What’s New for 2015?

One of the most common questions I hear from regular customers in our shop is: “So, what’s new?”  Well, for 2015 there are a couple of products that have caught our eye, none more so than the Kokatat Idol Dry Suit.

Kokatat will release the Idol Dry Suit, in Mid January, in both Men’s and Women’s sizes that will change the way we think of dry suits.  Kokatat has partnered with Ti-Zip to come up with “Switch Zip”,  a zipper that runs around the waist of the suit that will allow the paddler to wear the Idol as a dry suit, dry top or paddling pants.  Since the zipper allows the suit to be worn as separates or as a unit its is like three pieces of gear in one!  There are also a couple of perks to moving the zipper the waist of the suit, by doing so Kokatat has cleaned up the front of the suit.  Cleaned up, meaning that there is no longer a front entry zipper that can get in way of the body tube on your spray skirt.  Once the suit is separated there is a nice flap that folds over the zipper at the bottom of the dry top to prevent it from abrading you or your gear.  However there is no flap or securing of the zipper on the bottoms, it is left to just hang out. We have yet to paddle in the Idol but will report as to the comfort and functionality of the suit as soon as we get our hands on one.

Kokatat_2015_IDOL_Leaf(Resized) Kokatat_2015_IDOL_Top_M(Resized) Kokatat_2015_IDOL_bottom_M(Resized)




Interested in learning a bit more about the suit?  Take a peak at the video below and hear what Kokatat’s Matt Porter has to say.

Suit Specifications:

  • It’s a dry suit, it’s a dry top, it’s a pant!
  • Evolution 3.21 oz. nylon 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro body
  • 330 Cordura® GORE-TEX® Pro shoulders, sleeves, and legs
  • SwitchZip waterproof fully separating entry/relief zipper system
  • Latex gaskets with neoprene punch through collar and cuffs
  • Evolution 3.21 oz. nylon 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro socks
  • Strategic zipper placement sits between backband and seat
  • No entry zipper on torso
  • One zipper for entry and relief
  • Self-draining, zippered sleeve pocket with key lanyard
  • Dual adjustable over skirt with “hook & loop” compatible neoprene
  • Zipper flap to protect top half of zipper in dry top configuration
  • Every suit 100% fill tested; guaranteed to be dry


The 2015 price point for both the Men’s and Women’s Idol Dry Suit will be $1100, not bad…  Remember that Kokatat also warranties their gore-tex dry suits for life!  We are excited to see where the Idol is headed.  Will there be different tops to zip in?  Will it be as comfortable as all of the other Kokatat suits?  For us the jury is still out regarding the Switch Zip since we haven’t paddled with it yet.  But if the zipper ends up being positioned properly as to not interfere with reentries and remains comfortable when seated, Kokatat may have hit this one out of the park!



Dress for the Water, Not the Weather

Sometimes when we see people all bundled up in drysuits on a hot August day here in the Puget Sound, we think they’re slightly nuts…but they’re really the smart ones.

If you capsize in water that is anything but hot, you’ll start losing body heat as soon as you enter it. As blood immediately rushes to keep your vital organs warm, your hands and feet get colder…as well as your brain.

This means the fine motor skills needed to get back in your boat are compromised. If you’re in cold water such as the Puget Sound, which is 45-50 degrees year-round, then you can be in deep trouble within a few minutes.

This isn’t meant to scare you, it’s just meant to be a reminder that proper clothing is as essential to a good paddling trip as your paddle and kayak or standup paddleboard.

You may think you’ll never capsize, so why get all the gear? But that’s like never wearing your seatbelt or biking helmet because you’ll never crash…it’s the unexpected we must prepare for.

There are many types of clothes and layering systems, but the two most important things to remember are:
1. don’t wear cotton – it pulls heat from your body and stays wet for a very long time
2. always be prepared to get wet, no matter what


dog paddlingdrysuit is the best form of protection – it’s like a condom for your body! You still need warm, quick drying layers underneath, but it will keep the cold water out and your body dry.

Some people prefer wetsuits, either full or “shorties” that only go to the knees. You can wear long underwear underneath, with fleece and a paddling jacket over the top.

Paddling wetsuits don’t have sleeves so your arms won’t be hindered. If you end up in the water, these will keep you warm by heating the water between your body and the wetsuit. Paddling wetsuits don’t have sleeves so your arms won’t be hindered. If you end up in the water, these will keep you warm by heating the water between your body and the wetsuit.

You can also wear a paddle jacket and paddling pants with quick dry layers underneath.

You may see our guides in what seem to be regular clothes, but they wear materials that dry quickly and keep them warm even when wet (capiline, polypropylene, fleece, neoprene)…and they have a drybag handy with a complete change of warm clothes.

We often wear lightweight neoprene shirts with quick dry shorts. We wear these when we’re paddling near shore, on calm water, on routes we know very well. Otherwise, we’re wearing one of the layering systems above.

A properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) isn’t just something to keep you afloat, it is an essential part of your cold water protection – the thick paddling will help keep your all-important core warm (you know, just little things like your heart and lungs).

Of course, clothing isn’t the only thing that will keep you safe. Every paddler should:

  • have good capsize recovery training – often and not just in a pool
  • paddle only in areas appropriate to you and your group’s skill levels
  • use the appropriate boat for the conditions and trip (boats with no hatches should never be paddled more than a few feet from shore as it will fill with water when capsized)
  • let someone know where you’re paddling and when you plan to return



What do you wear when you paddle?

Kayak Tour with 60 Environmental Science Students

Here’s how I and four co-workers spent 2.5 hours “at work” today…rough day at the office :)


Paddling towards Chico Creek on Dyes Inlet in Silverdale, Washington

Every autumn we take Bill Wilson’s environmental science students, seniors at Central Kitsap High School, on a Salmon Kayak Tour. This year we had 60 kids!

