Saturday, 05 December 2015 16:43

Playing in the Waves with the Marine Police

My buddy Erik and I were out for a short paddle in Toronto this morning and had a funny experience.
The plan was to go out the Toronto Harbour via the Western Gap then out and around Ontario Place (8.6km).
Paddling just south of Ontario Place one of the marine police boats went by us on a regular patrol. After it went by we did a bit of surfing from catching the waves from the boats wake. Just then the boat did a 180 and came back our way. The cop sticks his head out of the boats cab, "hey, you guys want us to make some waves?"
So we spent the next 15 minutes playing around while the police boat drove around us. Pretty sure they loved it as much as we did.
Published in General News

Take a look at this crazy photo (shot by Andy Barrow) that my friend, Liz Burnside found while searching through Flickr for Toronto kayaking photos.

She sent it my way and I did a double take when I realized that was a photo of me out paddling during a winter storm last January. I’m not sure where my friends Erik and Rob are but quite likely right in the middle of that mess. Click on the image above for zoomed in version of it.

For those who might be interested, I was testing out a new Greenland blade from Adanac Paddles that day which is part of a long-term gear review of which should be finished up shortly. Spoiler alert: the paddle worked out great.

This photo was taken here right up against the north wall of the Island airport in the Western Gap of Toronto.

Here is also a collection of photos that I took that cold day in January. My photos are not near as big looking as I was way too scared at the time to reach for my camera.

Top Photo credit: Andy Barrow

Published in Photography
Tuesday, 12 June 2012 11:16

2012 MEC Toronto Paddlefest Round-up

This past weekend was the annual MEC Toronto Paddlefest and once again it was a hugely successful event with over 618 people pre-registered and approximately 120 people walking in and registering on the spot. That doesn’t include the 60 or so instructors, boat helpers and staff running around keeping the machine running smooth. With those numbers, it’s easily one of the biggest events of its kind in North America.

This year I had the pleasure to teach a bit on the water but to also teach a bunch of on-land sessions including weather, navigation and technology in the wilderness. Over the years I have taught lots of symposium kayak sessions so it’s sometimes a nice change for me to get out and stand on dry-land every once in a while.

Rolling Lesson

This was the first time that I was asked to run a session on technology in the wilderness and they wanted me to talk about personal locator beacons as well as more recreational focused devices like the SPOT or the Delorme inReach. I decided to expand the session topic a bit and try to put this technology in a bit more context by also exploring the Canadian Search and Rescue (SAR) system and explain to people how that monster works and what exactly happens when you hit that SOS button or activate your PLB. It made it a bit more interesting then just listening to a sales pitch about gear as you could get that by going to your local store and talking to the sales lady.

Of course teaching and running clinics are fun; but for me the real attraction of the weekend is hanging out with the other instructors who come into Toronto for the event. This year we had a bunch of out-of-towners including my podcast partner-in-crime, Kelly Blades, Michael Pardy, Sharon and Alec Bloyd-Peshkin, Paul Mason as well as my local Ontario friends who are always supportive and make their way south to Toronto.

Kids Canoeing

Special thanks for Mountain Equipment Co-Op for putting on the event once again.

Here is a mini slideshow of some of the photos I took over the weekend:

Published in Events

This past weekend was able to get out to the annual Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show.

While I mainly go visit friends from around Ontario who I haven’t seen since warmer weather I also like to take a quick pass up and down the rows at the show to see what’s up. For me, it doesn’t take long to make the rounds once all the travel booths are knocked out (which is about ½ the show) and all the booths hocking shoe polish and better rags to clean your glasses (no streaks!). I will admit I did get distracted by the booth selling one-piece micro fleece outfits. I don’t know what they were thinking as they were more like a form fitting snuggie then anything else.

Northern Sound Canoes

Heading down one row I was stopped in my tracks when I came upon a small booth by a canoe company I had never heard of before called Northern Sound. They are a new manufacturing company from the UK who make Birch Canoes that are absolutely the most beautiful things I have seen in a very, very long time.

Northern Sound Canoes

Northern Sound aims to replicate the feel of birchbark canoes using both traditional materials and historical designs. Since birchbark is extremely limited in supply, the hulls are made from laminated Birch while the gunwals, ribs and thwarts are all made from Cedar. Keeping everything together are lashings made from Willow and Spruce root. The pitch they add to the hull to seal up the cracks has been formulated to still be soft yet not dry out and shrink like regular tar does.

