Grant's Getaways: Paddling Across History

Grant's Getaways: Paddling Across History


by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on December 6, 2012 at 3:57 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 2:50 AM


Oregon’s fastest-growing water based recreation called “Flat Water Kayaking” enjoys increased popularity because it is simple to get involved.

All you need is a paddle, a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and a 16-foot kayak to explore the Oregon's waterways.

But what we call “recreation” is actually based upon tried and true tradition and skills learned through generations over thousands of years.

Oregon is blessed with many different places to enjoy an afternoon paddle adventure; perhaps a favorite pond, lake, estuary or a quiet stretch of slow moving river.

Don Beale and his partner, Joanne Barta, agreed that a paddle is perfect cure for what ails anyone during winter’s short days - especially on a rare, sunny December morning.

“Normally at this time of year, it’s 70% chance of rain,” said Beale as he slid into the comfy confines of his home built kayak. “But today, it’s 70% chance of sunshine! I love it.”

Beale is a longtime kayaker who builds his own kayaks; historic boats that are built upon traditional lines and from favored woods like fir, spruce or cedar. He said that the designs are centuries old.

“I took it up because it was inexpensive, but more than anything I see more critters. I am closer to the water and closer to the wildlife, so what’s not to like - no limits that way.”

But his real passion for the sport is that which moves him – really! The paddle!

“The paddle is your connection to the water,” said Beale. “Every stroke you take, you feel the water. There’s a unique connection to the place you’re visiting through the paddle and I think that is special and I like that.”

Beale can turn a cedar 2-by-4 into something truly special in just a couple hours.

In Beale’s Forest Grove workshop, his cuts are square and even and it isn’t long before you see the secret of Beale’s Paddles: their shape is long and skinny.

"I have always been into wood working," said Beale. "I got interested in paddles when I realized I could make one better than I could buy it. That’s what really set me on this path.”

He said that his “skinny” paddles mean less “bite” when you stroke them through the water and that means less pressure on the paddler’s wrists, arms and shoulders.

While the idea may seem new and innovative, Beale noted that Native Americans knew this fact hundreds of years ago – and it’s reflected in their ancient designs. Those designs were the source for his own ideas about creating and carving kayak paddles.

“We’ve overlooked a lot of the history of kayaking and that’s a shame because the ancient people were very observant. They had to be. They were also very skilled and I think it’s important to acknowledge that fact. Plus, it’s fun to create something you can use.”

Flat-water kayaking is fun! It’s easy to see why it is Oregon’s fastest growing water based recreation.

The boats are not only affordable, but flat water kayaking is relatively easy to master and with proper safety equipment, a kayak can take you into places that larger motor boats can’t reach.

Harvey Golden is betting more people will reach out and have fun ‘paddling across history’ at his new “Lincoln Street Kayak and Canoe Museum” in SE Portland.

It’s a good place to drop an anchor, step inside and get grounded in the past.

“There are hundreds of boats in museums,” said Golden. “But only about 15 percent of them are on exhibit. It’s really hard to visit a museum and see kayaks, so I wanted to provide that opportunity to the public.”

Golden spent years traveling the world, visiting museums and researching the oldest original kayak designs on record. Then he built them – 70 of them to date.

40 of those are on display in his new museum.

So is his book, “Kayaks of Greenland;” an amazing text that provides photos and drawings of historic kayak designs and describes the history of kayaking. A history that reaches back 500 years.

Golden even ‘paddles the talk’ too. not too long ago, he paddled 800 miles of the Columbia River aboard one of his hand built historic kayaks.

Beale and Golden agreed that flat-water kayaking opens the door to new adventure that’s right at home on Oregon’s diverse waterways.

“There’s something special about being the captain for your own boat,” said Golden. “The paddler can go wherever he or she wants across Oregon’s rivers or bays and lakes. That feeling of intimacy with water plus an appreciation for exploration - combined together, it's just incredible!”

It is easy to find incredible places to explore through the Oregon State Marine Board’s remarkable Oregon Boating Access Map. The interactive map provides detailed facts and directions and critical boating information to hundreds of ramps, launches and marinas. It is a tool that every boater – no matter the level of marine experience – will find useful.