The groups get bigger every year. Mr. Wilson, as the students call him, attributes some of the growth in his classes to the draw of this kayak trip, but we’re not the only draw…the students told me, “Mr. Wilson is a really cool teacher!”

mr wilson

Mr. Wilson, the Man Who Makes It Happen

The students walked about a mile from their school to meet us at the Silverdale Waterfront Park, where we also rent kayaks and standup paddleboards in the summer.

We had all the gear ready for them and they were all smiles when they arrived. The water had barely a ripple and the sunlight glinted off our rainbow of kayaks laid out on the beach.

After I gave a hearty welcome, John explained how to properly fit our complicated personal flotation devices:

John, Olympic Outdoor Center's founder and owner, explaining how to properly fit a personal flotation device.

John Kuntz explaining how to properly fit a personal flotation device.

Then Forrest went over safety and Connor got them comfortable with paddle strokes.

Connor Inslee sharing paddling techniques

Connor Inslee sharing paddling techniques

I explained the importance of properly fitting the foot pedals in their double kayaks, and we got everyone fitted and ready to go.

Fitting foot pedals helps the front paddler have more power with each stroke and the back person steer the kayak.

Fitting foot pedals helps the front paddler have more power with each stroke and the back person steer the kayak.

Then we headed out on the water for Chum Salmon viewing at Chico Creek!

The round trip is about five miles. We had the wind at our backs and the tide going out to move us along on the way there, but the way back was a bit more strenuous.

We made it to the mouth of Chico Creek in about 50 minutes, so we had time for a nice long snack break and some messing around with the salmon.

John caught a Chum!

John caught a Chum!

Where else will you ever see a girl in pink sunglasses holding a dead salmon and smiling?!

Where else will you ever see a girl in pink sunglasses holding a dead salmon and smiling?!


pikes place

Flying fish!

After our snack we had a long trip back against the wind and tide, but we all made it without anyone going in the drink, so everyone was all smiles at the end!

Central Kitsap High School Environmental Science Class, 2013 Salmon Kayak Tour (through a wet lens!)

Central Kitsap High School Environmental Science Class, 2013 Salmon Kayak Tour (through a wet lens!)

There were many cool things about this trip:

1. It was also crazy hat day

crazy hat day

I love crazy hat days!

2. One of the guides, Brandon, was also one of the students


Brandon Schleiger, student and guide

Brandon learned about the Olympic Outdoor Center from his brother, Reuben, who went on this same tour with his class two years ago. Brandon and Reuben were two of my all-star staff last summer and Brandon said he’s returning again this summer! I hope his brother will join him.

3. This trip is a reunion for John, Forrest, Connor and I, who have been working together for (gasp!) 13 years or so. They make the work fun, as well as a LOT easier for me with their height and strength :)


From left to right: Forrest Wells, KayakProShop.com (KPS) and OOC store manager, Brandon Schleiger, OOC guide and rental staff, me, John Kuntz, OOC and KPS owner and founder, Connor Inslee, OOC guide and Outdoors for All manager (and yes, Governor Jay Inslee‘s son).

This trip was originally scheduled for a week ago, but wind forecasts of 18mph from the SSW was cause for pause, so I chose the nicest day in the forecast for this week and we rescheduled…thank goodness.

I admit I dread this trip every autumn because it’s so much work and the weather is so unpredictable this time of year.

Preparing to take 60 people out on the water takes quite a herculean effort: we two trailers with sixty 91 pound double kayaks, six single kayaks, 75 personal flotation devices and paddles (we never know how many of each size will be needed).

It takes two full trailers, a van and a truck to transport all the gear

It takes two full trailers, a van and a truck to transport all the gear

However, for a trip like the one today, all this work is all well worth it!


I’m a bit bleary-eyed right now, but tomorrow is supposed to be another beautiful day…and there are only a blissful four people on my tour tomorrow.

For more photos, visit the Olympic Outdoor Center facebook page.

To book your own kayak or standup paddleboard trip, contact me any time: programs@kayakproshop.com or (360) 297-4659.

To learn more about the many outdoor classes, trips, events, summer camps and rental locations I manage, visit OlympicOutdoorCenter.com.

To go see the salmon for yourself, take a walking/driving tour using the Kitsap Salmon Tour Loop map by Visit Kitsap (scroll down to “Click here to download a self-guided…”).

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Happy Adventuring,


Salmon Kayak Tour, Evening Magazine and the Rollercoaster Ride

I promised myself I wouldn’t check the weather until the morning, but just before going to bed I broke and checked the hourly weather prediction for the next day.

Rain, 18 mph winds at noon coming from the SSW. Exactly wrong for my scheduled Salmon Kayak Tour. I groaned out loud and cussed, making my dog look at me with worried eyes.

This would’ve been a frustrating weather prediction for any of the many tours I lead for the Olympic Outdoor Center and KayakProShop.com, but this particular tour would be especially painful to cancel.

This tour was the culmination of all the outreach I’ve done over the last two months for these tours…press releases, Meetup.com posts, Facebook posts, e-newsletters, fliers, meetings, events and discounts offered to environmental and outdoor organization volunteers.

25 people were registered for the tour, more than I’d ever had at this location, and there were nine others on the guest list. Included on this list were a reporter from Evening Magazine, a King 5 TV editor and videographer, two staff from Visit Kitsap Peninsula and a well-known Suquamish Tribe fisheries biologist who is one of my local heroes.

In addition, I had three other guides, my boss and as many standup paddleboarders as my co-worker, Forrest, could gather (to provide better visuals for the Evening Magazine story).

Needless to say, this tour was larger than just the number of people registered.

I went to bed dreading the numerous cancelation phone calls I’d be making in the morning. I had nightmares about enormous groups of people wanting to go paddling as I stood fretting on the side of gigantic, broiling brown rivers.

