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  • Writer's pictureJustin Pahnturat

One sea kayak changed everything for me...

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Standing on the shore of Lake Michigan and looking out into the wide, vast expanse of impossibly blue water it somehow feels wrong to call it just a "lake" for something that so huge and deep and powerful. I grew up on this Great Lake and still live to this day on the northeastern most point of Wisconsin. I live on Death’s Door, literally. The narrow strait of water that connects Lake Michigan to Green Bay is called Death’s Door, the name given by the Native Americans from the peninsula and northern islands because of the dangerous and unpredictable (in truth, life threatening) nature of the water.

There are many stories of how people lost their lives crossing this particular stretch of water. The Native Americans that lived in this region of the upper Great Lakes believed these waters were controlled by an underwater panther called Mishipeshu -Looking out at the waves breaking in the distance, knowing that icy cold water is moving fast and bouncing around the ancient, glacier-carved and unpredictable limestone rock formations, pretty much anyone could tell you that this majestic body of water is spectacular and that this water is dangerous. It is here that my journey to become a sea kayaker begins.

It was the end of my first year of working as a kayak guide for summer recreational tours for beginners and a few people that should have never attempted such an athletic feat in the first place. It was later that fall, maybe late September, when fate brought a kayak into my life.

When I drove over to see the kayak that was for sale I did not know what to expect but I was very much intrigued. Little did I know, this kayak would change everything for me. At first glance, all I saw was a very narrow, sleek and almost dolphin nosed kayak, an orange top with a white hull, a faded Current Designs logo on the side and pretty decent shap. One gash needed repair but I was happy to work out a payment plan and do the touch-up work myself. It wasn’t until I got to the water that I realized this was a very advanced boat and that I was way, way out of my league and that I’m probably gonna die. I would later come to find out I had purchased a Current Designs ‘Cypress’, a British Touring design also known as a Greenland style, with Greenland being essentially the birthplace of kayaking.

My very first day out on the water, I was so excited to sit inside a sea kayak almost twenty years after my first time ever paddling a kayak. I got the boat in the water but then couldn’t seem to get myself in the boat without tipping over. After a few more tries I was able to stay upright as I shakily and slowly paddled towards my girlfriend who was paddling her own sit on top kayak and laughing at my inabililty to move my boat. About every 30 feet I would capsize! With zero sea kayak training whatsoever all I knew how to do was perform a paddle float re entry that I saw on a five minute YouTube lesson. I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake getting this advanced boat, should I return it? Should I give up because this is way too hard and scary? I kept trying and immediately kept capsizing many more times, to my girlfriends giggling amusement. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want to see their boyfriend get his ass handed to him on the water? But then, after a bit I was able to get myself tucked into the kayak and found some balance on the calm waters. I was able to maintain an upright position and to paddle out to the bluff.

I noticed that this thing was not stable but man, it was fast! The kayak absolutely sliced through the water with ease and grace. I could feel every ripple, wave, and swell like it was a song that I felt through the boat. It was an amazing moment but I asked myself how I could ever survive paddling such a kayak the notoriusly powerful upper Great Lakes? Why on Earth would anyone strap themselves to a 17' boat that capsizes easily with bad technique and dare to traverse such icy cold and unpredicatable body of water?

Maybe I should give up? Maybe I should return the kayak and finding something easier like watching someone else live my dream?

Well, I kept the kayak. And this is how the story begins...


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