoreline Marathon, the new Burnham to Marquette Sea Kayak Expedition, and more.

At the CASKA booth, Sharon extolls the opportunities to paddle in the Chicago area.

Tom Lindblade, president of the Illinois Paddling Council, encourages people to lobby against proposed legislation that would restrict access to Illinois waterways.

In addition to reconnecting with old friends -- Danny Mongno of Werner Paddles, Kelly Blades of P&H Kayaks, Derrick Mayoleth of Kayak Quixotica, Damon and Sarah Smith of Riverside Kayak Connection and more -- we're always excited to meet new ones. This year, we had the privilege of seeing the premiere of Bryan Smith's new film, Eastern Horizons, and meeting him and his wife, Lise-Anne (who are four months away from bringing a new paddler into the world).

A dry moment caught on camera.

Ultimately, for us paddling is much more than a water-based sport. It's a community, and we thank Rutabaga for helping us reconnect every spring.

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