The next morning I got out of bed at 5:30 with a heavy heart. I made myself wait until after breakfast and a cup of coffee to check the weather report again.

When I finally did check, my heart leapt – winds 6 mph from the east at noon! It felt like I hadn’t really awoken, that I was dreaming of the perfect scenario for the tour.

I giggled like a little girl when, during my morning walk with my dog, Cricket, I realized there wasn’t a breath of wind and there was a blue sky emerging from the dark!

No phone calls needed to be made, no cancelations would be happening.

So now the nervousness set it – Evening Magazine and all these people on a Salmon Kayak Tour in little Grover’s Creek! This was going to be a busy day.

I grabbed the van and trailer, the gear and this photo before heading to meet the other guides:

A moment of peace before the tour

A moment of peace before the tour

The guides and I were a flurry of motion as we unloaded and prepared 21 kayaks, 50 lifejackets and paddles, 35 spray skirts and two pounds of smoked salmon.

We each stopped occasionally to look out over the perfectly calm water and utter reverent thoughts about the purrrfect weather. How did we get so lucky?!

Before heading to the Grover Creek Salmon Hatchery where the guests would be meeting us, the reporter from Evening Magazine, Anne Erickson, clipped a tiny microphone to my jacket collar. I said I was going to pretend it wasn’t there so I wouldn’t be nervous, then immediately forgot it was there.

This was just another tour, I had done at least 50 before, and the only difference was that this one was going to be the best ever. That’s what I told myself in my last moments alone on my short drive to the hatchery.

The guests broke a record that morning – everyone was there before 10:00 starting time. I whooped for joy and gathered everyone at the salmon pond to start the day.

During introductions, two brothers said they’d flown in from Arizona for this tour, husbands thanked their wives for telling them about the tour, and I did an inward happy jig as everyone told the group their names, how they heard about the tour and what their paddling experience was (from “never paddled before” to “white water rafting”).

Paul and I talking to the group

Paul and I talking to the group

After I explained what the hatchery did and a bit about the salmon life cycle, I turned the discussion over to Paul Dorn, fisheries biologist extraordinaire.

Paul helped me put together Salmon Kayak Tours, he built hatchery we at, he’s been a very involved fisheries biologist for the Suquamish Tribe for over 30 years, and he volunteers his time for these tours.

Personally, I believe Paul deserves a medal of honor, and the environmental equivalent of the Nobel Peach Prize for his lifetime of important work.

Anyhow, Paul made everyone (including me) ooh and ah as he held up live Chum Salmon for everyone to see. As he explained all the interesting, sometimes awe-inspring things about northwest salmon, his intern, Jill, held up another Chum to show us sea lice.

A few people touched the large, wriggling fish, many asked questions of Paul, all of which he answered in detail.

This dynamic duo then caught more salmon in the fish ladder and Jill made everyone laugh when a huge salmon put it’s head on her shoulder. A few of us mentioned our sadness at how this salmon was near the end of it’s life, but it was an amazing sight:

Jill holding a large male Chum salmon

                                    Jill holding a large male Chum salmon

From the fish ladder, Mike Huff, the hatchery manager, led us through the hatchery to the eggs and salmon fry (why are baby salmon called that?), letting people touch the eggs and see the fry with their large middles bulging.

Salmon eggs - the little black dots are their eyes!

     Salmon eggs – the little black dots are their eyes. The non-pink ones are not alive.


Mike Huff (upper left corner) explains how the hatchery raises, takes care of, then releases young salmon

Mike Huff (upper left corner) explains how the hatchery raises, takes care of, then releases young salmon


Mike Huff (upper left corner) explains how the hatchery raises, takes care of, then releases young salmon




From the hatchery, John (my boss and the owner/founder of the Olympic Outdoor Center), shuttled everyone to the boat launch the gear and boats were waiting. Everyone was fitted in their kayaks, got outfitted and received a short paddling lesson.

I always love seeing everyone spread out on land, outfitted and practicing their strokes!

paddling lesson

                Paddling lesson with Miller Bay and Indianola in the background

Finally, it was time to launch. I love tours with ten or less people because I really get to know everyone, but I also love larger tours…because I launch first while the other guides launch everyone! Is that evil?

It’s a goal of mine to keep everyone’s feet dry on these tours, so we hold each kayak as paddlers get in and out on land. Then the guides carefully push the boats onto the water and pull them in after the tour.

The highly angular keel of the double kayaks we use make this process a bit like a rollercoaster ride for kayakers, especially if it’s their first time. The process is no small task for me at 125 pounds – the boats weigh about 100 pounds and the paddlers add another 300+ pounds!

I have yet to tip anyone though, and I think we’ve managed to keep 99% of all the feet dry.

Before the kayakers launched, the standup paddleboarders (SUPers) hopped on the water with their sleek boards. Olive the Dog hopped on her owner’s board and they were off to paddle around Miller Bay in search of jumping salmon.

Nick and Dave, stylish SUPers

Nick and Dave, stylish SUPers

Olive the Dog SUPn with her owner, Heather Biermann

Olive the Dog SUPn with her owner, Heather Biermann










Once everyone was on the water, we started paddling towards Grover’s Creek at the north end of Miller Bay, where I’ve seen salmon jumping on every tour so far this season. Paul had cautioned me that I may not see any this week, but I was working hard to think positive – after all, a salmon kayak tour with no jumping salmon isn’t really a salmon kayak tour, is it?

I didn’t see splashes from afar, as I usually do, and I was trying to just be ok with the idea of not seeing any, but I knew their absence might blow our Evening Magazine story.

So, as I chatted to my paddling neighbors, I secretly and constantly scanned the horizon for splashes.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

And then…

“Woo-hoo!” and “Did you see that?!” were escaping from my mouth as salmon jumped and splashed near shore. I looked around and was happy to learn I wasn’t the only one seeing them jump (this has happened and it stinks!).

