The Best Balance: Laura Prendergast’s Kayak Commute

A kayak manufacturer employee who used the company's product to get to work

Some suggest creating firm boundaries between the office and home to achieve a life-work balance. Laura Prendergast, 32, Marketing Director for boat kit company Pygmy Boats, blurred those boundaries. Each afternoon, she took her work home with her. In fact, she paddled it home. Prendergast made her six-mile commute in a Pygmy Murrelet, a 17-foot Greenland-style kayak that she'd built. Her journey through the tidal channels near Washington’s Olympic Peninsula often proved eventful, and wildlife encounters were common.

"Adolescent seal pups are very curious and will often trail kayaks. I loved seeing their heads pop up around me periodically. Sometimes porpoises would be fishing or playing in the currents. I had them surface very close to my boat a few times. I watched bald eagles fish a creek mouth where salmon run in the fall and had sea birds surface right next to my boat; they'd be startled by my presence and quickly retreat to their underwater world."

It wasn't all seal pups and porpoises, however. She had to concern herself with tides, weather, and ships so large they that would dwarf the semi trucks most commuters encounter.

"I would sometimes check ferry schedules because I definitely didn't want to cross paths with the Washington State ferry. Mostly it was fog that I was concerned about as there is a significant amount of large boat traffic in the area."

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Laura Prendergast in her home-assembled kit kayak. Courtesy Laura Prendergast.

The area she paddled was the west entrance to Puget Sound, Port Townsend Bay. Once, to save time, she plunged into thick fog and quickly regretted it.

"One morning, I was determined to paddle despite some pretty thick fog. It was a stupid decision as I didn't have a compass. I hugged the shore for a couple miles and then decided to cut across a bay. After paddling a little ways out (probably only 50 feet), I immediately felt disoriented. The visibility was probably only 15 feet and I could hear fog horns all around me. It was a little creepy knowing that a large boat could be right on top of me and I wouldn't see it until it was 15 feet away. I immediately turned around, paddled back to shore and continued my commute hugging the shoreline. It took me a long time as this made it more like a 12-mile commute, but it was the right decision."

But in most weather, Prendergast loved her commute.

"An hour and a half on the water has a very different effect than 20 minutes in traffic. Sure, it takes longer to paddle, but it satiates the soul. I rarely hear someone describe traffic as a soothing experience. Even when the currents were strong, it wasn't stressful. I think it's hard to feel stressed when you're on the water. It was a great way to decompress after a busy day at the office and it made me feel more relaxed when I arrived to work with a bit of exercise. Bobbing at the surface of a large expanse of water is a lesson in both humility and fluidity. It puts things in perspective."

Prendergast also loved building her boat.

"I had never built anything before in my life (no shop class even), but when working for a boat kit company, it goes without saying that one day you will build your own kayak. I'm very proud that I did. While constructing, I felt myself building a relationship with my kayak before it even touched water. I know every seam and the grain pattern of each panel. Like many of our customers, I was nervous at first, but by the end of the project, I was confidently mixing epoxy, listening to music, and dancing while I worked on my boat. When I made a small mistake (like spilling a little thickened epoxy or slightly over-sanding a spot) it felt so dramatic, but now I can't even tell you where the blemishes are. Those memories have faded, replaced with ones from on the water: dramatic shorelines, curious wildlife, and fresh seafood dinners cooked over a campfire."

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A pink starfish sighting on the way to work. Courtesy Laura Prendergast.

Those seafood dinners came from the commute.

"On occasion I would take a small detour to a good mussel harvesting spot and pick dinner. It was a lovely alternative to the crowded grocery store at 5:00."

Nowadays, because of an inland move, Prendergast walks or pedals to work, but she misses the furry traffic of her old commute.

"Since then, I have moved in town where my husband and I are building a 430-foot square home. I still have a carbon free commute as I now walk or bike to work, but I do miss the curious seals, big pink starfish, and surfacing porpoises."

And if water connects your work and home, Prendergast offers some tips:

1. Respect the area you are paddling by planning accordingly. This involves understanding the risks (i.e. cold water, boat traffic, etc.).

2. Be comfortable and confident in a self-rescue environment.

3. Don't forget your lunch!

4. Embrace the fun of it! If it's too stormy out and that feels stressful, then take the safe alternative.

5. It wouldn't be fun in some boats. Having a boat that fits you well and paddles well really does make it more fun. I love my boat and sometimes feel it is an extension of my body. That gives me a feeling of control on the water and makes it easier to move through the water.

–Read more about the boat kit boats: Pygmy’s Arctic Tern.

–Watch more great VIDEOS from C&K.

Prendergast christening her new kayak.
Prendergast christening her new kayak. Courtesy Laura Prendergast.