Solo Traditions

Behind the scenes of Becky Mason’s new canoeing film

By Conor Mihell

A passion for the art of solo canoeing is only one of the ways that Becky Mason was influenced by her father, the late Canadian canoeing icon Bill Mason. Alone and deftly handling a cedar-ribbed, red canvas-covered canoe on a wilderness lake, Becky is a mirror image of her father. Like her dad, she’s also a gifted painter and visual artist, and a staunch environmentalist who carries on the family tradition of defending imperiled wild rivers. Her most recent creative effort shows that she’s also a skilled filmmaker, following in the footsteps of her Academy Award-nominated father.

Advanced Classic Solo Canoeing reveals Becky Mason’s mastery of traditional canoeing techniques on beautiful Lac Vert, an aquamarine jewel of a lake set in the hills north of Ottawa. The recently released, 43-minute film is the long-awaited sequel to her 2000 introduction to solo paddling, which is also included as a special feature on this DVD. Both films feature Mason’s easy manner in front of the camera and practiced instructional technique based on more than 20 years of experience. In her latest production she explores advanced strokes for steering, carving turns and pivoting—all with the canoe heeled over in the traditional Canadian style.

What sets this film apart is its use of underwater photography to demonstrate the hidden aspects of paddle strokes. Mason and her partner, woodworker and artist Reid McLachlan, captured the underwater footage in a single day on the water with a borrowed Go Pro camera. McLachlan attached a Plexiglas window on the camera’s waterproof housing to eliminate distortion and devised a number of ingenious ways to position the camera beneath Mason’s canoe, using everything from plumbing pipe to pieces of lumber jury-rigged to the canoe. The improvised shooting strategy hearkened back to Bill Mason’s work with ladders, clamps and camera-mounted hockey helmets in creating unique viewing angles in the groundbreaking and wildly popular Path of the Paddle series of instructional films in the 1970s.

“We just set the camera on wide-angle and everything just clicked,” says Mason, who lives in Chelsea, Quebec. “We checked it maybe three times during the day to make sure we were getting everything. What amazed me is that we got all that footage in one day. We went back the next week to get some still photography but when we tried to duplicate it, we couldn’t. I thought, ‘Wow, were we ever lucky.’”

Besides spectacular photography, Advanced Classic Solo Canoeing is enhanced by original music by legendary Canadian folk artist Ian Tamblyn. It also includes subtle lessons in environmental ethics that instill a sense of compassion for the wilderness—an important message in all of Mason’s creative work. “I really believe that it’s important to put a little of your soul in to your and for me, one of those things is how I feel about the land,” Mason says. “It’s definitely my dad’s influence. He was quite successful in getting his messages out and I’ve seen the value of speaking up.”

Mason and McLachlan celebrated the early October release of Advanced Classic Solo Canoeing with a six-week tour in Europe, where Mason instructed canoeing classes in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. She was impressed with the response to her new video and surprised by the skills of European canoeists, the majority of whom learned to paddle from Bill Mason’s Path of the Paddle book. “There was definitely a buzz that a Canadian was coming,” she says. “They all talk about how my dad influenced them. Because instruction is not that prevalent over there, people who want to canoe get a copy of Path of the Paddle and study it.”

“[Canoeing] is like a new sport for them,” she adds. “I had no idea how popular it was.”

This week, Mason is looking forward to the film’s Canadian release on Nov. 29 in Ottawa. “The trip to Europe was a spectacular way to end the paddling season,” she says. “Now I’m looking forward to sharing the film with my friends and sharing the filming experiences that brought it about.”

Watch the trailer:

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  • http://www.myspace.com/timlandon001 Tim Landon

    I don’t often get this excited about a new DVD – but this one tops my “must get” list!!

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