Our guide, Will, quickly paddled ahead with Mike, King 5 TV’s editor, photographer and videographer. Mike had his giant video camera in his lap and, during introductions, had said “I’m Mike and frankly, I’m terrified!” or something close to that. The look on his face said he wasn’t kidding.

Will and Mike hopped out and set up the camera to try getting shots of kayakers with jumping salmon, but I (sadly) learned later that this perfect shot didn’t happen.

Will and Dave on shore

                                                   Will and Dave on shore

We paddled onward and up stream, watching Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons fly by. I smiled as I heard people chatting softly and paddles dipping softly, rhythmically, all around me.

At the head of the stream, I gathered everyone into our snack raft. As soon as I announced our gathering spot, our guide Anthony (who also was carrying my $900 camera to capture this day), called to me quietly and pointed up as I looked at him.

There, right above our chosen snack spot, was the resident juvenile Bald Eagle, sitting 40 feet above us in the top of a tree. It’s head swiveled back and forth, then down on us. I imagined its bewilderment as these strange creatures gathered beneath it’s resting spot.

More than one paddler asked me, jokingly but with a slight twinge of nervousness, “is it waiting to swoop down on us?”

“It’s going to snag the last paddler to join our snack raft!” I said, as the long kayaks bumped their way around me to slide in next to each other.

Our snack raft, minus the SUPers. Notice Mike, the videographer on the right

Our snack raft, minus the SUPers. Notice Mike, the videographer, on the right

Once we were gathered, I pulled a bag of napkins and started handing them out. I hadn’t anticipated the awww’s from people when I said these napkins were handmade by my Aunt Yolande. Thank you Aunt Y :)

Then out came the Wheat Thins and Triscuits, then the smoked salmon snacks – some mixed with cream cheese, some plain. I truly and deeply love Crimson Cove‘s smoked Sockeye – what a treat! And Cricket loves the skins she gets after all these tours.

The shortage of crackers was the only complaint I heard about the trip – why didn’t I bring 4 instead of 3 packages?! Ah well, at least everyone got a taste (I hope!). I’m enjoying the leftovers as I write this…

Finally it was time to head back. We said goodbye to the young eagle, broke up our raft, and started paddling back towards the sun.

We said hello to the young eagle again a couple minutes later, some paddlers having been lucky enough to have it swoop over their heads (where was the video camera then?!). It landed in a tree next to one of it’s parents, where they watched these strange creatures paddle by.

It was a peaceful paddle back, with a visit from a Harbor Seal just a few feet away from some paddlers, and almost no breeze in the beautiful afternoon light.

Too soon the trip was over and I was packing up all the gear.

But before everyone was shuttled away, Anne from Evening Magazine gathered paddlers together. Some shied away, but others were willing to be filmed them as they talked into the microphone, telling about the tour and their experience.

I have to admit I blushed a little when I heard the positive responses from people, and I tear up a little now as I remember the feeling of accomplishment and gratitude I felt at that moment.

I was also asked to talk into the gigantic microphone (it must’ve been a foot and a half long!) in front of the even larger camera. Until that moment, I had effectively forgotten about the little microphone that had been attached to my collar for the last three hours.

Now I straightened my shirt and silently chided myself for not paying more attention to my braids – I was sure it looked like a little kid had put them in.

Too late now, I was speaking into the camera, trying to pretend I was on the phone answering someone’s question about what they might see and do on a Salmon Kayak Tour.

When Anne asked if there was anything else I’d like people to get from these tours, then held the microphone in my direction, I said something to the effect of “I hope everyone understands how they’re personally connected to the lives of these salmon,” then quickly added that I hoped everyone learned how fun it is to kayak and standup paddleboard.

I’m such a cheeseball. But no one can say I’m not an honest cheeseball. I don’t know whether I want to see the footage when this show comes out…

After the obligatory photo with the fisheries biologist, the Visit Kitsap manager, the journalist, the videographer and the Evening Magazine vehicle, I finished packing up.

From right to left: Anne Erickson, Patty Graf-Hoke, Mike Hays, Paul Dorn, John Kuntz, myself

From right to left: Anne Erickson, Patty Graf-Hoke, Mike Hays, Paul Dorn, John Kuntz, myself

I finally made it to Bella Luna Pizzaria at 4:30 to meet those from the group who were left. I was overjoyed to see a few paddlers still there…with delicious pizza slices for the guides!

I love this ending to Salmon Kayak Tours – eating a tasty slice of pizza at a local restaurant, my cheeks pleasantly burning from the hard work of the day, a million dollar water view, and getting to know people from the tour more personally.

But my day wasn’t over. I still had a trailer full of kayaks to lock up and take back to their resting spot in Port Gamble. As I made my way back on the forested roads, I marveled at my luck and my tenacity, at the perfect day almost behind me, and at the overwhelming beauty of “this one and precious life,” as the poet Mary Oliver puts it.

I found John in Port Gamble, putting away gear in the evening light. The enormity of the day’s undertaking hit me as I looked took in the trailers full of kayaks, and I breathed a giant sigh of relief…right after I took this photo:

Kayaks ready to rest on their trailers until the next Salmon Kayak Tour

           Kayaks ready to rest on their trailers until the next Salmon Kayak Tour

Thank you to ALL who joined this most perfect of Salmon Kayak Tours (minus the too-few crackers)! I’ve written this post with all the details so that I can look back on it and remember how amazing this day was.

I will do a future post on the salmon life cycle, in case you’re interested.

If you’d like to see more photos of this and other Salmon Kayak Tour trips, visit the Olympic Outdoor Center Facebook page.

I will do a post if Evening Magazine gives me a heads up on when the show will air. Honestly, I never believe anything will happen until after it does…

If you’re interested in joining a Salmon Kayak Tour, visit the Olympic Outdoor Center website and click on the Adventures tab. We offer them from mid-October through the last weekend in November.