Northern Sound Canoe Bow

Northern Sound Canoes full booth.

The prices for these boats are not cheap. What you are paying for a custom built, handmade boat that is pretty much a work of art on the water so depending on the model, they range from about $2500 up to about $5400 Canadian.

Northern Sound Canoe Bow

Talking to company president Roberto Corradi, I found out that they would like to expand into North America so they shipped the boats over from the UK to try to work out some manufacturing/distribution deals. I really hope that they are successful I would love to them out on the water on this side of the pond.

More info:

Published in Gear

Erik in the Waves

Here is a small collection of photos from Saturday’s gale windstorm kayak paddle in the Western Gap of the Toronto Harbour.

It ended up being a great day to be on the water as the temperature was a balmy +2c (35f) and the SSW winds (which were blowing at 25 gusting to 45 knots) made for some really rough conditions.

The Western Gap is a favourite location for us when the wind is out of the West as wave energy gets trapped in there jacking them up considerably higher then the surrounding shoreline. It’s bad for sailors but great for us.

View Larger Map

In these photos the wave heights is average four feet with many of them at around six to eight feet. The real monster stuff which we steered clear of was in the 12-14 foot range.

This was a really nice change from the terrible paddling conditions this fall/winter so far. Except for a handful of days, we have had pretty much had no wind since October.

Sadly, no photos from in the mess of things as it was way too scary. I was forced to shoot only from a rickety dock that ended up being almost as scary just trying to stand up on...

Here is the slideshow:

Published in General News

Paddling through the Western Gap. Photo Credit: David Johnston

I got the latest issue of Adventure Kayak (Summer/Fall 2011) and was pleased to discover that one of my photos had been selected for their photo themed issue. Actually the photo was discovered by one of my kids who grabbed it from the mail and started flipping through it before I could get my grubby hands on it.

This photo was taken inToronto’s Western Gap during a cold January day back in 2010. Long time readers will remember the Western Gap as a section of poorly designed break walls that tend to capture energy and hold-in waves rather then dispersing them as a break wall should. It’s so well known in the local nautical world that most sailing guidebooks about the great lakes warn you to stay out of the area if there is any wind blowing out of the southwest.

Published in General News

MEC Paddlefest Toronto - The Sinking Kayak

Jealous that I can’t make my way to Canoecopia this weekend, I decided to troll through my friend Birgit's Facebook gallery of photos from the Toronto edition of MEC’s Paddlefest last year.

As you can see it’s really more about having fun then anything else.

MEC Paddlefest Toronto - Stand-up Kayaking

The dates for the 2011 Paddlefest were just announced and this year it is taking place June 11-12 at Sunnyside Beach right in the heart of Toronto.

Fun fact: Did you know that MEC Paddlefest Toronto gets more people on the water then any other event in North America? Yep, it’s true. When clinics are about to start it seems like there are 10,000 people running around the beach all trying to find their canoe or kayak. Well not 10,000 but at least 8 of us that’s for sure!

Here is what I love about Paddlefest. It is completely an urban paddling event taking place in downtown Toronto on Lake Ontario. With Toronto being a true cosmopolitan city, the participants at the event reflect that huge diversity. It’s a completely different atmosphere then anything you have ever been to before. At least ½ of all the students in my clinics had never been in a canoe or kayak before and it’s so exciting introducing large groups of new Canadian’s to paddling.

You can get more fun facts and all the details of the event via their website If you are thinking of going, make sure you book first thing on May 29th when registration opens. Last year all 800+ clinic spots completely sold out in just over 24 hours. That’s a true fun fact.

Published in Events

Storm waves from the October 26-27, 2010 "Land Hurricane." Light is 48 feet above the sea. Photo Credit: Bryan Hansel

The Great Lakes were hard this week by wind. By wind, I mean windy wind. So much wind that the NOAA actually named the storm The North American Extratropical Cyclone of October 26-27, 2010.

Lake Superior got hit the hardest. Friend of the site, Bryan Hansel from has been documenting the destruction and awesomeness in Grand Marais, MN so check his flickr page full coverage.

Bryan also tweeted yesterday the following:  “The Rock of Ages observation on Isle Royale, MI recorded a sustained 68 mph wind with gusts to 78 mph.”

