New Year

Photo courtesy FPCC

By Eugene Buchanan

Okay, okay, we know it's cliché. But we couldn't help saying it. And to make amends, we've scoured the country to find the most ardent group of New Years Day paddlers we could, who year in and year out turn off the simmering black-eyed peas for a moment to ring in the new year with a dip of the paddle blade. Who gets our coveted New Years Day Paddlers award? Hint: It's a group of whacko's in the Windy City, who have now been canoeing and sea kayaking to celebrate the start of the year for 20 years …

Yep, leave it to Chicagoans to brave the elements and hit the water every New Year's Day, an annual outing that this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. Founded in 1985 by none other than famed canoe historian Ralph Frese, this year's New Year's Day Canoe Paddle down the North Branch of the Chicago River will again take place on Jan. 1, marking a whopping two decades of the annual, bone-chilling float.

Hosted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County with help from the Illinois Paddling Association and Prairie State Canoeists, the free event is open to experienced paddlers of all walks and is guaranteed to earn you a leg up over your peers for those bent on counting paddling days "I've joined in the New Year's paddle twice and it's one of my favorite events that I look forward to every year," says FPCC president Toni Preckwinkle. "Despite the obvious challenges of gearing up on a cold New Year's morning, the paddle attracts hundreds of hardy folks. Winding through wooded winter preserves is the perfect way to start the year with a fresh perspective."

The event draws nearly 300 people each year, all with the same goal of hitting the water while most other people's canoes and kayaks are gathering dust in the garage. The paddle begins below the Skokie Lagoons and finishes four miles later in Linne Woods. The only caveats are that participants must bring their own boats and PFDs and dress in appropriate paddlesports apparel (all participants get checked for proper clothing and equipment before launching).

The trip begins in Winnetka, east of the Edens, just north of the intersection of Willow Road and Forestway Drive. Access to the boat launch is via the Willow Road Dam. The trip ends at the Linne Woods Canoe Access a few hundred yards downstream from the horse bridge in Linne Woods in Morton Grove, on Dempster Street at Ferris Ave. Boats launch between 9 and 11 am. Participants should drop their gear at the Willow Road Dam and then drive their cars to the Linne Woods take-out where shuttle buses will provide transportation from 8 am – 2pm (organizers ask that participants allow 45 to 60 minutes for the shuttle and three hours for the paddle).

To ring in the new year paddling-style, revelers can warm up at Linne Woods afterwards with hot beverages, a snack and fire. "It's a great way to start the year off," says Preckwinkle. "It can be a bit chilly sometimes, but that's Chicago in the winter. And it's never stopped us yet"



Supping North Carolina
Not to be outdone, in North Carolina a band of SUP paddlers gets together every year for a traditional New Year's Day paddle around Wilmington's Harbor Island, complete with a potluck afterward. The trip is led by Jason Colclough of the Carolina PaddleBoard Company, which also offers rentals and even loaners for the event.
Info:, (910) 679-4473

Kayaking the Colorado's Shoshone (Shoshone NYD)
Paddlers have been running the Shoshone section of the Colorado River on New Year's Day for as long as anyone can remember, thanks largely to its consistent whitewater. This year's outing will be led by Peter Holcombe, 41, who's done it every New Years since 2006. Participants have numbered from the teens on colder days (like when it was 7 degrees in 2011) on up to 70 last year, with even more expected this year thanks to Holcombe's social networking on outlets like "It's gotten to be my favorite day of paddling of the year," says local Ken Holcombe, who usually shows up on a SUP.

Bluegrass Canoe & Kayak Group
If it sounds loosely organized, it is. But a lot of that is due to the conditions in Kentucky. Every year, though, a group gets together to ring in the new year in their boats, despite a web post reading: "We'll paddle a TBD body of water on New Year’s Day. Depending on where that is, maybe a pot luck, maybe some drinks/lunch somewhere afterward." "Mostly we do out and backs from one put-in/take-out," says co-organizer Don Perkins. "If we're going point to point, we normally set shuttle" The reason for the last-minuteness of the location is water levels. The Kentucky River can get a bit iffy due to rain and high water, he says, with Cedar Creek Lake a second option.