If you have photos of this trip or any other trip with me, please e-mail them to me as I love to see others’ photos.

If you need paddling equipment, we ship high quality gear around the world every day through our on-line store, KayakProShop.com and we have a store in the wonderfully quaint, northwest Washington state town of Port Gamble, and there’s a Cafe across the street with incredible, homemade, organic and local food!

If you have ideas, questions or photos, please contact me any time.

Happy Paddling!


Spring Courtright

Olympic Outdoor Center

Program Director

w: 360.297.4659

c: 360.265.2477





Gear Swap = Fun and Goodness

I’m kind of a sucker for a good deal on used things. I get a kick out of looking down at an outfit and seeing how few things I bought new, especially on days when I feel especially well prepared on a kayak outing, or when I get complimented on my “cute outfit.”

I won’t bore you with details about my sustainability reasoning for buying used, at least not in this post. I will, however, spout about the joys of my first gear swap.

Because of the Washington Water Trails Gear Swap, I am now the proud owner of:

  • a three person Sierra Designs tent, waterproof and in excellent shape – ask anyone I’ve camped with in the last 15 years and they’ll tell you how much I hated my last tent;
  • brand new hiking poles;
  • a brand new drybag backpack;
  • a pair of thick, tough, old-school yellow rubber boots – perfect for launching paddlers for the Salmon Kayak Tours I lead on fall weekends – customers never have to get their feet wet, but I sure do! Not anymore…

All this for the price of $20, a pair of fingerless gloves I’ve never worn, a giant drybag/backpack that I never used, and $30 for my renewed WWTA membership, which I am proud to sport – especially since they’re going to be reprinting their wonderful trail guide this year.

I will definitely be attending future gear swaps! In fact, there’s a ski swap this Saturday, November 9 on Bainbridge Island that I will most definitely be attending. They’ll have winter clothes, skis and outdoor gear…I hope I can find some cross country skis with edges! Click here for more details. Here are details for the swap:

Ski Swap

Saturday November 9, 10:00am – 2:30pm at the Waterfront Park Community Center.  Bring cash, local check, or credit card (Visa/Master) to purchase gear. Raffle tickets will be given at the door and raffled off throughout the day for free. No cover charge. Click here for the map to the Center.

Gear drop off

We will be taking and registering items Friday from 5:00pm – 9:00pm at the Waterfront Park Community Center (WPCC) and Saturday from 7-8:00am.  After that there will be a dark period where we finish organizing the items before opening the doors at 10:00am. You must pick up unsold gear after ski swap between 2:30-3:30pm.


If you are interested in volunteering to help set up ski swap or run it, please contact John Hawkins (john@radicallyinclined.com) or myself (jeff@biparks.org).   With this being our first ever Ski Swap, we are unsure of how much gear we might receive, but would appreciate any help both days.  We are also looking for kids and/or adults to volunteer to spend the night at the WPCC to watch the gear in the fireside room.  A limited amount of volunteers will be allowed.

In conclusion:

Should I and the Olympic Outdoor Center host a kayak, mountain bike and gear swap in the spring of 2013?

If so, should it be in Poulsbo, Port Gamble, or part of our Water Trails Festival in Silverdale?

Happy Paddling until the next post!
Spring Courtright, Olympic Outdoor Center Program Director, Kayak Guide and Outdoor Nut

Vashon Island (Almost) Circumnavigation

Vashon Island is sometimes called “the Orcas Island of the South.” This is in reference to Orcas Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands, which is known for its friendly inhabitants and great paddling, among other things.

I’ve dreamed of visiting Vashon for years, which is strange because I’ve lived within an hour of it for more than half my life. I had heard of it’s artsy culture, friendly people and small island feel and found it all intriguing, but never enough to make me actually visit.

But one day the idea of paddling around the island popped into my head, and I couldn’t shake it. When I started researching the idea, I came across a fantastic trip plan that a man from the Seattle Area Sea Kayakers Meetup Group had put together. With this outline, I had very few excuses not to go besides needing three days off in a row with a decent weather window (difficult to find in my line of work!). I also needed the tides to be in my favor.

I decided it would be my end of summer treat for both myself and my boyfriend, Will. We’d celebrate his birthday and my survival of another hard-working summer by paddling 30 miles around this beautiful island and camping along the way.


The circumnavigation around Vashon Island is almost exactly 30 miles if you portage across a 100 foot bit of army-built land that connects it to Maury Island at the southeast end. There are parks with free (yes, free!) campsites situated at perfect 10 mile increments, one of which is a Washington Water Trails site.

The tides are the first thing to work out with this trip as it determines the direction of travel ~ paddling against the tide in the Puget Sound isn’t much fun. Generally the incoming tides move south and outgoing goes north, but Puget Sound’s plethora of islands and weird, jutting land masses often scramble the waters.

At the south end of Vashon, as with most islands, the tide wraps around from both sides and goes haywire as it tries to determine which way to go. Maury Island further confuses the water at the south end, as there is a half-mile wide gap between Vashon and Maury where the water pushes from the east and west. It makes for an interesting ride for about a mile, with the kelp beds showing the tide moving east one minute, west the next.

Amazingly, the tides were perfect for the days I hoped to do our trip – going out (ebbing) in the early morning and coming in (flooding) starting in the late morning.

This meant we could have a leisurely start on the first and second days and ride the flood all the way to camp. On day three we could leave early and ride the ebb almost all the way to our final destination, with possibly a little paddling at slack tide (the hour or so between flood and ebb).

I used NOAA to plan the tides:

The wind and weather are the next things to plan for on any trip. Some rare paddlers get a thrill from the workout of going against the wind, but I prefer to have the wind at my back.

The best way to learn about wind and weather patterns is to ask a local, but since I didn’t have a local to ask, I looked at the hourly forecast at Vashon Wunderground and had Will, a weather enthusiast, check his weather models.