With all that wind, how high were the waves you ask? Well, a buoy on Lake Superior was measuring waves at over 5.7 meters high. For you Americans, that’s 18.7 feet! Remember, that’s freshwater and not the ocean. Let it never be said that the Great Lakes are nothing like the ocean.

The North American Extratropical Cyclone. Image Credit: NOAA
So what happened? The short story is that a low pressure system formed but kept getting deeper and deeper and turned into a very rare overland cyclone. If you are interested in the science of the weather system, the NOAA website for Duluth, MN has a great summary of the whole thing. According to the web page they set a record pressure low of 955.2 millibars for Minnesota. My guess is that all the senior homes in the area were filled with people with painful knee joints for the past couple of days…

Lake Ontario was on the outer fringes of the weather system so we didn’t have the same high wind or waves compared to Lake Superior but they were big enough for sure! Wind waves larger then 6ft are just too scary for me.

Here in Toronto we couldn’t pass up on such a good opportunity to get out and play so yesterday I went to work early and also worked over lunch so I could duck out early before closing time.

My paddling partner Erik and I headed out from the Toronto Harbour to the Western Gap and fooled around there. The Western Gap is a great training ground in rough water as the water bounces around and quickly turns into clapotis waves. I have written about the Western Gap before as a great training ground before. With all the clapotis wave action in that area, it isn’t uncommon for the water to fall out from under you and drop 3-4 feet with no warning. It’s worse then a rollercoaster because if you don’t see it coming it can be a little unnerving.

Kayak Bow in the Western Gap. Photo Credit: David Johnston

Once we got bored of the wave elevator ride we headed off south around the point to the “clothing optional” beach for some fantastic surfing in the consistent 6 foot swells that were forming. After a couple of runs we had to head out pretty quick as our path home took us back through the Western Gap chaos and needed to get through before we lost all our light. Now that would have been scary!

Below is a small collection of photos that I took. These were taken in conditions weren’t as rough as the bigger stuff made me to scared to haul out the camera and get a steady shot. That being said, it reminds me of a fisherman’s tale, “I could only take one photo and decided to take a photo of the smallest fish I caught…”

For reference, the breakwall you can see in a couple of photos is six feet out of the water.

[flickr set=72157625256907178]

On a completely different yet similar note, my friend Mike sent me a link last night of crazy boogie boarders playing around in a clapotis wave refracting off the sea wall.

This just in: My friend Megan from Naturally Superior Adventures on Lake Superior just sent me this report of the gang out surfing. Sounds mental. If you hurry today you might still catch some of the action on their live webcam. Megan also posted a great collection of storm photos on the NSA blog. The lightstand in the photo below is 20 feet high.

The gang came back at lunch and said that it was a bit intense.  One report was that Ray was completely vertical and yet his whole hull was still on the wave.  Another was that Ray did a surf ender where his bow just stayed under the water while he got surfed in.  He said he didn't feel too heroic afterwards just trying to breathe.

They think the river mouth might be a bit too big of this afternoon but were just going to check it out.  They might go back to Sandy or try Celery Beach.  I might go out and take some pics later but wish that the sun would at least try to show up.  Super grey here.


NSA Surf. Photo Credit: Megan Gamble

Lighthouse Photo Credit (Top): Bryan Hansel
Lightstand Photo Credit (Bottom): Megan Gamble

Published in General News

Costain Leonard. Flickr Credit: akasharkbow

This photo of Costain Leonard taken in Toronto on Lake Ontario reminds me that it’s going to get cold soon which means...wind and waves!

Taken from the Sea Kayak Canada Photo Pool on Flickr.

Published in Photography
Friday, 13 June 2008 10:17

Toronto Paddlefest Starts this Weekend

MEC Paddlefest
MEC Paddlefest - Photos: Kamil Bialous
This weekend is the Mountain Equipment Co-op hosted Paddlefest here in Toronto.

For those who haven't been there before, Paddlefest is an urban celebration of canoeing, kayaking, and dragon boating. It is similar to other symposiums out there in that there are more land and water clinics then you can shake a stick at but it is a touch different in that they have been working really hard to have clinics that really cater to beginner paddlers.
Published in Events
Page 1 of 2

Strategic partner

Paddle Canada Logo