John Heath

“Johnny Appleseed” of Greenland-style kayaking has died


The Greenland kayaking movement in North America lost its Johnny Appleseed with the passing away in July of John Heath at the age of 80. For the last several decades John drew an ever-widening circle of converts to this style of kayaking through his writing and talks that were both scholarly and persuasive. Ask any of the gurus of the sport who was their inspiration and mentor and they would simply say “John Heath.”


Using original documents and museum skin boat displays in far-off places, John studied and passed on information on their construction and many manifestations. Also from direct observation and interviews with a generation of Greenlanders that was passing away, he revived knowledge of Greenland rolling and bracing techniques in their purest form, unadulterated by Western distortions and misconceptions. If there were one word that could be attached to his works it would be “authentic.”


Terms such as scholarly and authentic can sound ponderous, but John was far from that. He had a wry sense of humor that entertained audiences at his talks at kayak gatherings. On a private basis, being in his company was always delightful. His gentlemanly Texas manners made anyone, from expert to novice, feel at ease.


John was born in Texas. He and his wife, Jessie, spent a good number of years in the Pacific Northwest. While there, they came to kayaking via folding kayaks; they were original members of the Washington Folboat Club, which eventually became the Washington Kayak Club. At about that time his interest in Northern kayak practices and skin boat construction was sparked and the rest is history, as they say. It came into full bloom when they moved back to his native state. We all are benefactors of what he has brought to the kayaking world.

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