It looked like there may be light rain and wind, but there was also a chance of sun and lovely weather, so we decided to go for it!


Vashon is amazingly friendly for water travelers. We pulled into an empty parking lot just off the Southworth ferry where we unloaded our boats and gear (the Southworth ferry goes to Port Orchard and West Seattle – there is also a ferry on the south end of Vashon that goes to Point Defiance near Tacoma).

We then parked in a lot just a two minute walk up the hill from the ferry, which is  free for 72 hours!

There is a narrow boat launch, not wide enough for motor boats, right next to the ferry line. After a few picturesque photos with the kayaks and the ferry in the background, and a couple false starts due to large ferry waves (sorry about the cuts Will!), we were off. Immediately I let out a whoop and found my cheeks aching from my grin. There was unexpected blue sky, almost no wind, and we were on our way!


There is a lot of forested space along the west coast of the island, with sandy and pebbled beaches with large logs ~ perfect for picnics. We knew it was likely private land, but we made a couple stops at quiet, protected beaches. At our lunch stop a smiling couple walked by and a happy kayaker passed.


Night 1, West Side: We camped at Lisabuela Park (pronounced Lisa-beeoolah, named after postmistresses Lisa and Beula). It was a small public park with a porta-potty, picnic tables, grills, one Washington Water Trails campsite (just for us!) and fishermen and women trying their best to catch Silver Salmon.

It was Labor Day, so there were a few groups picnicking and watching the sun set, but they eventually all disappeared and we had the whole place to ourselves. We found ourselves sitting in our camp chairs for hours, eating dinner, watching the sun go down, watching the stars pop out and working out each others’ stiff muscles. (Camp chairs are a luxury I’ve started carrying when paddling on mellow overnight trips on calm waters – the comfort is well worth the weight!). It was one of the more pleasant evenings I’ve had in months.

Night 2, South End/Quartermaster Harbor: We had planned to camp at Burton Acres on Jenson Point, another free camping area about 10 miles from Lisabuela, tucked in Quartermaster Harbor on an interesting jutting section of land.

However, a heavy, all night rain the first night had made our bedding quite wet and kept me awake for many hours, and since this was a fun birthday trip and not torture camp, we decided to skip camping and the last ten miles and have an adventure within our adventure.

I was willing to hitchhike, taxi or find a bus back to our car in order to get birthday boy to a nice, dry bed that night. But first, we needed icecream!

We pulled up to a pebbly beach just before Jenson Point, hopped out, flagged down a friendly driver, and learned about the bus that would pick us up anywhere on it’s route (which we were on). He also brought the welcome news that icecream and a restroom were just three blocks away.

What luck! Icecream proved easier to find than the restroom, but all needs were met and the extra friendly local store owner (Harbor Mercantile in the Burton community) shared that her store had been in continuous operation since 1908!

The Final Hours

The bus ride was a pleasant half-hour ride to the car, and I was so relaxed on the way back to pick up the kayaks that I actually drove at well under the speed limit (as those who know me can attest…this is NOT normal).

We loaded up, then headed out to Burton Acres at Jensen Point to see what we were missing. We found a lively bunch of high school crew members returning from a rowing session, and a patch of green grass overlooking a small, quite lovely marina. It was a pleasant site, but our bed was calling…

We found a delicious place to have a hearty meal (called, quite serendipitously, Nirvana), then we were treated to a breathtaking sunset as we waited for the ferry.

I barely made it home before drifting off to sleep!


Vashon Island is a wonderful place to paddle. I will return one day to do the last ten miles, hopefully planned around the annual Strawberry Festival. I would definitely recommend this to any northwest paddler looking for a pleasant, easy trip that isn’t completely isolated from the comforts of small towns and home.

This trip was a bit of a reconnoissance mission, as I was considering adding it as a tour through my work at the Olympic Outdoor Center, but I think it’s a bit long for that. The Meetup Group also cut off the last ten miles as we did, as they also felt they’d paddled far enough.

I’m still in search of a trip as perfect as our other overnighters, Paddle Bainbridge and Paddle Kitsap. Any recommendations?

For photos of this trip, visit my work facebook page.

For more information about Vashon Island Parks, visit VashonParks.org.

For kayak and equipment rentals and more paddling trip ideas on the Kitsap Peninsula, visit my work’s website OlympicOutdoorCenter.com (OOC).

For high quality paddling equipment delivered to your door and expert paddling help, visit OOC’s on-line store, KayakProShop.com.

I’d love to hear about your favorite paddling places!

Happy Paddling,




OOC Staff to Climb Mount Rainier

I can’t put into words how excited I am about the staff I’ve hired for the summer of 2013. They’re amazing people, all of them! Hopefully I’ll have time to put a photo and bio of each of them on our website. Until then, I have to share what one staff person is doing…
Mikail Dash-Green, our assistant manager for our Poulsbo dock, is going to climb Mount Rainier in August as a fundraiser for Big City Mountaineers. Here’s Mikail giving a thumbs up before heading onto the water to assist a Sea Kayak 1 class:

Mikail giving a thumbs up before he heads out on the water with a Sea Kayak 1 class.

Here’s what Mikail writes about his fundraising climb: (you can also read this and support his cause here).
Hello, and welcome to our climber page!

We are Chris Baran-Mickle, and Mikail Dash-Green; brothers from other mothers, united by a shared sense of adventure, will to create, and do good in the world.

A few years ago, we heard about Big City Mountaineers–a selfless non-profit organization based in Colorado that works to take underprivileged, inner-city youth from all over the country into the wilderness with professional mentors. These trips range from an afternoon to a week, and may take place floating down rivers or hiking up and over mountains. BCM provides amazing opportunities for kids at a very critical age who have never been out of the city, and otherwise might never have the means to take a trip like this.

