Bryan Wagner (a transplanted Gulf Coast surfer and playboater making his first Great Lakes voyage) and I were sitting in my car in the Rainbow Beach parking lot yesterday afternoon (10/2/10) looking out over the beach and Lake Michigan beyond. The wind was blowing at about 30 knots from the north, rain was coming down in pellets and the 5-8 foot waves were crashing away. The sand blowing off the beach sounded like it would take the paint off the car in no time.
Bryan and I were just starting the discussion with which every guy, and maybe everyone, is familiar. You start hemming and hawing about the situation, hoping someone else will "chicken out" and suggest turning around from the intended course before you are forced to speak up. Finally, someone breaks down and opines that discretion may be the better part of valor. Alternatively, and sometime tragically, no one speaks up and you go forward with deep reservations.
Bryan and I were just circling around the question of turning around when a car pulling a trailer with a Pintail pulled up. It was Dave Kaknes, the trip organizer. Dave parked and ran over to our car, bent forward against the wind and the rain.
Dave is a short, wiry guy with an often mischievous grin. He was wearing such a grin this day. I asked Dave if he thought we should launch and he responded to the effect that "Well, we're here so we might as well see what things are like out there." Hearing that, I felt both relieved and energized. Over the years I've trusted Dave to make good decisions, ones that may stretch a person's boundaries of skill and experience, but good decisions nonetheless.
What followed was a couple of hours of hard, fun surfing for the three of us, Hether Hoffman and, for seemingly an instant, John Tebbens. We all struggled to get off the beach and got knocked over once we got into the breaking stuff. The waves crashing against the breakwater on the east side of the beach sent up huge walls of water and spray. In the open water some of the waves were big enough that it took a stroke or two just to get the boat up the side to the peak.
I had a first-ever experience plowing out through the surf after the initial launch. A wave was peaking, ready to break on top of me. I pushed myself over the peak and the front half of my boat became airborne. Right then there was a wind gust and my boat got pushed over, forcing me to roll early in this adventure. Wind gusts at the Dever Crib a few miles north of us were hitting 40 knots at the time so that may explain what I felt. During the rest of the paddle I tried to avoid going airborne as much as possible.
For most of our time at Rainbow Dave worked on his technique in the near shore breaking stuff, further polishing the skills he had practiced the previous week. When Bryan and I called it a day, Dave helped us carry boats and the like. Then, it was a handshake with a happy smile and Dave was gone.
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Like with any sport we kayakers tend to focus on grand feats and the highly decorated practitioners. For the many years Dave has been paddling he has been on neither list. Yet, I realized as I was driving back that over the years Dave, like many relatively anonymous members of the paddling community, has made significant contributions quietly and to great effect.
Speaking personally, Dave was a member of the team that I joined years ago as a relatively inexperienced paddler that attempted, unsuccessfully, to make the crossing from Calumet Park to Michigan City. He was encouraging and supportive even when I called the trip to a halt because of conditions and we headed to shore. Dave and his equally voluble and good-spirited wife Jeanie joined and helped organize kayak camping trips to the Manitou Islands in 2009 and the Lake Erie Islands this summer. Those were trips with folks with a wide variety of skill levels and interests. Dave was instrumental in helping to be sure that everyone had a good time on both land and water.
I know that Dave (and Jeanie on occasion) have organized and attended many other paddles and camping trips. I'm sure that plenty of people have enjoyed Dave's impish humor along with his solid grasp of paddling fundamentals and attention to safety. Perhaps equally as importantly, Dave models good paddling by continually working on his skills. He recognizes his limitations, which we all have, but rather than being burdened by those limitations he works to unravel them.
Dave is not a single-minded paddler. He runs, bikes, operates a business and has helped raise a family. But when he is on the water or planning a trip he is focused on the task.
I don't mean to embarrass Dave by singling him out in this public forum. It just seemed fitting that on a blustery day Dave's example got us out of the car and on the water, where we, like Dave, worked carefully on improving our skills. We're better for his example.
Certainly, the great feats and uber paddlers are justly celebrated. Yet, it takes many people like Dave, who model good paddling and who encourage people to develop their skills and have fun, to make a paddling community function well. I just felt it appropriate after this invigorating paddle to acknowledge Dave as exemplifying the qualities of the unheralded stalwarts in the paddling community. In addition to recognizing great skills and accomplishments it is also important to remember that mutual support and friendship are the glue that hold us together.
Thanks Dave and thanks to the many folks who in their own way support and encourage their fellow paddlers without recognition or reward.