It’s easy to just throw a “Support Our Troops” sticker on your bumper. It’s another thing entirely, however, to throw serious time and energy into providing real support. Dave McDaid, founder and owner of paddling apparel company Irish Water Dogs, decided to make a difference for wounded and disabled military veterans most in need of some R&R by bringing them the peace and calm of a day spent kayaking.

Sunday marked the second annual Irish Water Dogs/Wounded Warrior Kayaking Trip hosted at outfitter Kayak Amelia in Jacksonville, Fla. Hooking up with the Wounded Warrior Project, headquartered out of Jacksonville, McDaid put together the IWD/WW kayak trips for wounded or disabled military service men and women. Irish Water Dogs volunteers also represent the Northeast Florida Chapter of Heroes on the Water, a program dedicated to rehabilitation through kayak fishing. (Click HERE to learn more about Heroes on the Water.)

“Since this is such a military town, we wanted to do something for the veterans,” McDaid says. “To get them out on the water, the calming and healing effect of paddling and fishing is really great.”

McDaid and his crew guided groups of vets around for about four straight hours of fishing on Simpson Creek because, according to McDaid, these are the type of guys who won’t tell you if they’re getting tired. The crew of kayak angler volunteers showed the vets the basics of angling, simple kayak skills, and then let them catch what they could. After the day on the water, they were treated to an old-fashioned cookout where they shared tales of the monster red fish or flounder that just barely got away.

“Some of the best therapy I get is being outdoors, especially in the water,” said Josh Wofford, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Fishing and kayaking together is just incredible, we all had blast. I’m going to do as many of these as they let me.”

The event was hosted by Kayak Amelia, an outfitter and kayak rental service that supports many of IWD events, while Dick’s Sporting Goods lent rod-and-reel combos. After this second kayak fishing/Wounded Warrior trip, McDaid said he plans to organize about 10 a year.

“The best thing about it is to see the guys transform from benefactors or guests at the beginning of the day, to just fishing buddies, all smiles, hanging out and having a good time by the end,” says McDaid, whose Jacksonville-based company grew from a simple blog promoting kayaking and outdoor adventure into an outdoor apparel company that still focuses on creating a diverse array if outdoor events that bring people together.

These events are all about connection: fishing and kayaking, man and nature, veteran and veteran, calm and peace. To McDaid and the IWD crew, this is just their way of saying thanks and giving back to those who give us the freedom to do the things we love.  — Sean Klinger