Since finding out about this organization, we have been looking for ways to get involved, and we are happy to say we have finally found our opportunity. Today we begin a $8,000 fundraising campaign, that will culminate on August 8th, 2013, in a summit attempt on Mt. Rainier. If successful in meeting our  fundraising goal, at least twenty kids from all over the country will get an all expenses paid week-long trip in the great outdoors.

We have each spent considerable time in the wilderness exploring our mental and physical capacities, which have given us a greater confidence in our abilities. Between us we have completed two mountaineering semesters with the National Outdoor Leadership School, are Wilderness EMT certified, and have planned and executed numerous other personal trips. We know from experience that any trip or adventure into the wilderness outside comes with its own complementing journey to the wilderness within.

It is for this reason we are great believers in everyone having the opportunity to explore the natural world, so that they may not only come to a better understanding of the world as it is, but also of themselves. Many of the problems we face today come from a lack of understanding and perspective. This is why we believe so strongly in supporting those who have never been out of the city to develop an environmental perspective, which will without a doubt have a great impact on their lives, and sense of personal responsibility.

The fact is, these trips are expensive. We feel very fortunate that our backgrounds have allowed us to participate in such adventures without much sacrifice, but for many this would be impossible without the help of others. We need your help in meeting our goal of providing these opportunities to others. Please consider the impact that a few dollars, a hundred dollars, or even a thousand dollars could have on the life of a teenager who has never been in the woods before. We will be dedicating our time and bodies for this pursuit, and welcome any and all help in meeting our goal. Thank you!

– Chris and Mikail

– All donations are tax deductible –

Click here to learn more about Big City Mountaineers and donate to support Mikail’s cause.

Mikail helping a youth get out of his kayak at the 2013 Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails Festival.

Mikail helping a youth get out of his kayak at the 2013 Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails Festival.


National Marina Day is a Hit in Poulsbo

We had a very busy day at our Poulsbo dock last Saturday! In addition to a Wildlife Kayak Tour and a Beginning Sea Kayak class, it was National Marina Day.

Across the United States, at least 270 marinas hosted festivities, and our very own Port of Poulsbo was one of them.

We rent our Poulsbo rental dock space from the Port of Poulsbo and it’s a major part of our business. To show our appreciation for all they’ve done for us, we offered free kayak and standup paddleboard demos to anyone who mentioned National Marina Day.

All day long we had people of all ages getting out for their first time in kayaks and on standup paddleboards…and they call came back with a smile!

One happy family who joined us had a little guy who was going out for the first time in his life…

Mama Shelby, Daddy Shane and little Gabriel getting ready to kayak on Poulsbo's Liberty Bay

Mama Shelby, Daddy Shane and little Gabriel getting ready to kayak on Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay

On Monday I returned to find this happy e-mail in my in-box:


My name is Debbie Chan, and I work at City University in downtown Seattle as the Activities Coordinator for our young adult international students who are studying  English as a second language.

On Saturday, June 8, our small group visited Poulsbo, WA for the day (via ferry & bus) and had a great time exploring the town.

Also, some of us  “stumbled” across your Kayak rental center at Poulsbo (after we visited the Aquarium), and our 3 students from Saudi Arabia – who never went kayaking before in their lives – tried the free kayak demonstration made available at your shop for that day.  After a “spin” (literally ? :)) out on Liberty Bay under the watchful eye of your kayak center staff, they decided in the end that they didn’t want to pursue an additional hour rental, but BOY – they sure appreciated the time they had to try kayaking for the first time!  They had a blast!     See photos attached.

The instructor for our students  (I didn’t get his name) was SOOOOOOOO helpful and explained things well!  (I, myself, didn’t dare go on the kayak, but I observed and listened to the instructor as he alleviated my students’ fears and curiosity as they all tried their hand at kayaking…., and he did a great job!)  Our 3 fellows are actually beginners in English, but I think they were able to understand what he was trying to say and it was nice that the instructor was so patient in explaining things to them-even if it took some time to do so.   :)

Anyway, the students all came home with great memories from that trip. The photos show it all…..

Thank you  for a giving my students such a great experience.  Please be sure to pass this message on to those who worked at the Center that day.


Debbie Chan, Washington Academy of Languages at City U-Seattle, International Student Activities”

Thank you to all who came down and to the Port of Poulsbo for all you do for us.We’ll definitely be participating in National Marina Day again next year!

Here are Debbie’s photos ~ thank you for taking the time to visit us and share Debbie!

IMG_8020- June 8 - I THINK they  UNDERSTOOD  all the safety instructions.. haha!_comprsd IMG_8021- June 8 - We got 10 minutes to  try this out ... for FREE!-comprsd IMG_8023- June 8 - Look MOM! I'm doing  it!-comprsd IMG_8027- June 8 - Now, it's OUR  turn......-comprsd,adj IMG_8033- June 8 - HEY! Don't make me  laugh so hard!-comprsd,adj,crpd IMG_8033- June 8 - Looks like they're  glad they're done!-comprsd,adj,crpd IMG_8035- June 8 - Yes! We tried  it!-comprsd

Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails Festival 2013 was a Success

KitsapWaterTrailsFestivalI do believe that if you asked any one of the 200 or so participants in our first Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails Festival how they liked the event, they would give a resounding “YES!”

There were smiles all around, from paddlers on the poker run to participants in the classes to renters in our new Silverdale kayak rental fleet.

It started with the poker run, a 6.5 mile paddle from Evergreen Park in Bremerton to Silverdale Waterfront Park in Silverdale. 37 paddlers were on the water, plus three volunteer safety boaters and two Olympic Outdoor Center staff.

One of the paddlers made a fantastic video of the poker run ~ thank you John Brady for making and sharing this! It brought tears to my eyes to see the loveliness of the trip and the joy it brought. I was too busy managing all the little things to be able to go on the paddle, but I got to do it vicariously through photos and videos.

