New Age Expeditions

Is 2011 sea kayaking's greatest year, or just its most connected?

Featured in the May 2011 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine, available on newsstands now. Stay tuned to Canoekayak.com for an exclusive interview this week sending off Jon Turk and Erik Boomer on their Ellesmere Island expedition.

Photo: Simen Havig-Gjelseth

TO THE CASUAL ONLINE OBSERVER, it would appear that expedition sea kayaking has entered a golden age. It’s been barely a year since Freya Hoffmeister set the bar with her brazen 9,400-mile Race Around Australia. Since then, New York City’s Marcus Demuth traced the perimeter of Great Britain in a record-fast 80 days, a Norwegian team notched the first unsupported circumnavigation of Antarctica’s South Georgia Island (pictured above), and Aleksander Doba made the first continent-to-continent crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a kayak (p. 22).

Meanwhile, as of press time, British paddler Stuart Trueman is following Hoffmeister’s wake around Australia, and Kiwi Tim Taylor seems poised to claim the first continuous circumnavigation of New Zealand’s North and South islands. In February, Brits Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw made the difficult decision to abort their attempt at the first circumnavigation of Isla Grande Tierra Del Fuego, at the tip of South America. Later this summer, well-traveled Arctic paddler Jon Turk and standout whitewater boaters Tyler Bradt and Erik Boomer have plans to paddle (and drag) sea kayaks around the icy perimeter of Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northern point of land. In addition, the three-man British-Canadian “Inukshuk Expedition” led by Brit Charlie Hunter is taking aim at the first single-season sea kayak trip through the infamous Northwest Passage. Not to be outdone, Hoffmeister has announced her next super-trip: a three-part, 14,000-mile circumnavigation of the entire South American continent, set to begin in September.

But to those who think this flurry of expedition activity heralds a new age, veteran paddlers like Turk insist that taking to the sea in small boats is nothing new. “Not to take anything away from these recent trips, but people started going big about 800,000 years ago,” says Turk, whose sea kayaking resume includes an impressive journey from Japan to Alaska.

Sean Morley agrees. The California-based British ex-pat and founder of Expeditionkayak.com, an online chronicle of long-distance sea kayaking trips, believes that the apparent spike in big trips is simply because more paddlers are carrying satellite communication equipment and posting regular online updates. “I think certainly social networking and the Internet have made us more aware of what’s going on and we can share people’s experiences vicariously,” he says.

Gentoo penguins

Gentoo penguins at Marcus Demuth

But if the human affinity for expedition paddling remains the same, the list of options for sea kayakers appears to be increasing. Climate change is turning the Arctic into paddling’s next frontier. When the Inukshuk team launches their kayaks in May to paddle the Northwest Passage, they’ll be taking a stab at what Morley calls “the Holy Grail” of expedition paddling. Equally ambitious is Turk, Bradt and Boomer’s project, in which they’ll be the first to explore the remains of a massive ice shelf that collapsed last summer forever altering the geography of Ellesmere Island.

Still, it’s the under-the-radar expeditions—like Doba’s Atlantic crossing and Trueman’s attempt at Australia—that mean the most to Morley. “They confirm that the spirit of adventure is still alive and you don’t need the big corporate sponsors,” he says. “You don’t need to be on Facebook to do something really significant.” — Conor Mihell

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