All paddlers received a playing card at the beginning, then three more cards at water trails sites along the way and a final card at the end. The best and worst hands won a prize. The best hand was a smart little boy who chose a kayak deck compass over all the other goodies!

The paddle was a $10 donation, which will go to the North Kitsap Trails Association, whose members have worked hard to make the Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails a reality.

View from the poker run. Thank you Michael Kennedy for the photo!

View from the poker run. Thank you Michael Kennedy for the photo!

The Festival at Silverdale Waterfront kicked off at 11:00 with a slow start, but as the sun started blazing the crowds started coming in. As people checked in and registered at our new concession stand, they received a free punch on our hot-off-the-press paddle punch card (like a coffee card ~ buy ten, get one free). They also got to choose a number, then find the box with that number and choose a goodie out of it. It was like Christmas in June!

Registering for the Festival at our new concession stand

Registering for the Festival at our new concession stand

Registrants also received a wrist band that gave them access to demo any kayak or standup paddleboard they wanted and take the beginning sea kayak class and beginning standup paddleboard class.

New as well as experienced paddlers of all ages grinned in the sunshine all day. It was a lot of work the led to those smiles, but the bright faces kept reminding me of why I do what I do.

Visitors from the Seattle Area Sea Kayaker Meetup group paddled 13 miles for the Festival! They did the poker run, then paddled back after enjoying the Festival. Thanks for making the trek!

Visitors from the Seattle Area Sea Kayaker Meetup group paddled 13 miles for the Festival! They did the poker run, then paddled back after enjoying the Festival. Thanks for making the trek!

Thank you to the participants, the safety boaters, the volunteers, the Olympic Outdoor Center and KayakProShop.com staff, the North Kitsap Trails Association, the Visit Kitsap Visitor and Convention Bureau and all the others who helped make this amazing day so incredible.

Oh, and thank you Mother Nature for raining sunshine down on us all day, and for putting the wind at the paddlers’ backs for an extra boost during the poker run ~ your support is much appreciated, too!

mother earth photo


FOR MORE PHOTOS, visit our facebook page.

Please share your photos, ideas and comments about the Festival either through comments on this post or by e-mailing me at programs@kayakproshop.com.

Sea Kayaking with Seals

Harbor Seal popping up behind kayakers in Poulsbo's Liberty Bay

Harbor Seal popping up behind kayakers in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay

Yesterday was one of those days that make me glad ~ glad to be a sea kayaker, glad to live in the northwest, glad to be alive.

I taught a beginning kayak class in the morning to curious, technically minded and agile students (which makes it extra fun for me), then in the afternoon I led a Wildlife Kayak Tour on Liberty Bay in Poulsbo.

The wind was strong before class, but died down just in time for the on-water portion of class. The clouds released their raindrops, but only after class and before the tour.

Against all odds, the conditions were perfect all day! For the tour, the the water was glassy, the clouds were high but cut the glare and the temperature was perfect.

And the tide was low, which allowed us to see wildlife aplenty! We saw Graceful Crabs clinging onto their lunch (smaller crabs), tiny snails crawling on Moon Snail shells, numerous Ochre Sea Stars cleaning mussels off the pilings, and Northern Kelp Crabs picking their way around the sea stars.

But the highlight of the day was seeing Harbor Seals, as it always is. Liberty Bay is home to many of these fun creatures and mothers raise their young here. I’m used to seeing them but I get excited every time.

However, today was extra exciting…

While taking a snack break, one of the cutest seals I’ve ever seen popped up a few feet away from us. All seals are cute, but this one reminded another paddler and I of our beloved dogs ~ light tan, big eyes, small head, and a keen curiosity.

It popped up, dove down, then popped up on the other side of us, then dove down again. It kept everyone on their toes as we never knew where it would pop it’s little head out of the water. One paddler had never been kayaking before, so she was excited but nervous when it popped up just three feet from her.

seal and ponytail

Then, to everyones’ surprise, it popped up right next to one paddler’s stern near the rudder. It then lifted itself out of the water almost to it’s fins as if it were going to jump up onto his kayak. When it finally dove down again we all gasped ~ we’d been holding our breath the whole time!

It then popped up near at the front end of the other guide’s kayak, lifting it’s head further and further out of the water until it’s entire head was visible to me on the other side.

Again, we all held our breath until it finally dove down again.

“I was bracing for it!” David said. “I thought for sure it was coming onto my boat.”

Instead, it lead and followed us the 3/4 of a mile back to our dock, not leaving us until just 100 yards from where we landed.

seal follow me

                                                          Follow me!

As it popped up further and further away, it was like saying goodbye to a friend.

This is the kind of day I work all year for ~ all those days behind a desk, staring at a computer screen, hoping people will be inspired by our website, our fliers, our signs, our e-newsletter and our daily efforts to join us on the water.

All this work and worry pays off when a seal-friend is made and smiles spread across the faces of fellow paddlers. I live for the moment I see them be fully encompassed and entranced by the peace, beauty and wild-ness around us.

A perfect day, to be sure, and one I hope to repeat countless times throughout my life.

Happy Paddling to You and Yours,

Spring Courtright

Important reminders: Seal pups should never be touched or moved and paddlers should ALWAYS paddle away from seals. If they approach you in the water, that’s fine, but your approaching resting seals can cause major disturbances and even death. You’ll know you’re disturbing them when they start to move around and look over their shoulder at you.

Remember: you’re visiting their home. Approaching them is akin to a large bear walking into your living room while you’re relaxing on the couch after a long day at work.

Never, ever attempt to move a seal ~ young Harbor Seals go ashore or onto docks to regulate temperature and gain strength needed for survival, and mothers will hunt while they’re ashore. If you move a baby it will likely not survive.

For more information about seals in Western Washington, visit SealSitters.org.